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Jan 11 2010

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Editorial: More talk about workplace violence

By Bill McClellan, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

When Mark Twain said, “Everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it,” he could have been talking about workplace violence.

But what can we do about it? Nothing. We’re a heavily armed nation, and every now and then somebody is going to go nuts and shoot up a factory or a school or even a military post.

By the way, when I say we’re a heavily armed nation, I am not making an editorial comment. I’m just stating a fact. An exact count is impossible to come by, but the U.S. Department of Justice estimates that there are approximately 200 million privately owned firearms in this country.

That’s a lot of guns. If somebody wants to get one or several, he can, and that is not going to change.

There was a time when liberal Democrats talked about gun control. Mostly, they talked about handguns. In a five-month period, John Lennon, President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II were all shot with handguns — no matter what your politics, you had to like at least one of those three — but still, the gun control movement got no traction.

And when the Dems realized that many gun owners would cheerfully vote against their economic self-interest if they thought their right to bear arms was threatened, the gun control movement collapsed.

Again, no editorial comment. Just a fact. We are heavily armed and will stay that way.

Now you could argue — at least I could — that a private citizen does not need to own a military assault-style weapon, like an AK-47. If a person wants to fire that kind of weapon, he or she ought to join the military. Or maybe the military could make some money by letting civilians fire these weapons at a range. Personally, I don’t like the idea of civilians being able to outgun the cops.

But such a ban is unlikely and would have little impact on violence in the workplace anyway. Although police say Timothy Hendron had an assault rifle when he arrived at the ABB plant Thursday morning, they say he also had a shotgun and two pistols. That’s more than enough. Nidal Malik Hasan had two pistols when he went on his rampage at Fort Hood and killed 13. Seung-Hui Cho had two pistols when he killed 32 people at Virginia Tech.

Actually, most of the talk that I’ve been hearing has nothing to do with banning guns. In fact, the talk has been about adding more guns to the mix. Should workers start carrying guns to the workplace to protect themselves?

I say sure. If it makes you feel better, go ahead.

Many of my friends on the left would disagree. They would argue that if people on the assembly line or in the office are carrying guns, a small argument could escalate into something far more serious. But that is the same argument we made when the Missouri Legislature overruled the voters and passed a law authorizing concealed weapons. A small argument at a fender-bender could escalate into a shooting.

That has not happened. At least not often.

On the other hand, armed citizens haven’t foiled a lot of crime.

The whole thing has been a wash. So if people want to take guns to work, I say fine. And if some madman were wandering around the newsroom shooting people, I’d rather have a gun than not have a gun — although I’m sure I’d run in either case.

Truth is, if I were inclined to carry a weapon — and I am not — I wouldn’t take it to the office. Although workplace violence gets the headlines, the real danger is elsewhere.

I think of colleagues from the newspaper. Lisha Gayle was murdered in her home in University City in 1998. She was killed by an intruder. He is on death row. Nancy Miller was murdered in her home in Chesterfield in 2008. A young man just out of prison was arrested and confessed. His case is pending. A hearing is scheduled for March. His lawyers are trying to get his statements thrown out.

Nan Wyatt, a colleague from “Donnybrook” on Channel 9, was murdered in her home in Twin Oaks in 2003. Her husband pleaded guilty. He is in prison serving a life sentence.

Other colleagues have been victims of violent crime, but survived. Roy Malone was shot in a carjacking in 1982. Andy Horonzy was shot outside a diner in 2004.

I suspect that list is fairly representative. You’ve got to be careful on the street, but for most of us, the most dangerous place is at home.

The workplace is generally safe. Right now, after a horrific shooting, there is a lot of talk. That’s understandable. These workplace shootings are like the weather. We’re powerless to do anything but talk.

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