Walt Disney World, the largest employer in central Florida, fired a proverbial broadside at the NRA (and the Florida legislature) when earlier this month it discharged Edwin Sotomayor, a 13-year veteran of Disney World's unarmed security force, for refusing to allow the search of his personal vehicle as he reported to work on July 4. Prior to the Independence Day confrontation in the Disney parking lot, Sotomayer had reportedly told several local news services that he intended to bring his gun to work after the July 1 effective date of Florida's new gun law in spite of Disney's long-established rules to the contrary. Disney officials, with the aid of local sheriff's deputies, corralled Sotomayer as he attempted to report for work. Subsequent reports indicate that he indeed did have a .45 caliber pistol with him as he reported to work on the 4th.
Florida House Bill 503
The recent Florida legislation [see 2008 Bill Tracking FL H.B. 503] generally allows employees, independent contractors, and most invitees to store guns in locked private vehicles in employer-owned, publicly-accessible parking lots in spite of employer policies to the contrary, if the gun owner possesses a concealed weapon ("CCW") permit issued by the state. With half a million such permits en force within
Florida , some say the state motto is now, "sun, fun and guns."
Attempting to continue its policy of "zero-tolerance" of guns on its property in the face of the legislation, Disney appears to be relying upon a provision in the law that exempts the parking lots of schools, prisons, nuclear power plants, facilities that manufacture, store, or sell fireworks or other explosives, and public or private entities whose businesses are connected to Homeland Security. Disney claims the law doesn't apply to its parking lots since it holds multiple fireworks licenses related to its evening extravaganzas. Sources close to the legislation say the "fireworks" exception was quietly inserted into the bill's language at the eleventh hour and that it has what appears to be pixie dust sprinkled all over it.
Civil Action Filed Against Disney
Four days after his firing, the security guard let loose a salvo of his own when he filed suit July 11 in a state court in Orlando against his former employer, contending Disney is not exempt from the new law and that it had acted improperly in firing him. Last Friday (July 18) Orlando Circuit Court Judge Thomas W. Turner declined to sign a temporary injunction that would have allowed Sotomayor to return to his job while the court tries to decide the issues. A hearing on Sotomayer's permanent injunction request is set for October 16. As of late last week, reports indicate that more than 150 grievances had been filed against employers who seem either to be ignoring the law or, like Disney, claiming an exemption. Reports indicate that more than half those grievances have been filed against Disney. It appears Sotomayer is not the only Disney employee in its cross-hairs.
Federal Suit Filed by Business Groups Against Florida Attorney General
Sotomayer's suit is actually the second court action filed since the passage of
Florida 's controversial "Preservation and Protection of the Right to Keep and Bear Arms in Motor Vehicles Act of 2008." The first, filed mid-June in federal court against the Florida State Attorney General by the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Retail Federation, seeks to block enforcement of the law altogether. While arguments on the TRO have been heard, Federal Judge Robert Hinkle of
Tallahassee has not yet ruled. Not only must Judge Hinkle weigh the contentious arguments of the parties, as well as a number of amicus briefs filed by "interested" parties, he must also digest the complex June 26 decision of the United States Supreme Court in District of Columbia v. Heller, 128 S. Ct. 2783, 2008 U.S. LEXIS 5268, 76 U.S.L.W. 4631, that generally holds that persons have a constitutionally protected right to keep guns in their residences. If Judge Hinkle sides with the Chamber of Commerce and the Retail Federation, it could render as moot much of Sotomayer's action against Disney.
Observations About the Florida Law
With advance apologies to both sides—those who strongly oppose guns and those who feel access to guns is a constitutional right, and recognizing further that most legislation is combination of compromise and expediency and that foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, there are a number of quirks within the Florida gun law that might warrant our attention.
Powerful forces are at odds both in Sotomayer's Orlando civil action and in the suit before Judge Hinkle in the U.S. District Court in
Tallahassee . Can other workplace issues command the same sort of fervor on the part of the combatants? For example, will employers who seem so intent upon banning guns in employer parking lots show a similar commitment to making the workplace safer when it comes to old equipment and dusty, hot, or hazardous work conditions, and the like? Will employees and others who believe that their right to carry weapons in their autos trumps the property rights of others be similarly tolerant of others when their own property rights are at issue? I suppose we'll have to wait and see.
Disclaimer: At one time, I owned a gun. It was a Daisey® lever-cocking, air-propelled, "B-B" rifle that fired small pellets with such velocity that one could actually follow their flight through the air. If memory serves, on a windless day, it had an effective range against paper targets of approximately 35 yards. A 1960 Christmas gift to me from Santa—I was nine-years-old—similar weapons were common at the time in rural North Carolina.
To access my expert commentary article on Florida's recent gun legislation, click here.