- October 23, 2023
- Attorney Matt Stoddard
- Personal Injury
The last few years of amendments to Georgia’s gun laws have expanded the places where residents can carry firearms, and reduced the documentation and scrutiny directed toward gun ownership.
However, there are a lot of misconceptions about exactly what the current legislation allows and requires, notably the verbiage about the right to carry a gun in one’s “place of business.”
This provision applies to business owners. It does not guarantee employees the right to carry guns at work. Private owners of commercial properties still have the right to ban guns from those properties, and to apply such bans to their employees as well as their guests. Employers generally can’t search employee-owned vehicles, regardless of where they’re parked, but they can use metal detectors to check employees for concealed weapons.
With few exceptions, businesses also have the right to employ qualified, armed security guards.
So, knowing what Georgia business owners can do when it comes to guns in the workplace, what must they do?
Well, all bricks-and-mortar businesses have a duty, within reason, to do whatever will keep people on their property as safe as possible from foreseeable threats. That includes the threat of gun violence.
Depending on the situation, protecting people might mean providing security against outside crime, responding to warning signs of violence from among the business’s own staff, or both.
A Walmart Employee in Hiram Appears to Have Shot and Killed His Ex While at Work
At the Walmart Supercenter on Jimmy Lee Smith Parkway in Hiram, customers and staff found themselves fleeing the sound of gunshots a little after 7pm on September 18th.
Although there were no direct eyewitnesses to the moment of the shooting, police have pieced together a probable sequence of events. Evidently, a man approached a woman in one of the aisles, struck up a seemingly calm conversation, and then abruptly pulled out a handgun, shot the woman, and then shot himself.
The man and woman, later identified as 26-year-old James Norton and 20-year-old Zoey Messenger, were both brought to Wellstar Kennestone Hospital, where they were pronounced dead.
Norton was an employee at the Walmart. He and Messenger had previously had a romantic relationship, which had ended. Police believe the shooting was opportunistic, rather than planned in detail.
The store closed, following the shooting, until the morning of the 22nd. While the closure might be in good taste, and even necessary to comply with the police investigation, it doesn’t mean much in terms of customer safety. This particular shooter is gone. The chance to save Messenger has passed. Accountability for her death and prevention of similar shootings in the future will take a lot more than a few days of closed doors.
Walmart Is Responsible for Both Store Security and the Actions of Its Employees
The seemingly opportunistic nature of the shooting in Hiram suggests that Norton had been working with a loaded handgun as a matter of course. That would mean Walmart must have either allowed this, or failed to notice it.
If Norton gave any visible indication of violent impulses or violent intentions toward his ex before the shooting occurred, Walmart could be liable for allowing him to carry the gun in the store, or even for hiring and retaining him as an employee at all.
There’s also another form of liability in play here. In general, employers are financially responsible for the cost of their employees’ destructive actions, simply because the employers are also the ones who enjoy the profits from those employees’ constructive actions.
So, even if Norton had killed Messenger completely without warning and without a weapon of any kind, Walmart might still be liable for her death, as long as Norton was on-duty for the company at the time.
If you are next-of-kin to Zoey Messenger, or if you have suffered an injury or the death of a loved one due to violence in a Georgia Walmart, reach out to the Stoddard Firm for a free consultation on your rights.