Showdown Over Guns At Work

Jimmy Wyatt fired for having gun in car at work bill whitaker evening news
When gun and corporate cultures clashed in southeast Oklahoma, Jimmy Wyatt got caught in the crossfire.

"I've had it for over 20 years ... They're very much a part of life," says Wyatt of his guns. "We all carry them."

But in 2002, as CBS News Correspondent Bill Whitaker reports, a surprise sweep of the parking lot found Wyatt and 11 other employees of paper giant Weyerhauser had guns locked in their vehicles, a violation of a new corporate policy. They all said they didn't know the policy had changed. They were fired almost on the spot.

"They done me wrong," says Wyatt of his employer. "Ruined my life, basically."

"I have a wife and five kids. I'm nearly on food stamps. My one girl just had to drop out of college. I'm nearly on food stamps."

But the largest local employer says these machines are designed for worker safety and guns are banned, even from the parking lot, for the same reason.

"If someone chose to, they could get that firearm out and do some serious damage," says Wanda Graham of Weyerhauser.

Weyerhauser says it's not just blowing smoke. Seventy-seven percent of workplace homicides are committed with guns. "Going Postal" - shorthand for workplace violence - stems from a 1986 Oklahoma post office shooting in which 14 people were killed.

"We are trying to provide a safe place for our employees to work here," says Graham.

Who would have thought that a small, local conflict in rural Oklahoma would trigger a kind of American Revolution?

Starting in this quiet place where the south meets the west, where Peggy's Cafe whips up breakfast and the regulars dish out opinions. Nearly everyone here has or carries a gun.

Here, it's a matter of rights and wrong.

"They're infringing on my rights to protect me and my property," says one café patron.

"Freedom of religion, freedom of speech - this is the 2nd Amendment - the right to bear arms," says another patron.

Folks got so incensed, local representative Jerry Ellis got the Oklahoma legislature to overwhelmingly pass a law giving residents the right to keep guns locked in their cars.

"The NRA believes that some form of this legislation will run in every state," says Ellis. "South Carolina has contacted me."

The new law is on hold for now. Big businesses are suing to block it. Despite threats of boycott, Weyerhauser is hanging tough. And Wyatt is barely hanging on. He's suing the company.

"I do not believe in my heart that I did anything wrong to be fired for," says Wyatt.

And the repercussions are echoing far beyond this town.