Republican-dominated legislatures in at least four states are planning to consider allowing employees to bring guns to work, turning two of the party's traditional constituencies against each other: gun-rights supporters and businesses.
The measures, backed by the National Rifle Association, would allow workers in Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina and Pennsylvania to keep the weapons locked and hidden in their cars in employee parking areas. Seventeen states have approved similar measures since 2003, according to a tally by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence in San Francisco.
The laws extend gun rights onto property controlled by private employers, prompting opposition from companies such as FedEx and Volkswagen. The proposals are creating a dilemma for Republicans, said Robert Spitzer, chairman of the political science department at the State University of New York at Cortland.
"The gun rights movement is now colliding against traditional business interests," Spitzer said. "It's a direct clash between a values issue and an economic one and both of these competing forces are particularly strong within the Republican Party."
The conflict has torn allegiances even among legislators who consider themselves strong backers of the Constitution's Second Amendment right to bear arms, as happened this year in Tennessee when the NRA, the Fairfax, Va.-based pro-gun organization, helped defeat Republican House caucus leader Debra Maggart in a primary. Maggart, who says she is a gun-rights supporter, had opposed a workplace firearms law because of concerns that it violated business and property rights.
"I am the most pro-Second Amendment person you can meet," Maggart said in an interview. "I had a perfect voting record with the NRA."
The law's proponents say the measures are needed to protect employees during their commutes. They say that employers who ban guns on their property are preventing workers from possessing their weapons when they commute, leaving them vulnerable
"This provides safety and protection for workers who oftentimes travel 20 to 50 miles to their jobs," said Alabama state Sen. Roger Bedford, D, who has introduced a parking lot gun law in the state's Republican-controlled legislature.
Bedford said he introduced the measure at the request of constituents. He couldn't point to any incident in which a commuter would have benefited from having a gun in the car.
"The problem we have is that businesses are being allowed to erode and take away our Second Amendment right to bear arms," he said. "The guns would only be allowed for legally licensed people, and they'd have to be locked up and out of sight."
NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam didn't return four calls for comment about workplace gun laws.
Opponents say the laws threaten employers' ability to control workplace safety and violate their property rights in the name of gun rights.