On Friday night in Chicago, minutes after dropping off a passenger, an Uber driver came across a man shooting a pistol into a group of people on the sidewalk. The 47-year-old driver, who has a concealed carry permit, pulled out his shotgun and fired six times at the man, injuring him in the shin, knee, and back. The Uber driver has not been named and will not be charged, as he was “acting in self-defense and the defense of others,” Assistant State’s Attorney Barry Quinn told NBC Chicago.
It's quite possible the driver saved one or more people's lives. But it's also unnerving: Why is he driving around with a shotgun in his car while he's on the job? No doubt many of his passengers would have preferred to know as much—ideally before getting into his car.
Uber is standing by the driver’s right to carry a weapon while working. Uber spokeswoman Jen Mullin told NBC Chicago that she had “had no comment on the driver’s actions other than to say the company requires all its drivers to abide by local, state, and federal laws pertaining to transporting firearms in vehicles.” (In 2013, Illinois became the last state in the country to pass a concealed carry law.) Mullin later told me in an email that Uber is “not commenting further on this incident in Chicago.”
Lyft has a decidedly different policy. A spokeswoman directed me to the company’s Weapons Policy page, which states that the company has a “strict ‘no weapons’ policy.” “This means that if any driver or passenger possesses a weapon in a Lyft vehicle, regardless of whether possession is legal where they are, they will be removed from the platform,” reads the page. Lyft reserves the right to judge “what constitutes a ‘weapon,’” and the company says it made the decision “from a community perspective.” “It’s hard to know what someone else is or isn’t comfortable with. The mere presence of a weapon might make another community member distressed.”
Uber and Lyft's differing positions on armed drivers align with the image each company projects.
Lyft no longer requires drivers to affix a furry pink mustache to their vehicle's grill, and passengers aren't pushed to sit up front or fist-bump the driver. Even still, the company sells itself as the cuddly car-sharing service, focusing on the friendliness and safety of its drivers. Its tagline: “Your friend with a car.”
Uber CEO, Travis Kalanick, meanwhile, insists he's not a libertarian, but he and his company frequently invoke libertarian principles—and they have become a darling on the right. Indeed, in a post about the Uber incident in Chicago, the website Last Resistance writes that “incidents like this show the importance of having good people carry weapons. If the Uber driver hadn’t been carrying because Illinois law prohibited it, another mass shooting could have occurred.”
Then again, studies have shown that the mere presence of guns increases aggression generally, and road rage specifically. And the presence of a gun in an Uber car—as in any vehicle, home, workplace, etc.—increases the chances of the driver and passenger dying in a homicide.