Dear Claudia,

I was assigned to support a really great hiring manager at my company last year; he’s a good boss to his employees and a great hiring partner, and has never made any unstable or inappropriate gestures that I know of at work. So when we were talking in his office the other day and he suddenly asked if I would close the door, I was curious; then he showed me a gun in his desk drawer. I asked if it was loaded and he said no, he had just bought it and wanted to “show it to friends” at work. I am terrified of guns and told him so; he promised he won’t do it again. My question is, should I trust him or should I tell HR?

Unsure


Dear Unsure,

It’s one thing to believe the best in other people; it’s quite another to enable stupid people. There are so many reasons why you need to speak with your HR rep about this one my friend, not the least that guns-at-work laws vary greatly from state to state, and your rep’s job is to know how those laws affect your company, and to minimize risk for everyone.

My vote on this one is strictly zero-tolerance; it isn’t just about stupidity, it is about safety and a very bad message sent by a company manager. After all, if a manager can bring his gun to work to show it off (and don’t even get me started on the show-and-tell mentality that often fuels Darwin Awards), it must be okay for me to bring mine, right?

I am not an HR Generalist, and I am not an attorney. But as an advice columnist (and you did ask), I advise you to take yourself out of the middle of this situation immediately. It is fair to assume by the question that you have neither the knowledge nor the authority to handle it, and I wouldn't advise you to do so unless you were the HR Generalist (and then I'd be very worried). You may lose a relationship with the hiring manager, but it seems like a reasonable price to me.

**

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Not only what you say, Claudia, but I sense an undercurrent of hostilty here.
Why show such a thing to others at work? To intimidate? To create fear? It's ugly and it's crazy.

And on the common sense issue, I've been reading the original. Here.

As a long and violent abuse of power is generally the means of calling the right of it in question, (and in matters too which might never have been thought of, had not the sufferers been aggravated into the inquiry,) and as the king of England hath undertaken in his own right, to support the parliament in what he calls theirs, and as the good people of this country are grievously oppressed by the combination, they have an undoubted privilege to inquire into the pretensions of both, and equally to reject the usurpations of either. Source: Common Sense, by Thomas Paine, printed by W. and T. Bradford, Philadelphia, 1791.
Claudia, I managed a sales rep. who covered some of the more rugged neighborhoods in Miami. He were selling long-distance to teleco's -- basically storefront businesses that provided international calling, notary services and so on. His clientele ranged from hard working immigrant entrepreneurs, and import/exporters to churches and wonderfully talented local celebrities.

He was in my office one day with his stuff on my desk. He opened his briefcase and in plain view was what he proudly announced was a 9mm Glock. Apparently delighted at my horror he then produced from an ankle holster another one. He assured me that the assorted Ninja throwing stars and chuck-sticks were just curios.

Notwithstanding recent Florida rulings, as Willy was exercising his right under the U.S. Constitution to bear arms, had a concealed weapons license, and was in most every respect a stand-up guy -- and not withstanding the real dangers he faced going about his business -- this situation was difficult for me to reconcile with your thinking which I agree with in principle.

Setting Unsure's particular instance aside, three questions:

1) Should I have gone to HR too?

2) Does the same advice you'd give apply to throwing stars and chuck-sticks?

3) Where do you draw the line -- pepper spray?

Common sense is not always so common,
Don't get me wrong. I am a proponent of firearm rights.

"An armed society is a polite society." ~ Robert A. Heinlein, "Beyond This Horizon", 1942 (For some reason I always thought Jefferson said that.)

But when you're talking in someone's office, and he asks you to close the door (the spookiness starting) and opens a desk drawer to reveal a gun (no warning), obviously looking for some kind of reaction, I have to wonder about motive. Notice the "show it to friends" is in quotes; does Unsure at some level also wonder about the friendliness of this act? Unsure was there - I wasn't, but this reporting feels very odd. Irrational acts like these give gun ownership a bad name and who needs this kind of behavior as a touchstone for argument against guns? In the coming years gun laws are going to be ever more mightily challenged by legislation.

"Guns don't kill people. People kill people." ~ Bumper-sticker slogan of NRA supporters, which makes the obvious point that guns normally don't go off without some kind of human intervention, and that the real solution to violence is not in making any certain potentially lethal device unavailable, but in changing basic human nature from violent to peaceful.

"I carry a small gun 'cause I have a great big _____." Inscription on coffee mug given to Bob (concealed carry holder) for Christmas. Make of that what you will.
Maureen, Maureen, Maureen...things that make you go "Hmmm..."

Maureen Sharib said:
But when you're talking in someone's office, and he asks you to close the door (the spookiness starting) and opens a desk drawer to reveal a gun (no warning), obviously looking for some kind of reaction, I have to wonder about motive.
Hmmm...it's all so complicated. Or is it?
;)
No, I don't think so. It seems like we've cracked it.

Maureen Sharib said:
Hmmm...it's all so complicated. Or is it?
;)
I wondered about the motive involved too, Maureen. Did the manager want to intimidate, or was he just excited about his new purchase? Either way, it doesn't really matter; one might hope that if someone buys a gun they also have respect for its use. Show and tell to an unsuspecting audience is not, in my opinion, a respectful use of the weapon. But regardless of motivation, we can't ignore that someone who purchases a gun most often has an intent to use it when and if the situation warrants.

Truthfully, I think that regardless of motivation or intent, this is a case of very bad judgement on the manager's part and should be handled by those in the business with the authority to make whatever decisions they think are best.

Maureen Sharib said:
Not only what you say, Claudia, but I sense an undercurrent of hostilty here.
Why show such a thing to others at work? To intimidate? To create fear? It's ugly and it's crazy
So, Claudia, are you saying having a gun at work is not the issue but the manager's poor judgment is, or both?

Claudia Faust said:
Truthfully, I think that regardless of motivation or intent, this is a case of very bad judgement on the manager's part and should be handled by those in the business with the authority to make whatever decisions they think are best. Maureen Sharib said:
Not only what you say, Claudia, but I sense an undercurrent of hostilty here.
Why show such a thing to others at work? To intimidate? To create fear? It's ugly and it's crazy
Ami, I remember working in an office many years ago where a woman's pepper spray device was discharged briefly in her purse. An hour later all of the doors and windows were still open, and it was difficult to breathe in the building. Your sales rep sounds like a knowlegeable self-protection afficionado, but yes, I would probably have had a "heads up" conversation with HR about this exchange too. I'm not suggesting that it is right or wrong to carry guns, throwing stars, or chuck-sticks; personally, I'm a big fan of the right to keep and bear arms (even if the last two on the list carry it a bit far for me). But I do think that employers have a right to manage risk if, in any way, they could be held liable for damages after the fact.


Amitai Givertz said:
Setting Unsure's particular instance aside, three questions:

1) Should I have gone to HR too?

2) Does the same advice you'd give apply to throwing stars and chuck-sticks?

3) Where do you draw the line -- pepper spray?

Common sense is not always so common,
For me the issue is poor judgement and the potential of one person putting the business at risk either physically or financially.

Amitai Givertz said:
So, Claudia, are you saying having a gun at work is not the issue but the manager's poor judgment is, or both?
Having seen more than 225 dead bodies at homicide scenes, including 12 children -- at least 70 percent the result of handgun violence -- in my last year as a crime writer, you can bet that my perspective is not going to be the same as Wayne LaPierre of the NRA. And it is all a matter of perspective.

But bringing a gun to the workplace --even one that is unloaded -- is beyond stupid. Heck, elementary kids have been suspended from school for having toy guns or even over-the-counter pain medications in their backpacks.

You have to question the judgment of someone who would bring a gun to work and then show it to people!

I will be happy to take my chances in a no handgun society but I know that will not happen in the U.S. But violent crime rates certainly would bottom out.

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