Milton-Freewater employees get OK to carry guns at work

Walla Walla Union-BulletinFebruary 11, 2014 

— City employees can now pack a gun on the job under an amendment the City Council passed Monday.

“I will be talking to employees about how important this is,” City Manager Linda Hall said this morning. “I want to be sure they realize this is a landmark decision ... Council has gone out on a limb. I want to make sure employees appreciate that.”

The matter came up a couple of months ago with a request from Public Works employee Shave Wright, who asked his supervisor about carrying a concealed weapon at work.

Wright said today it was only a wish to be prepared for emergencies on the job, as well as off, Wright said today.

“It’s like a seat belt,” he said. “You put it on every day and hope it saves your life the day you have a wreck. And when that happens, you are so glad the seat belt was there.”

But Wright, lead employee for the city’s street and water departments, added he doesn’t feel he’s been in harm’s way while at work.

“I don’t want people thinking we’re the wild, wild West around here, (a firearm) is just a tool for something you hope never happens.”

Hall sought legal opinions, talking to attorneys and law enforcement officials, she told the council and a handful of residents in attendance. The city’s insurance carrier offered no formal opinion but indicated it was starting to hear from other cities on the issue, she said.

“I’ve had questions asked me from people on the street, that employees will be packing shotguns and pistols on their hips,” Hall said. “It’s nothing that dramatic. We’re talking in order to qualify, they would need concealed weapon permits.”

Such holders have already passed background checks and sheriffs’ reviews, noted Hopkins-Hubbard, who owns Sam’s Corner Market convenience store and deli.

No weapons would be allowed in a courtroom, and requests from home and business owners who don’t want weapons on their property would be adhered to, Hall said.

Hopkins-Hubbard, who approved the change, said that Milton-Freewater Fire Chief Shane Garner has told him of incidents when being armed would be appropriate. Meth houses, for example, can and do burn down and firefighters usually arrive before police and deal with residents of the house.

“It’s an uncomfortable feeling,” Hopkins-Hubbard said.

As a resident, Hopkins-Hubbard said he’s also provided help for police on calls.

“You don’t know when or why,” he said. “We have a small department and things happen. I would encourage this.”

Anliker agreed: “A lot of things are happening these days. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I believe this is a wise decision.”

Chesnut said the issue as less clear cut. While training for firearms can be suggested and encouraged, there is no way to force it, and he knows some residents are nervous about the idea of city employees carrying guns, he said.

Seaquist Century 21 Realty owner Paul Seaquist submitted an email to Hall to oppose the amendment.

“There should be no reason for this to occur. Employees should feel safe on the job” without having to carry a gun, he wrote.

“We don’t want to be sick, either, but we buy medical insurance,” Hopkins-Hubbard said in response after Hall read the email at the meeting.

He added that the city and employees should brace for a public controversy over the matter.

“It will be in the newspapers a week or two and then it’s going to go away,” he said.

Council members Brad Humbert, Jeff Anliker, Sam Hopkins-Hubbard and Orrin Lyon voted for the change to the employee handbook, while Ed Chesnut voted no. Councilman Steve Irving was absent.

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