New bill would make gun owners protected class under state human rights act

By Tabitha Fleming | Jun 2, 2017

Pennsylvania is considering making gun owners a protected class of citizens with proposed changes to the Pennsylvania Human Rights Act (PHRA). 

The new bill, which was introduced by two dozen Republican representatives and one Democrat, would prevent employers from discriminating against employees who own or carry firearms. House Bill 38 is currently in committee, but if it makes its way through the legislature, it could have a major impact on the workplace.

Although there aren’t many known cases in which an employer has discriminated against an employee for exercising Second Amendment rights, there has been some debate concerning employees keeping guns in their vehicles on employer property. Current law allows employers, or any private property owners, to forbid guns on their property, even if those guns are lawfully owned and contained in private vehicles. The issue has caused a rift, and House Bill 38 may be a way to work around the issue, explained Shira Goodman, executive director of CeaseFirePA, a group aimed at working with law enforcement and community organizations to prevent gun violence in the state.

“The Second Amendment right is not overly burdened here, and so why (gun carriers) need to be in a protected class is just a little bit mind-boggling,” Goodman told the Pennsylvania Record. “It’s very easy to get a gun here. We’re an open-carry state, except for Philadelphia. It’s not very hard to get a concealed carry license. We don’t have waiting periods. We don’t have registration and license.”

Goodman explained that by making gun owners a protected class, private property owners and employers would no longer be able to prevent gun-toting employees from having firearms with them (at least in their vehicles) while at work.

“The issue is, there are some places that don’t want guns on their property—private property owners, private employers, and for good reason,” Goodman said. “They are worried about workplace violence, they are worried about domestic instances spilling over into workplaces. We see that all the time.”

Making gun owners a protected class would be “unusual,” said Goodman, who explained that other protected classes include race or ethnicity, age or disabilities. Essentially, employers would have to treat gun ownership as they do disabilities and make sure that they treat employees who own and carry guns equal to those who need assistive devices such as wheelchairs.  

Goodman says that including gun owners in the PHRA doesn’t make a lot of sense, so she believes it’s likely the legislation was introduced to work around current laws that allow private property owners to decide whether or not to allow firearms on their property.

“I think it’s really just an end run around this parking lot situation,” Goodman said. “The right to bear arms is a pretty robust right in Pennsylvania, and the language in our constitution is even broader than the language in the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”

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