In My Words: Quickdraw Uber killing shows need for more firearms restrictions

In this column distributed by the Elon University Writers Syndicate, Professor of English Rosemary Haskell writes about the need for new gun restrictions in light of the recent shooting death of an Uber driver. The column was published by the Greenville (N.C.) Daily Reflector and The Daily Advance in Elizabeth City, N.C.

By Rosemary Haskell

The recent death of an Uber driver in El Paso, Texas, provides yet more incentive to rethink firearms regulation, particularly in the complicated field of ride-hailing businesses.

Rosemary Haskell, professor of English

Uber passenger Phoebe Copas has been charged with murder and is accused of shooting her Uber driver during a June 16 trip in the Texas city. She claims she thought the driver was kidnapping her after she apparently misread road signs and believed she was being driven across the border into Mexico.

Police say Copas shot Daniel Piedra Garcia in the head after grabbing a gun from her purse. He later died in hospital.This event illustrates yet again the need to bar passengers of ride-hailing services from possessing guns while in the vehicle. Without a gun in her purse, what might a frightened Copas have done instead? In a June 29 court hearing, she says she asked the driver to stop, and tried to exit the car, but found the doors were locked and child-proofed.

But she had a phone — could she have dialed 911? What if she had just persisted in her requests to the driver? Panic and fear produce swift, ill-considered action. An unarmed Copas would have been obliged to dilute her panic and siphon it off until it trickled away into harmless conversation. Garcia’s distraught relatives mentioned some of these same points in interviews after his death.

On the other hand, it may be the norm to carry a gun in a dangerous locale. I live in fairly safe Chapel Hill, N.C. In El Paso, who knows whether I’d choose to stow a weapon in my handbag? But to be honest, I don’t want the law to let me do that. I think I’d end up regretting it.

Laws can protect us from suffering the consequences of our human frailties, at least some of the time. Laws that prevent ordinary citizens from carrying handguns stop us from acting like Quick Draw McGraw, that old wild-west cartoon horse of my childhood. Would it be helpful to think about more restrictions on gun possession mainly as a means to save us from ourselves and our own problematic behavior? Moments of panic, fear, anger, meanness or vengefulness may end disastrously if we can reach too easily for a lethal weapon.

Short of a more far-reaching ban, at least we can consider removing guns from the passenger-driver equation. Uber and Lyft both advertise a “no guns in the car” policy, for both drivers and passengers. A quick review of websites, Twitter feeds and accounts of earlier similar incidents suggests how difficult these company policies are to actually enforce, particularly in states like Texas where laws allow “concealed carry” without a special permit and accept loaded guns in most vehicles in most circumstances. Does company rule supersede state law? Bring in the lawyers.

Being in the business of picking up passengers presents daily dangers for drivers, dangers that are multiplied if passengers or drivers are armed. I don’t know the best solution to calm nervous drivers and passengers, but going armed isn’t working out well. It’s not helping most of the rest of the country’s population either. We live each day with the threat of mass shootings, the body count of young black men, and yet another two-year-old sticks their tiny hands into Mom’s purse with disastrous consequences.

The deeply avoidable El Paso shooting should inspire all of us to work harder to make gun ownership the exception rather than the rule.

I imagine Copas now wishes she had not turned her purse into a holster. I wish it too. As Garcia’s relatives note, not only is their loved one dead, but she is facing a murder charge and may have ruined her own life, too.

With more imaginative gun legislation and state laws that more closely mirror the “no gun” policies of ride-hailing companies, both Garcia and Copas might still be facing brighter futures.

Views expressed in this column are the authors’ own and not necessarily those of Elon University.