It seems the American gun lobbyist may have taken Donald Trump’s ‘alternative facts’ theory a little too seriously. Max Chalmers explains.
It’s not often that the goings on of the Goodyear tire and service centre in Parramatta attract international attention, but a car park kafuffle that escalated into the sacking of an employee has been picked up by an unlikely source, and held out as an example of the “injustice” faced by gun owners in Australia.
Should you have visited the website of the goliath pro-gun US lobby group the National Rifle Association (NRA) in late June, you would have come across the story of David Waters, an Australian shooter who lost his job in 2015 after he met with a friend in the centre’s car park, who proceeded to produce a rifle from her car.
The NRA has become adept at producing its own media, streaming videos and posting articles written in a newsy style. In June, its website prominently displayed a story about Waters, splashing it on the site’s landing page.
In the story, the NRA outlines a sympathetic sketch of Waters’ story, with a guest appearance from Senator David Leyonhjelm, who had picked up on Waters’ case and spoken to it in parliament.
As the NRA telling goes, Waters agreed to meet a friend during his lunch break to discuss a new gun-part she was buying (though the NRA story accidentally misgenders the woman, assuming she is a man). What Waters didn’t realise was that his friend was bringing her rifle to the meeting – which ended up taking place in the secure car park at his workplace.
If the apparition of the rifle was a surprise, you can only imagine Waters’ shock when the police showed up, apparently tipped off by a member of the public who had been disturbed by the sight of the rifle.
Waters wasn’t charged with any offence, but the affair initiated a process that ended in his sacking. He appealed to the Fair Work Commission and received a small payout but was not reinstated.
From this, the NRA saw evidence of anti-gun “fanaticism”, which they warned must be kept out of the U-S-Of-A, lest the American worker fall victim:
“While Goodyear’s treatment of Waters was even more egregious than many of the cases that have led to gun owner firings here in the U.S., this incident is instructive. Given the fanaticism of many gun control supporters, as well as certain corporations’ aspirations to be perceived as politically correct, it is not difficult to imagine a similar scenario resulting in the termination of an American worker. That is why gun rights supporters must work together to bring attention to such injustices when they arise and support legislation that protects workers’ Second Amendment rights.”
If that sounds a bit over the top, here’s what Leyonhjelm made of the incident in a speech delivered in the Senate:
“When they come for one of us in the morning, they’ll be coming for the rest of us that night.”
Needless to say, whatever Leyonhjelm and the NRA think, most Australians would not be shocked by the idea that a gun and a workplace make for a bad mix. Indeed, when Waters’ defended himself at the Fair Work Commission (FWC), his argument relied on the assertion that he did not know his friend would bring the weapon with her.
But beyond that, a full reading of the decision handed down by the FWC throws a different light on the story than that cast by the NRA.
The NRA noted that the FWC “failed” to reinstate Waters but didn’t go into detail. That’s probably because the reason Waters did not get his job back was not just the rifle incident. In fact, it was his response to the subsequent internal investigation that sealed his fate.
In its judgement, the FWC found Waters “was plainly untruthful” during this process, that he displayed “a lack of contrition”, and demonstrated “manifest defiance and antagonism towards the employer’s reasonable requirements to investigate the incident”.
As the NRA noted, Waters brought Leyonhjelm along with him to a meeting with his boss and a Goodyear HR staffer during this investigation. The NRA praised Senator Leyonhjelm for wanting to “prevent such an injustice from happening to other members of the shooting community”.
As the NRA did not note, however, Leyonhjelm’s intervention actually played a role in Waters’ demise. In explaining why Waters’ relationship with his employer had been irreparably damaged, meaning he could not be reinstated, the FWC pointed to the presence of “an overtly interventionist support person” as one reason.
Decoded: Leyonhjelm went in too hard, and caused more problems for Waters than he solved, playing a role in severing the employer-employee relationship.
In the NRA version of events, Waters is a helpless gun-owner fired over a simple misunderstanding that put no-one at risk. In fact, the FWC made clear that Waters’ response to the incident was as much or more of a problem than the incident itself.
In the end, the FWC found Waters had not been properly dismissed by Goodyear – thus the payout – but that his response to the internal investigation the company ran ensured he could not be reinstated.
Despite that, it’s not hard to sympathise with Waters. Employed at Goodyear for over a decade, the quality of his work was never drawn into question. He represented himself at the FWC, a daunting task for an employee.
But the idea he was targeted for being a gun owner, as if his identity was at the heart of the story, is untrue. The suggestion his case provides evidence that a shadowy group of conspirators intend to come for gun owners in the night, or that it can be linked back to the alleged “fanaticism” of gun control supporters, are both exactly as silly as they sound.
There may be something for industrial relations wonks and unionists in Waters’ story. For the NRA, however, there’s no silver bullet with which to shoot down Australia’s successful anti-gun laws.