By M.A. von Pfeiffer

I’ve shopped at Whole Foods stores across the country and I’ve always enjoyed them. I’m willing to pay a bit more for my food in order to have certain quality- and ethics-based assurances. Generally, they are clean places filled with fit people, organic food and new age music your unicorn will love; however, there’s trouble in paradise. My local Whole Foods in Venice, California, has been populated by teams of radio-in-the-ear, uniformed security guards with guns. Not only are firearms allowed, WF pays a handsome sum of money for the insurance and to the third-party security firm to make it so.  Why? Is a skilled tactical hit squad of baddies going to execute a brilliantly planned hit, employing heavy ordinance and exotic explosives to blow the vault and grab some rare treasure—the Holy Grail, Munch’s The Scream or a DNA sample from Oprah Winfrey? No. Is a daring criminal mastermind going to choose Whole Foods as the take point in his/her unlikely abduction of a celebrity darling or king-maker CEO? No. The alley behind Fat Burger in Hollywood is a better choice. Lower visibility and bigger targets. Are a group of terrorists going to zip line from the heavens and extract their jihad-style vengeance upon godless avatar of America: Whole Foods? Doubtful.

Then why? Straight-up safety? Compared to workplaces that prohibit all kinds of weapons, those which allowed guns in 2011 were 6.8 times more likely to have a worker killed on the job. That’s according to researcher Dana Loomis in “Preventing Gun Violence in the Workplace,” a Connecting Research in Security to Practice (CRISP) Report commissioned by the ASIS Foundation.  So “no” there, too.

Perhaps the fellows there are strapped as a deterrent to petty theft? It doesn’t take a mastermind to figure out that he/she/it will not be shot for stealing a can of beans—organic or otherwise. Taking more numbers from Loomis: businesses which allowed their security to carry weapons other than firearms were only 1.4 times more likely to experience an increase in the risk of having a homicide. Pause there. Ergo: A can of MACE on the belt of a fit and acutely observant guard—radio headset or not—will be less deadly to the workers themselves and a more realistic deterrent to a shoplifter.  Perhaps Whole Foods might consider encouraging menacing hairstyles (mohawk, shaven head), rigorous workout routines, healthy diets, war-painted faces, body oil on muscles and customized or illustrated hip bludgeons in order to truly inspire fear in the hearts of starving criminals. But maybe he/she/it are just THAT hungry.

How about a single misanthropic lunatic choosing Whole Foods’ doors to charge though? Much of the violence in the workplace can be linked to simple or aggravated assault—90%. Homicides are not commonly resultant from assaults, they make up a very low number. Rather, more than two thirds of workplace homicides are committed with guns and two thirds of those deaths result from robberies (Crisp Report).  This means? The vast majority of violence at work (and Whole Foods) is non-firearm based and can be combated with simple physical force… or brainwork. The cases where criminals are bringing guns to the party are when they want to take big stuff.  Most criminals find grocery stores rather low on their list of places to rob with a gun. But for those who do? One might think that guns are required to combat this, fight fire with fire… were it not for the aforementioned fact that  workplaces which allow employees to carry guns also carry with them a nearly 700 percent higher chance of said employees being slain while on the clock. There’s no magic answer here, but to let the police handle it. What’s a little lost revenue when compared to a human life? Not much to Whole Foods, a Fortune 500 monster which boomed 2.4 billion dollars in 2011 sales.

Recent, real instances WF incidents:

Oak Park, Illinois: A man took the money a manager was transferring to a safe ($7,800).

Dallas, Texas: A woman had her $90,000 ring stolen in the parking lot—this perhaps has less to do with Whole Foods, and more to do with wearing a $90,000 ring somewhere other than a fete at the Four Seasons.

Trenton, New Jersey: A robber was thwarted by a quick cashier who slammed his fingers in her drawer.

New Orleans Louisiana: A man brandished a gun, threatening another man over a parking space.

Now. Relax. Sit back in that comfy chair you’re in and let your mind explore. Imagine a gun—or another gun—being introduced to any of these unfortunately very human situations. What happens? Statistics from 2009 a la the US Department of Labor state that 81 percent of workplace homicides are committed with a firearm. Does a firearm make any of the above scenarios better, and if so by how much? Does whatever “good” gained justify risking the 81 percent simply tip that number to 82 percent?

The second amendment, the right to bear arms, was penned with the facilitation of a militia, or civilian army, in mind:  “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” The preceding was written at a time when our standing army was weak. Is it still a good idea? That’s a relevant root question but unfortunately a larger one than that which can be covered here; however, according the American Bar Association’s website our yearly average of 30,000-ish deaths from firearms is eight times higher than that in it is in our economic counterparts in other parts of the world. As a companion statistic, it is also true that the homicide rate of our “kill-leader” demographic (males 15-24) is 10 times higher than in most other developed countries. The second factoid is taken from a study by former marine and ex-president of the Sacramento chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility, Dr. Bill Durston. What both of these number have in common is that they suggest that the idea of “threat-nulls-violence,” or mutual assured destruction, as a deterrent isn’t working. It just ain’t.

The armed services are a profession, as are the police. They are also a lifestyle. They are allowed to levy weapons upon other humans after severe training of brain, body and spirit—as individuals and in sympathy with one another as a team. The “it-works-in-movies” idea of arming organized security that are not of a professional-lifestyle grade is whimsical and dangerous. Giving individuals the same uniform and radios does not transform them into a moldable entity with the grace to move with single-intentioned synchronicity.  Having a clean background check and an eight—or eighty, for that matter—hour course does not mean the participating individual will treat the ability to kill another human instantaneously, and resultant collateral damage— with the weight it is due.

Again, the threat of the gun isn’t magic and collateral damage in some form is almost guaranteed—death-by-firearm is the second leading killer of children 10-19, and more than a couple of the lower-aged inhabitants of that bracket have someone else to blame. Despite the right to bear arms, perhaps because of it, the greatest crime, homicide, occurs far more in the US than in countries which mirror us in aspects other than gun control with 4.8 people out of 100,000 being shot dead per year in the US, 1.4 in the UK, 1.9 in Canada, 1.6 in France, 1.4 in the UK and 0.9 in Germany.  New Orleans has the worst odds, 52 out of 100,000 of its inhabitants slain per year averaged between 1980-2009.

Even members of the armed forces who are operating and living within a disciplined structure and under experienced leadership cannot claim to always use deadly force with the wisdom and unimpeachable discretion it calls for.  If they can’t, then can graduates of places with names like the Southwest California Law-Tech Institute for the Implementation of Public Safety and Guard Force Training Center?

What sort of problem at a grocery store, eco-friendly or not, would be better dealt with via firearms? I can’t think of one. Whole Foods isn’t a Mom and Pop joint struggling not to brun down in the hard part of town where you’d stow a shotgun under the counter as a deterrent to the thugs, cutthroats, cheapjacks and cannibals lurking outside the door, ready to separate life from limb and livelihoods—the company saw quarterly profits jump 35% around this time last year (fiscal third quarter) and their target audience drive current-model German cars. Nor is their vault holding/protecting anything of such intrinsic worth that blood need be spilled over it. And threats are worthless without assured action. But. As the numbers show, with all the “action” we see in the US, if a gun on the hip is the threat, it’s obvious that threats are not only worthless, they’re dangerous to everyone involved.

There’s something ironic, awful and guilt-inducing about armed guards posted at food store in a country where the jobless rates are cresting; but if it is going to be done it must not be done lazily. Bullets and beerbellies are not the way to go. Make sure the guards can make it across the parking lot at a dead sprint, don’t rely on the speed of lead; make certain that in the worse-case scenario the devices you as a business are introducing into the public cannot directly cause the death of a bystander. According to the US Department of Labor more than 70 percent of United States workplaces do not have a formal program or policy that addresses violence in the workplace. Although quite handy with a recipe for gluten free all-natural apple pie, whether Whole Foods does or not, representative Libby Letton did not immediately know.

Perhaps they do and perhaps all employed are required to take it, hopefully so. Certainly they should, as being not shot is easily as cool as being all-organic.

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