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News & Editorials

AOL Fires Gun Owners

by Sarah Thompson, M.D.
Director, Utah Gun Owners Alliance


America Online,,  has been known to gun owners for some time for their support of anti-gun organizations and policies.  They’ve donated large sums of money to liberal, anti-gun Democrat organizations to support people like Dianne Feinstein, Hillary Clinton and Ted Kennedy.

More recently, they’ve canceled accounts for firearms related web sites on the grounds that such material is no different from “pornography”.  Never mind that guns are entirely legal items owned by tens of millions of Americans.  Never mind that AOL doesn’t seem to think that disgustingly offensive rock music is a problem.

Now, in another step towards the final elimination of gun owners from “civilized society”, AOL has fired three exemplary workers for having firearms in their cars in order to go shooting at a range on their own time!

The three employees are Luke Hansen, Jason Melling and Paul Carlson.  All three worked as “partner technical consultants” at AOL’s Ogden, Utah facility, doing higher level technical support.  The Ogden facility employs about 850 people, according to AOL’s web site, and “handles a range of technical, billing, third-party and sales calls”. According to Mr. Hansen, they had worked at AOL for two to four years, and all had good employee records and good reviews from their supervisors.  Unfortunately (at least from AOL’s point of view), the three young men also enjoy shooting.

On September 14, 2000, Luke, Jason and Paul met after work in the AOL parking lot to go shooting at the gun range near Eden, Utah.  In order to carpool to the range, Jason and Paul transferred their firearms from their own cars to Luke’s truck, a matter of carrying them a few yards.  Jason transferred a .30-06 hunting rifle and a 9mm Smith & Wesson handgun.  Both firearms were unloaded and in cases.  Paul transferred a .45 long Colt “cowboy style” pistol and a 7.63 X .39 KBI.  The Colt was in a holster, and both firearms were unloaded.  The handguns had trigger locks in place.  Luke’s firearms were in his truck and he never touched Jason or Paul’s firearms.   At no time did they brandish or handle the firearms in a threatening or unsafe manner.  Luke and Paul hold valid Utah concealed weapons permits, and Jason is in the process of obtaining one, so all three are familiar with safe handling and Utah laws.

Although all three of them worked during the subsequent three days, nothing about the firearms was mentioned.  However, on Monday, Sept. 18, all three were fired for “violating AOL’s employee policy” which states that firearms are forbidden on company property, including the parking lot.  According to Luke, although no one complained, an overzealous security guard saw the firearms on a video surveillance tape and reported the alleged violations.

AOL does have its firearms policy posted inside the front and back doors of the building, stating that firearms are not permitted in the building or in the parking lot, and all three employees were aware of this policy.  However, they were also aware that AOL’s policy violates Utah state law.  AOL states that it is a “secure facility”, although under Utah law secure facilities can be designated only by the legislature, and include places such as courts, airports, mental health facilities, and prisons.  By definition, a place open to the public cannot be a “secure facility”, and AOL’s parking lot is open to the public.  (Actually, it’s a group of marked stalls in a public parking lot.)  In addition, a secure facility is required to provide locked safe storage for anyone lawfully carrying a firearm, and accept responsibility for stored firearms, something that AOL clearly was not equipped to do.

On a previous occasion about two months ago, the three men had also transferred firearms after work, and had been reported to management.  At that time, Luke Hansen met with AOL’s General Manager, Sarah McElwee.  At that time, he explained to Ms. McElwee that while AOL might be able to restrict firearms in the building, it could not restrict firearms in a public parking lot, and that AOL did not meet the criteria for a “secure facility”.  Mr. Hansen says he thought the matter was resolved at the time, although no written changes were made to AOL’s policy.  Ironically, Ms. McElwee’s husband is known for the very fine firearms he makes!

As a result of the firing, Paul is still looking for work.  Jason, who has a wife and just bought a new home, has found a new job.  So has Luke, who is expecting his first child in February.

It appears that AOL management, and especially Ric Waiters, the AOL manager who fired the three, want to force the issue of illegal, politically correct, gun bans.  Fortunately for gun owners everywhere, Luke Hansen, Jason Melling and Paul Carlson are not going to take this lying down!  They’re not willing to see their rights, or the rights of any other Utah gun owners destroyed by America Online.  So they’ve decided to take on America Online, the 800 lb gorilla of anti-gun corporations. 

As Luke wrote in a recent email: “If AOL is allowed to continue with illegal company policies like this, then ALL companies in Utah can adopt similar policies. Your employer can whittle away at your gun rights, and get away with it. The 3 of us have chosen to take a stand, because this is something that we feel very deeply about. We believe that this is truly an issue that affects ALL Utah gun owners and ALL Utah CCW carriers. These aren't just our rights that were violated, they are your rights too.”

The real issue here is whether gun owners are going to be demonized and excluded from participation in ordinary life, whether we’re going to become the last persecuted minority.  Remember that most Americans in the “old South” didn’t assault African-Americans; they simply told them they couldn’t work in “white” businesses, attend “white” schools and churches, eat in “white restaurants” or live in “white” neighborhoods.  Likewise, the Nazis first told Jews that they couldn’t work in German businesses, attend German schools, or otherwise participate in German society.  Once the Jews had been isolated, so that ordinary Germans no longer interacted with them, it was much easier for the Nazis to convince people that Jews were an “inferior race” and a “public health menace”… and that they should be murdered for “the public good”.

If we allow ourselves to be isolated and demonized in the minds of our fellow Americans, then we too will one day find ourselves forbidden to interact with non gun owners.  We too will find ourselves unable to find work, to send our children to school, to attend the religious services of our choice, or to eat in restaurants, shop in stores, or attend movies and sporting events.  (In addition to this AOL case, there is a ballot initiative circulating to prohibit gun owners from entering schools and religious facilities in Utah.)  Eventually we will find ourselves rounded up into concentration camps or stalked by “public servants” seeking to imprison or kill us.

So it’s critically important that we resist each and every attempt to isolate and persecute gun owners NOW – before it’s too late!

Last week, Hansen, Carlson and Melling filed suit against AOL for wrongful termination.  They are being represented by James “Mitch” Vilos, a local attorney, firearms dealer, and author of the book Utah Gun Law: Good, Bad and Ugly, available at  Mitch is also the founder of the Utah Gun Owners Legal Defense (U-GOLD) fund.

AOL has so far refused to comment.  Mace Molen, the Director of Human Resources has a message on his phone saying he’s “on vacation” until November 3.

Mr. Vilos believes the three have an excellent chance of winning their lawsuit.  Like many freedom-loving states, Utah is a “right to work” or “at will” state, meaning that an employee can be fired at any time.  However, Mr. Vilos points out that an employee may NOT be fired if doing so violates public policy.  For example an employer may not fire an employee for being Catholic or Asian, because that would violate state and federal anti-discrimination laws.

How does this apply to the AOL case?  According to Mr. Vilos, public policy is determined by the state constitution and state statutes.

The Utah Constitution clearly states, in Article I, Section 6: “The individual right of the people to keep and bear arms for security and defense of self, family, others, property, or the state, as well as for other lawful purposes shall not be infringed; but nothing herein shall prevent the Legislature from defining the lawful use of arms.”  Clearly, Utahns have an indisputable individual right to keep and bear arms.

As noted above, AOL is violating Utah law by declaring its parking lot and building to be a secure facility, since the parking lot is open to the public and AOL does not provide the mandated safe storage. 

It is not entirely clear whether or not an employer can restrict firearms in the workplace if the workplace is not open to the public, because Utah statute does not specifically address this issue.  However, since a special statute was passed to permit churches to restrict firearms, it would seem that in the absence of such a statute applying to employers, they may not do so.  And the Office of Legislative General counsel previously ruled that Governor Leavitt’s ban on firearms for state employees was illegal (although Leavitt still refuses to stop the ban, and our ultra-liberal attorney general isn’t interested).

Public policy in Utah supports the individual possession of firearms, as well as the right to carry firearms for lawful purposes including self-defense, hunting and target shooting.  It therefore stands to reason that public policy would support three men who go to a range for the purpose of maintaining and improving their firearms skills.  And because Utah has problems with traffic congestion and pollution, public policy supports the use of carpooling.  Thus it seems that public policy supports the right of lawful gun owners to keep unloaded firearms in their cars and to carpool in order to use a shooting range on their own time.  And as a matter of public policy, employers generally are not permitted to regulate their employees’ legal activities outside of work hours.

Therefore, Luke Hansen, Paul Carlson and Jason Melling are suing AOL for wrongful termination in violation of public policy and asking for declaratory relief.  They are also asking for a jury trial, so their case can be judged by ordinary Utahns.  And they’re asking for reimbursement of attorney’s fees since this is a matter of clarifying public policy.

By taking such a principled and courageous stand, these three men and their attorney are fighting for the rights of all gun owners against a virulent and well-funded anti-gun behemoth.  They deserve the thanks and support of all gun owners.

What can YOU do?

1. Lawsuits take money!  Although a formal legal defense fund for this case has not yet been started, Mr. Vilos says that funds can be sent to U-GOLD.  Please include a note saying that you would like your donation to go to the AOL case.  Donations are NOT tax-deductible.  U-GOLD,  8773 S. 450 East,  Sandy, UT 84070

2. Contact the AOL call center in Ogden, Utah:  Mace Molen, Director of Human Resources, 801-622-7977,, 2261 Grant Ave., Ogden, UT 84401

All parties involved ask that you please BE POLITE when contacting Mr. Molen.  Your goal is to explain why AOL’s actions are wrong, or why you will no longer do business with AOL, but NOT to personally attack anyone!   

3. Contact AOL member support – especially if you are an AOL subscriber.  1-800-827-6364.  See above message about being POLITE!  Remember that the AOL employees you talk to are just ordinary people with a job – not very different from Luke, Jason and Paul.   You want them to understand that three of their fellow employees were treated illegally and unfairly and that the same thing could happen to them!

4. Tell your friends and relatives about AOL’s persecution of gun owners and ask them to complain to AOL.  You might even want to send them the “Amerika Online” e-postcard, available at:

Should you cancel your account with AOL?  When I asked Luke Hansen, he said, “I’ll thank people who cancel their accounts, but I can’t ask them to do so.  It’s an individual decision.”

This month AOL announced that they have reached 25 million members.  But there are at least 80 million gun owners in the United States, a ratio of better than 3:1!  AOL is huge and wealthy and powerful, but they’re not invulnerable!  If gun owners take a stand, we can win!

For those of you who wish to keep supporting AOL, consider donating an amount equal to your monthly AOL fee to a pro-gun organization!

For those of you who do choose to switch internet service providers, remember that most large telecommunications companies (AT&T, Sprint, etc.) are just as anti-gun as AOL.  Check with local providers, or check out’s new internet service at

Let’s teach AOL that persecuting gun owners is illegal, un-American and won’t be tolerated!

Copyright 2000, Sarah Thompson, M.D. Dr. Thompson is the Executive Director of Utah Gun Owners Alliance,  She also writes The Righter, She can be reached at

Click here to read Luke Hansen's own words about this event. Note: I just spoke with Luke tonight (Sunday, Oct 29, 9:30pm) and verified this event. It's real, it happened. Luke and his friends filed a lawsuit against AOL last week, and some assistance is requested from anyone who chooses to support the case. We've offered Luke free internet access so he can step back from AOL to insure his privacy and to support him during this transition. We have extended this offer to one of the other two plaintiffs in the case who is still using AOL for internet access, as well.  Our internet access reaches Ogden just fine, and who better to offer our internet access to than gun owners who just got shafted by AOL?  ~~ Angel Shamaya, Director,

Other AOL-related Links:

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