Bakersfield Firefighter Applicants Inappropriately Questioned on Gun Ownership

One of these things is not like the other, but the Bakersfield Fire Department doesn’t seem to understand the difference:

“Have you committed any act or acts that would have been determined to be a misdemeanor or felony?”

“Have you been adjudged a ‘Mentally Disordered Sex Offender’?”

“Have you ever used, experimented with, tried, consumed, possessed . . . [illegal] drugs or substances . . . ?”

“Do you own any firearms?”

Three of these are crimes, the fourth is a valid exercise of a person’s Second Amendment rights.  Yet for reasons unclear to law-abiding owners of firearms, the Bakersfield Fire Department asks applicants to its reserve firefighter program whether they exercise their Second Amendment rights in the same breath that they ask those applicants about disqualifying crimes.  Why — in Bakersfield of all places — why?

The Bakersfield Fire Department application goes on to ask reserve firefighter applicants about other Second Amendment activity, such as where an applicant has fired firearms, and asks the applicant to list by make and model the firearms owned by the applicant.  The State of California is barred under California and federal law from compiling such a registry, but the Bakersfield Fire Department, in seeking a written accounting of each applicant’s firearms, apparently feels its okay to have this information about its clients.

If the Bakersfield Fire Department bases any hiring decisions on reserve applicants based on those applicants’ responses to questions about firearms use and ownership, such considerations likely violate applicants’ constitutional rights.  The Bakersfield Fire Department has no legitimate employment reason for seeking such information, i.e., it does not ask or require its reserve firefighters to arm themselves as part of their firefighting duties.  And the Department can’t simply ask such sensitive questions of applicants about protected activity to satisfy its own curiosity, e.g., the Bakersfield Fire Department would never dare ask applicants about their participation in public speech rallies, or about whether they’d had an abortion.  But surprisingly the Department has no compunction about asking applicants about an equally-protected exercise of the fundamental right to bear arms.

Not only are the Bakersfield Fire Department’s questions about firearms use and ownership unconstitutional, but such questions may violate state employment laws.  California law expressly prohibits employers from attempting to control or influence the political ideology of their employees.  Labor Code section 1101 unambiguously mandates that “[n]o employer shall make . . . any rule, regulation, or policy . . . tending to control or direct the political activities or affiliations of employees.”  If Labor Code section 1101 is not clear enough, the legislature further clarified its stance on political coercion in section 1102.  Section 1102 states “[n]o employer shall coerce or influence or attempt to coerce or influence his employees through or by means of threat of discharge or loss of employment to adopt or follow or refrain from adopting or following any particular course or line of political action or political activity.”  By asking questions tied to employment about applicants’ off-duty exercise of their Second Amendment rights, and attempting to dissuade use and ownership of firearms as a contingency for being selected as a reserve firefighter, the Bakersfield Fire Department seems to be in violation of Sections 1101 and 1102.

When the Bakersfield Fire Department gets taken to task about its reserve firefighter application in a lawsuit or administrative proceeding, Bakersfield and Kern County taxpayers should hold the Fire Department and its leaders accountable for why tax dollars were spent to implement such a foolish and violative employment policy that invades applicants’ privacy and seeks irrelevant information about the exercise of core rights.  Reserve firefighters deserve the public’s praise and support for their selfless efforts, not undue scrutiny over their lawful activities by an overly zealous government attempting to discourage and stigmatize a lawful activity.

So why is Bakersfield doing this? The city is not exactly a gun-control meca.

If you have questions about the application, you should contact Bakersfield Fire Chief Douglas R. Greener at (661) 326-3979.  So too, ask Bakersfield’s elected representatives about their knowledge of the application and whether they support such invasive questioning of reserve firefighter applicants about their exercise of Second Amendment rights.

A copy of the Fire Department’s invasive application questions are linked below.

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