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Corporations And Liberty


by Michael Mitchell

April 15, 2002

In years past, most notably the 1970s, it was popular with Hollywood to depict a future world in which mammoth corporations ran everything, where the individual was subjugated to the will of a faceless bureaucratic engine with massive economic muscle. (I refer you to the film “Rollerball” for an example.) Now, of course, we haven’t seen such an event materialize. But how far are we from it - really?

The courts have repeatedly held that private organizations can engage in conduct towards their employees or members which would be forbidden to government agencies by the Constitution. For example, routine drug screenings of employees are common, as are corporate policies forbidding the possession of weapons on company property. The reasoning for such relaxed standards on corporations is that participation in a company or private organization is voluntary, and, therefore, you can choose not to have your freedoms infringed by not associating with that particular entity. Additionally, the Constitution was specifically written to constrain government, not private entities.

Unfortunately, that theory has a major flaw. What happens when every company, or at least the vast majority of them, engage in these practices? It’s difficult to find, for example, a medium or large company that does not engage in drug screenings of all employees, with no requirement for probable cause on the part of the employer. This is a violation of the fourth amendment’s protections against unreasonable search and seizure. You are hardly ‘secure in your person’ if you are required to submit to medical testing as a condition of employment.

Employment is the means by which you sustain your life. Hence, it is directly tied to the right to life. (That doesn’t mean you are guaranteed a job, only the right to seek one, to sell your skills to a potential employer or customer. To guarantee you a job is to violate the rights of the person who has to provide it for you. There can be no right that necessitates the violation of the rights of another.)

Corporate policies that infringe on basic freedoms leave you in an uncomfortable position. You must either attempt to find employment with a concern that does not violate your rights - and those are becoming rarer every day - or you must accept abridgment of your rights in order to make a living. Hence, your right to life is set against your other rights, the ones that make life worthy of living.

Companies argue that they have the right to a drug free workplace. (An interesting notion, since, by definition, there are no rights that apply to groups. Only individuals have rights.) They argue that drug abuse costs American industry millions in lost revenues each year. Perhaps it does. However, it seems far more reasonable to engage strictly in for-cause testing - testing those employees who show behavior consistent with drug abuse. You’d have a much smaller budget for drug testing, and your employees - the vast majority of who aren’t using drugs, and wouldn’t even in the absence of random testing - will spend more time on their jobs, and will resent the management less. The result would be happier, and therefore more productive, employees. Probable cause works for government officials, and it would work equally well for companies.

Now, since this organization is dedicated to the right to keep and bear arms, you might ask what all of this has to do with guns. The same principle that applies to drug screenings applies to gun rights. Companies that routinely prohibit their employees from possessing weapons on company property, or worse, while on company business, are equally guilty of violating the employees’ right to life. In this case, however, it’s even more direct.

Workplace violence is a reality in modern day America. Disgruntled or just plain deranged current and former employees have gone on killing sprees in multiple states. Company policies forbidding the possession of weapons have done little or nothing to prevent these attacks; in fact, they may have facilitated them by allowing the assailant unopposed access to his victims. Firing employees for exercising their natural right of self defense is, in essence, telling them that their lives and work are less valuable to the company than shielding the executives from some imagined or potential liability resulting from an employee who doesn’t handle his weapon properly.

There’s another side to the liability issue, however, that most companies have not considered. Can the company stand the liability of the employee who sues the company for infringing on his ability to protect himself when that deranged former employee comes through the door? That lawsuit is going to happen, someday soon. When it does, what kind of position will you be in as an executive? Will you be able to tell a jury that you thought your employees would be safer by being helpless? Will they agree?

The solution to employees not handling weapons properly is to train them. It’s well within the means of the average medium to large corporation to provide weapons training, including range time, to their employees who want it. Consider it a new benefit, along with medical insurance and 401(k) savings plans. By cutting back on your drug screening program, you’d probably enjoy a net savings, so it mightn’t even impact your bottom line at all.

The potential benefits to the company of an armed workforce are enormous: A stable of trained, armed employees who are capable of defending themselves and company property in the event of an attack. Your investment in weapons training would be miniscule compared to what most companies spend on security. Those employees who feel objectionably to the carrying of arms wouldn’t be required to. You’d make enormous gains in security as well as worker morale, as employees who are valued and trusted produce far better than chained, gagged, helpless slaves.

I’m not suggesting that we ask government to constrain employers to the conditions under the Constitution. That would simply result in additional government intrusion, along with the inevitable bungling that accompanies it. What I’m suggesting is that employers and employees take serious measure of these conditions, and rationally consider the possibilities and the promise of respecting the rights of the individual. The fact that there’s no legal obligation to do so doesn’t make it a bad idea.

Copyright 2002 Michael A. Mitchell. Permission is hereby granted to reproduce this article in its entirety, including this copyright notice. Mike writes for; read some of his other work at You can contact Mike at


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There is no worse tyranny than to force a man to pay for what he does not want merely because you think it would be good for him. — ROBERT HEINLEIN

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