MILTON-FREEWATER — The morning after officials adopted a measure allowing city employees to carry guns while on the job, City Manager Linda Hall had a few words for her staff and the community.
“I want to assure our citizens we will continue to be professionals,” she said. “Once the notoriety dies down, it will be business as usual. We’re not going to be vigilantes.”
The City Council on Monday approved a change in the employee handbook that allows properly-permitted staff to carry a firearm at work.
As Wild West as that might sound to many, Milton-Freewater is neither the first city to do so recently. Nor is it likely to be the last.
Other cities and counties are considering similar actions or have already passed resolutions allowing employees without police powers to carry arms.
A month ago leaders in Cherokee County in North Carolina began allowing legal concealed weapons in most county offices. Any resident, including county employees, can carry a concealed handgun with the proper permit, with the exception of the courthouse, schools and the jail.
In Kentucky, state law changed to allow open carry in any city-owned building and concealed carry in some places, such as firehouses.
A year ago in Colorado Springs, Colo., city leaders voted that it was unfair to exclude city workers from packing, since public and elected officials were already allowed to carry concealed weapons into most of the city’s 140 or so buildings, according to The Associated Press.
Also in 2013:
Aransas Pass, Texas, city leaders in May gave carry-and-conceal-permitted employees the option to bear arm while at work. Officials reasoned it would increase chances of stopping a mass shooting before police could arrive on the scene.
Michigan’s Jackson County commissioners in August allowed county employees to carry licensed concealed weapons, saying the move was to conform to state law.
In December, commissioners in Harvey County, Kansas, approved allowing workers to carry concealed guns after they provided county personnel managers with a copy of their permits.
Milton-Freewater’s council members passed the measure 4-1, with one member absent.
Council member Sam Hopkins-Hubbard, who approved the change, argued that in a small town with a small police force, being prepared for eventualities made good sense.
Fellow Councilman Jeff Anliker agreed: “A lot of things are happening these days. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
The no vote came from Ed Chesnut. While firearms training for city employees can be suggested and encouraged, there is no way to force it, he said, adding he knows some residents are nervous about the idea of city staff carrying guns.
“I would hope we don’t have a lot of employees who avail themselves of this,” he said.
Across the border in Washington, Jim Doherty, legal consultant for the nonprofit Seattle-based Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington believes employees in the state have legal standing to prohibit employees from carrying guns at work.
According to a chart compiled by nationwide law firm Cozen O’Conner, however, 27 states — including Washington and Oregon — and the District of Columbia have no laws in place governing firearms in the workplace. In states that do, regulations vary widely.
Doherty noted that more employers — public and private — are concerned with preventing violence in the workplace. But he added that decisions such Milton-Freewater’s and other cities around the nation to allow employees to have concealed weapons at work “seems inconsistent with that.”
Doherty, however, acknowledges cultural differences between rural areas and large cities regarding guns.
“Out there in Eastern Oregon or Washington, people are probably more tolerant” he said. “People in rural areas are more comfortable with people carrying weapons.”
He doesn’t see that becoming the norm, however.
“I have doubts it will be easily accepted,” Doherty said. “After the shootings in Connecticut, some people thought we should arm teachers. But we decided ‘No, no.’”
Though means may differ, the national discourse about arming citizens has a common thread: improving safety, according to Doherty.
“I’m surprised we are not tipping more one way or the other in this country,” he said.
But he added he hopes the trend of municipalities letting employees carry weapons on the job “doesn’t spread too much.”
“It doesn’t feel comfortable to me,” Doherty said.
Sheila Hagar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8322.