Should Uber and Lyft drivers be allowed to carry guns? It's a big debate after Friday's deadly ride

Riders & drivers have mixed feelings about weapons
Posted at 3:13 PM, Jun 02, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-02 17:13:14-04

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DENVER -- The Uber shooting certainly has a lot of us — both riders and drivers — thinking about the safety of ride-share services.

On one hand, the drivers are screened. The passengers aren't. They could be anyone. Because of that, can we blame drivers for arming themselves just in case?

On the other hand, there are many reported cases of dangerous drivers.

The call to 911 came early Friday morning on a Denver interstate; the dispatcher is heard saying, "Our caller is an Uber driver claiming he just shot a passenger."

The driver in this case, 29-year-old Michael Hancock, was never supposed to have a gun.

Uber — the company contracting Hancock — has a firearms policy which previously allowed weapons if drivers had their concealed carry permits.

But the policy changed a few years back. It now states, "…Uber prohibits riders and drivers from carrying firearms of any kind..."

Lyft has always prohibited firearms, unless you're a law enforcement agent.

The shooting Friday morning certainly has both riders and drivers alarmed.

"It was really disappointing and unfortunate, you know," said Ken Blanco, a driver for Lyft.

"That's really sad that something so casual could turn into something violent," said a visitor from Arizona Denver7 spoke with.

In the court of public opinion, riders expressed mixed feelings when we asked if drivers should be armed.

“I don't think so," said Uber user Max Simmons.

"I don't think they should," said a Denver resident who did not wish to be identified during an on-camera interview.

But other riders say drivers should be allowed a measure of protection.

"I'm for responsible gun ownership and knife ownership, as well," said Uber rider Emily Wright. “You should be allowed to have one because as an Uber driver, it’s for your own protection."

“I think there definitely needs to be a discussion," said another rider, who also did not wish to be identified.

Uber driver Mike Baker toldDenver7 he doesn't understand how the situation escalated so fast.

"How does it get to that point?” Baker said. “From, ‘Hey, nice to meet you.’ To – bang! You're dead."

In two years as an Uber driver, Baker has given an estimated 3,000 rides and says he's only had one bad experience.

“A guy from New York,” Baker said. “Not that I don’t love my New Yorkers. But, he's like, 'I don't mean to be a jerk.' And I'm like - 'Well, then don't be a jerk. It's so much easier to be nice to people.'"

There are more sides to this debate, as well.

Just last month, Contact7 investigate reporter Ryan Luby uncovered many dangers of ride-sharing, including 20 reported cases of sexual assault in Denver alone.

Wright says as a female, she never rides alone.

“For sure,” she said. “I usually don't go without somebody else. That buddy system is ingrained since college, I guess."

And still others say they've never had an issue.

“I've never had a bad Uber experience. Ever," said a female rider who did not wish to be identified for this story.

Another perspective is about personal comfort for both the driver and the rider. It’s unclear if the rider in the deadly case was riding in the front seat or the back.

Uber and Lyft allow riders to sit in the front passenger seat. There are no rules.

Blanco, who drives for Lyft, says he doesn't believe any driver needs a gun.

“I don't think in any workplace that you should be armed whatsoever," he said.

He also worries about how this might impact his business.

“People are going to think, 'How are Uber drivers any different than Lyft drivers?'" Blanco said.

But Baker, who drives for Uber, says every job has its dangers.

“Just like what you do for a living,” Baker said to Denver7 reporter Russell Haythorn. “You might do an interview with somebody - they might be the greatest thing. And then, the next guy comes along and he wants to beat you on live television."

A lot to consider in a world where convenience often trumps concern.

"It kind of changes my mind about ride-share," said an Uber user who did not want to be identified. “It's kind of crazy, because you get in an Uber and you feel like you're safe. Especially if you're out of town."

Uber’s gun ban has been challenged in court before. Last August, a driver in Florida filed suit against the ride-share giant claiming the ban violated his right to bear arms under Florida's Motor Vehicles Act of 2008.           

But, the driver never actually carried a firearm in his car, so the judge threw out the case saying it was all theoretical and lacked concrete merit.

The judge argued there was no information about how Uber would enforce its own policy.

Many legal scholars say that likely leaves the door wide open to future lawsuits.