In recent years, firearms rights seem to be at the forefront of the nation’s consciousness. In District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570, the United States Supreme Court recognized that the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution established our right to own firearms for protection, subject to reasonable limitations. Likewise, the Mississippi legislature continues to enact firearms-related protections. One such state expansion of gun rights affects employers.
First the background: In Mississippi, with some exceptions, we have “at-will” employment, which means that an employee may be fired for any reason, or no reason, so long as it is not for an unlawful reason. As to firearms, there is Mississippi Code §45-9-55, which prohibits an employer from establishing policies or enforcing rules prohibiting employees from keeping firearms in their locked car. This code section tries to balance our freedoms of protection in our car by also protecting the employer, in that it provides immunity to the employer from occurrences “involving the transportation, storage, possession or use of a firearm covered by this section.”
Seems like no big deal, right? Hold on. In 2016, the Mississippi Supreme Court heard a case in which an employer, Aurora Flight Sciences Corp., enacted policies banning the possession of firearms in employees’ vehicles. Swindol v. Aurora Flight Scis. Corp., 194 So. 3d 847, 853. Unfortunately for Swindol, management learned Swindol had a gun in his vehicle and terminated him. Swindol sued under this statute for wrongful termination, stating that Aurora fired him because they enforced an illegal gun prohibition policy. The Mississippi Supreme Court agreed. The Court stated that §45-9-55 protects the rights of persons to have firearms in their cars, and that the employer immunity section above did not protect the employer from wrongful termination suits, because the immunity was designed to protect the employer from liability if an “occurrence”, meaning use of the firearm, caused the problem. For instance, if an employee shoots someone, you cannot sue the employer under this statute. The employer liability immunity did not allow Aurora to enforce illegal firearm policies and escape liability.
The moral of the story? Firearms rights are developing and affect even seemingly unrelated areas of life. Many firearm-related rights are still subject to reasonable restrictions, but if you feel like your gun rights are being unfairly limited, check with legal counsel– there may be federal, state or local protections available.
Morton W. Smith
270 Trace Colony Park, Suite A
Ridgeland, MS 39157
Phone: 601-898-2073, ext. 206