Disney World bans employees from keeping guns in cars

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Chip and Dale's boss wants to pack heat.

It's not that Susan Fiore's worried about her fur-suited Disney World workers - it's those outside the Orlando, Fla.-area theme park who worry her.

Although a new and controversial National Rifle Association-backed law sought to give Floridians like her the peace of mind to carry a piece almost anywhere in their cars, Disney World has found what it says is an out tucked in the law.

The exemption is for employers with a federal explosives permit, which Disney has for its massive, daily fireworks shows.

That exemption isn't the only questionable part of the state law, which a federal judge in Tallahassee called "stupid" because it didn't clearly define which employers it applied to. The judge plans to issue a ruling in a few days at the behest of business groups that are suing on the grounds that the gun-rights law violates their private-property rights.

Disney's legal interpretation has put it squarely in the sights of gun-rights advocates who have led the charge in writing and calling the Florida Attorney General's Office to force the company to comply with the intent of the law.

"Disney is not above the law," said Fiore, a 12-year Disney employee who oversees the animal-character cast members at Animal Kingdom. She was among those who lodged a complaint with the Attorney General's Office, leaving the e-mail address akchipndaleyahoo.com.

"Disney's the safest place on Earth. It's awesome," said Fiore. "But late at night in the parking lot, and driving the 35 miles to and from home, I don't always feel safe armed with just a cellphone."

But theme-park guests might not feel safe knowing that some of the 62,000 Disney employees have weapons in their cars, said company spokeswoman Zoraya Suarez. She said that having armed people on the property violates the company's zero-tolerance policy concerning workplace violence. Disney has its own security force as well as 50 Orange County Sheriff's Office employees.

The law applies to gun owners with a concealed-weapons permit who safely lock their weapons in a car. It doesn't give gun owners the right to bring the weapon into the office.

Clearly exempt from the law: schools, correctional institutions, nuclear-power facilities, defense and homeland-security firms and employers whose "primary business" concerns explosives and combustibles.

But within the section concerning those who deal with explosives is an exemption for an "employer who has obtained a permit required under 18 U.S.C. s. 842 to engage in the business of importing, manufacturing, or dealing in explosive materials on such property."

Said Suarez: "We have the permit. We deal in explosives every day."

But the NRA's chief state lobbyist, Marion Hammer, said the exemption should be read in the context of those employers whose "primary" business is explosives.

"Disney is a prime offender in denying people their rights under the Second Amendment and the laws of Florida," said Hammer, adding that the law was drafted in response to Disney firing an employee for having a gun in his car.

Now Attorney General Bill McCollum, whose office is tasked with enforcement, must interpret what it all means. Spokeswoman Sandi Copes said the office is still reviewing the case and the legislation.

Until and unless McCollum sides with Fiore or someone successfully sues to stop Disney, employees are being told to keep the firearms at home.

Disney security guard Edwin Sotomayor protested his employer's policy by announcing to the news media last week that he would lawfully bring his weapon in his car to work. He was promptly fired. Sotomayor, 36, said it was worth it to "prove a point" and pave the way for the numerous other employees who keep their mouths shut about the guns they have in their cars.

He said the Orlando area's crime rate makes pistol-packing a must for many.

"If you're going to let the Mouse rule the world, it's not worth it," he said. "There are two worlds: the world of Disney, and the real world. This was for the real world. It can be scary."

Fiore is among those who worry. But while she appreciates the attempt to give her the right to protect her life, she said she doesn't want to lose her livelihood by bringing a weapon onto Disney property.

"I'm not going to make a point and get fired," she said. "But if I need protection to and from work, it's my constitutional right."