Disney considers itself exempt from gun law

07/07/08 Seán Kinane
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Last week, Florida’s guns-at-work law went into effect. This means that in most cases, employers can’t forbid their employees with concealed-weapons permits to keep guns locked in their cars at work. But Walt Disney World claims that it is exempt from the law.

A late amendment to the bill exempts employers that hold a federal permit to import, manufacture, or deal in explosive materials on their property. Walt Disney World is claiming that it fits into that exemption category.

Republican Stan Mayfield is a state representative from Vero Beach. His office helped draft the bill. “I never have called it ‘guns to work’ bill, I’ve called it, you know, ‘guns locked up in your car in a parking lot’ bill. The bill was designed and crafted in order to protect Second Amendment rights of United States citizens and Florida citizens. That’s what the bill is designed to do. The question arises whether or not your automobile is an extension of your right to privacy and right to bear arms and a right to self protection. That’s really what’s at question here.”

The Florida Chamber of Commerce opposes the law, called the "Preservation and Protection of the Right to Keep and Bear Arms in Motor Vehicles Act of 2008." Adam Babbington is their legislative counsel.

“The guns at work law essentially is an attempt to deny a property owner the ability to make the final decision over whether a gun is allowed on their property.”

After the law was signed in April, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Retail Association filed a federal lawsuit asking for it to be ruled unconstitutional, Babbington said.

“We’re also seeking an injunction blocking its implementation. We also filed a motion for a preliminary injunction that a federal judge is currently considering and we expect a ruling from him in the next week or two.”

Friday, Disney employee Edwin Sotomayor was suspended and accused trespassing after he refused to allow a search of his car and would neither confirm nor deny that there was a weapon in his car.

Walt Disney World spokesperson Zoraya Suarez refused to be interviewed on tape, but told WMNF that Sotomayor was fired on Monday because he did not cooperate with Disney investigations. Suarez said Walt Disney World has zero tolerance for guns and workplace violence.

Rep. Mayfield said the legislation was not intended to exempt Disney or other theme parks and that Disney is just exploiting a loophole.

“The purpose of that exemption is for military contractors that are handling explosives or radioactive material or that sort of situation.”

But Babbington, from the Florida Chamber of Commerce, said the fact that the new law allows property owners an exemption in the case of dangerous materials is an inconsistent message.

“What’s interesting is that on one hand the Legislature said that guns are harmless and they don’t pose a threat to the workplace, but at same time they’ve provided all theses types of exemptions for business that are engaged in dangerous activities and have explosive material. … So that’s part of problem with basis of law is that it seems to be inconsistent in its approach and how it treats firearms and how it treats an employer’s decision to allow firearms on its property.”

Becca Bides, a spokesperson for Tampa’s Busch Gardens theme park, would not allow a taped interview but told WMNF that the new law does not change the park’s policy. Employees and visitors may transport legal firearms in their cars on Busch Gardens property. WMNF asked Mayfield whether it really was important whether Disney received an exemption to the law.

“It’s a huge deal. … One thing I know will happen if they are successful -- one thing I believe will happen -- is that this issue will be back in the Legislature next year because that was not the Legislature’s intent to exempt large corporations and theme parks capriciously and arbitrarily from the law. The law is intended to protect everyone’s Second Amendment rights and that includes the rights of Disney employees. So I would predict that this issue would be taken up by the legislature again if they are successful in this lawsuit. I’m optimistic that that will not happen.”

WMNF attempted to speak with the National Rifle Association, but they did not return our call by airtime.

Preservation and Protection of the Right to Keep and Bear Arms in Motor Vehicles Act of 2008

Walt Disney World public affairs

Florida Chamber of Commerce

Motion for preliminary injunction by Florida Chamber of Commerce

Rep. Stan Mayfield

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