Devin McLean is 22 years old. A veteran of the Air Force, McLean served his country and countrymen with pride and honor. After departing the Air Force, McLean went to work at AutoZone. Were you to drop by the Yorktown, Va., AutoZone location where McLean was employed, you likely wouldn’t have noticed him except to ask for directions to the spark plugs. Like hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of his fellow veterans, McLean had almost seamlessly reintegrated into civilian life. Indeed, his concern for his fellow servicemen and servicewomen had been replaced by concern for family; McLean is due to be a first-time father soon.
Last month, as McLean and his manager faced an armed robbery attempt by a man believed to have carried out nearly three dozen similar crimes throughout the region, McLean put his training to good use. He ran to his truck, retrieved his firearm and pointed it at the would-be robber, who then fled the scene. Given the criminal’s alleged history, McLean likely saved a number of lives.
But AutoZone isn’t promoting McLean. It isn’t throwing a party in his honor. He will receive no certificate of appreciation for his valiant efforts. Indeed, instead of accolades for bravery, he received a pink slip for violating corporate policy.
As it turns out, AutoZone has a strict corporate policy forbidding firearms on company property. When McLean moved to defend himself, his coworkers and his customers, he violated that policy. When AutoZone management learned of his heroism, they terminated him. And Devin McLean the hero became Devin McLean the unemployed hero.
The sorry saga of Devin McLean spread across the Web like gonorrhea rocketed through Zuccotti Park during the height of the so-called “Occupy” movement. While most interested parties shared their outrage over AutoZone’s silly stringency, some pointed out that the AutoZone policy was likely motivated by fear of collateral damage arising from an exchange of gunfire in one of the shops. I expect random shootouts are as common at AutoZone as they are at most auto parts supercenters — meaning a no-gun policy is more a result of a corporate fear of lawyers than a corporate fear of warfare breaking out in the brake pad aisle.
If an employee squeezes off a couple of rounds in the parking lot to show off for the transmission guy, then showing him the street is not only reasonable, but required. If an employee saves the transmission guy with a gun he would otherwise have left in his glove box, then firing him is not only silly, but sad. Sure, he violated policy; but had he not done so, the Yorktown store manager might have changed his last fuel filter. Corporate policy is one thing; human life is another. In favoring the former at the potential expense of the latter, AutoZone isn’t acting beyond the realm of corporate reason. After all, it has the right to maintain any policies it wishes, within the bounds of the law. Leave it to the hero himself to offer his former bosses some perspective: “If I can save somebody’s life, I put that way above a store policy.”
AutoZone ought to consider that while it is quite free to enforce a no-gun policy beyond the borders of rigidity, I am likewise free to buy everything from wiper blades to tail lamp bulbs at NAPA.
Update: This article was corrected to reflect Devin McLean’s correct age and to remove language that indicated he served in Afghanistan (he did not) and that there were employees or customers in the store (there were not), as well as to properly describe the events as McLean said they occurred.