Guns Inc.

Why It's Getting Easier to Carry Guns in the U.S.A.


Guns-at-work laws are up for debate in Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania.

Photograph by Laura S. Kicey

Guns-at-work laws are up for debate in Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania.

In light of the recent shooting in an Oregon mall and Friday’s school shooting in Connecticut, it’s worth it to look at the conditions that have made it easier to manufacture and market firearms in the U.S. Consider the following developments:

—Republican-dominated legislatures in at least four states are poised to consider allowing employees to bring guns to work.

—Smith & Wesson (SWHC) reported record sales for its most recent quarter, up 48 percent from a year earlier.

—Florida announced it will soon become the first state to have issued 1 million permits allowing people to carry concealed guns.

—An influential federal appeals court struck down an Illinois law prohibiting civilians from carrying a loaded handgun outside their home or business.

The American gun market, estimated at $2 billion to $3 billion a year, has had its ups and downs over the decades. Since the 2008 election of President Barack Obama, however, firearm manufacturers and their vocal ally, the National Rifle Association, have enjoyed an extraordinary boom, based heavily on fear marketing.

The industry pitch: Obama plans to restrict, if not confiscate, your guns. This has sent hundreds of thousands of people to their Main Street gun shop or firearm website, propelled by the notion that they better buy while they can. The twist is that while Obama occasionally murmurs about gun control, he has done nothing to make it more difficult to lawfully acquire or carry firearms. The president and his advisers fear a political backlash (and, on substance, may worry that tinkering with gun laws will not actually affect crime rates in a substantial way).

The upshot: Gun sellers and promoters of gun rights are pushing further and further in an environment of seemingly endless possibilities for their side of the perennial debate over the wisdom and significance of packing heat.

The guns-at-work laws are up for debate in Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania—all states with strong gun cultures. Seventeen states have approved similar measures since 2003, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence in San Francisco. The laws extend gun rights onto property controlled by private employers. That’s provoked resistance from such companies as FedEx (FDX) and Volkswagen (VOW:GR), which fear that encouraging employees to bring their pieces to work may lead to parking-lot skirmishes.

The concealed-carry permit news from Florida illustrates that a lot of Americans like to have a gun on their belt or in their purse—for self-defense or just as a statement that they take seriously their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. Florida has issued more than 993,000 active permits, representing 4.6 percent of the state’s population of 19.1 million. Florida was among the first states in 1987 to require approval of conceal-carry license applications for any applicant who meets certain criteria (such as a clean felony-conviction record), as opposed to giving local police discretion over who may carry a gun. Today 38 states have “shall-issue” laws similar to Florida’s.

Illinois is the only state that outright bans carrying a loaded gun outside the home. But not for long. In a 2-1 ruling, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago ruled on Dec. 11 that the state’s prohibition violated the Second Amendment. “One doesn’t have to be a historian to realize that a right to keep and bear arms for personal self-defense in the 18th century could not rationally have been limited to the home,” U.S. Circuit Judge Richard Posner wrote, referring to the ratification of the amendment in 1791. The Second Amendment states: “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a handgun in the home. Posner’s ruling is the most important extension of the 2008 high court ruling, and it will carry extra weight because Posner enjoys a national reputation for legal erudition. Depending on how Illinois state politicians respond to the Seventh Circuit ruling, it’s possible the case could end up in the Supreme Court.

Richard Feldman, a former NRA organizer and gun industry trade association executive, noted that the firearm debate has swung sharply toward expanded gun rights. In 2008, he observed, the Supreme Court “broadly defined the right to have a handgun in the home for self-defense. In my days at the NRA, that was the Holy Grail!” The Seventh Circuit expands the gun-rights frontier. Feldman, who heads an advocacy group called the Independent Firearm Owners Association, predicts that in the near future New York City’s tough municipal rules on who may own and carry a handgun will come under legal attack.

Barrett, an assistant managing editor and senior writer at Bloomberg Businessweek, is author, most recently, of GLOCK: The Rise of America’s Gun.

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  • FDX
    (FedEx Corp)
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    (Volkswagen AG)
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