Uber, the popular service that allows users to arrange for rides with contracted drivers and in over 300 cities across more than 50 countries, has announced a change to its policy that forbids anyone in Uber-dispatched vehicles from carrying firearms. This new ban applies to both passengers and the contractor drivers.
The company said that it changed the policy in order to make sure that “both riders and drivers feel safe and comfortable,” citing feedback from customers and its more than 8,000 drivers. Previously, the company had made a point to defer to local regulations regarding firearms.
Those who violate the new policy may lose all access to the Uber platform, effectively being barred from using the service.
The move by Uber strikes many as slightly bizarre following the April story of an Uber driver who, legally armed with a concealed pistol, prevented what could have been a horrific mass shooting.
Late on Friday, April 17th, a man pulled a gun and opened fire into a crowd of people in Logan Square in Chicago. The incident occurred in front of an Uber driver who had just dropped off a passenger and was sitting in his parked car and in the line of fire. The driver pulled his own gun and fired several shots at the gunman, disabling him with a number of hits. Police responded to the sound of the firing and the gunman was rushed to the hospital, charged with aggravated assault and the unlawful use of a weapon, and held without bond. The Uber driver was not charged because he was “acting in self-defense and in the defense of others” according to Assistant State’s Attorney Barry Quinn.
The incident received limited exposure in the press, as is often the case with stories where guns are used to save lives, but it clearly caught the attention of Uber. The company, valued at $40 billion, made the change to the policy on June 10th. That means it was not influenced by the sensationalized news coverage and political commentary following the shooting of parishioners at a Charleston, S.C., church on the 17th, but it’s certainly getting attention in the swarm of gun control controversy in that incident’s aftermath.
Exactly how Uber is going to enforce the new policy remains a question. The issue is complicated by the fact that Uber has designated its drivers as contractors rather than employees. That designation allows the company to avoid, among other things, Social Security taxes, Medicare, unemployment insurance, and some benefits such as health care, depending upon locale.
In addition to the inconvenience that that policy causes for gun-carrying potential customers, the policy risks marking Uber vehicles as gun-free targets for criminals. Pizza delivery drivers, who carry cash and delicious food while usually being prohibited from carrying firearms, are frequent targets of criminals and denying Uber drivers the right to carry a gun and advertising that fact may put those drivers and their passengers at risk.
Uber is growing rapidly and making a lot of money along the way. It’s a quick, easy, and convenient alternative for taxi users and is seen as a way that individuals can use technology to break traditional business models. But controversies such as concern that Uber can track users even when they are not using the Uber service and this new ban on firearms threaten to keep potential customers from joining the revolution.
Uber competitor, Lyft, has a similar no-gun policy.