Mike is a trucker and he packs.
"I was in Louisville, Kentucky and somebody knocked on my door in the middle of the night, and it freaked me out. There was a couple other trucks around, so luckily nothing happened to me or anybody else, and they went away."
[Note: The drivers in this story asked that their last names not be used.]
Lucky for the knocker, too. "I've got a 40-cal. [caliber] concealed weapon that I pretty much have on me all the time, and I've got a nine-millimeter that I drag out when I go to bed. It’s got a red laser pointer on it. I'm thinking that if somebody sees that they’ll go away."
Mike, an owner-operator, out of Green Bay, Wisconsin spends a lot of time in Chicago which is becoming the murder capital of the United States, he says. "I've gone to some bad areas in Detroit, too, where I just don't feel safe."
Most of his driver friends also carry and have concealed permits for their own states - Mike is licensed in Wisconsin - and they sometimes take chances when they travel to states where there is no reciprocity for their permits. "I'm allowed in Illinois but not in Minnesota. Usually I keep it locked up in those states but... don't ask, don't tell."
Brian, a driver who lives in Kentucky, also has a carry permit. "If I'm in a state that honors my permit, then I just continue to carry. But when I'm in Illinois, you can’t get out of the truck with it. You have to secure it, have it locked up and the magazine and ammo in separate cases away from the weapon." An O-O, Brian also has driver friends who carry but the ones who don't carry have some other protection. "Everybody's got something. A lot of drivers have a tire knocker club that they keep right by the driver door so if they’re getting in and someone were to come up and try something, they’ve at least got that. If the other person has a gun, then you’re at a great disadvantage." He also knows many drivers who simply carry a baseball bat in their cabs.
One time, he was delivering shoes to a major shoe store and parked an slept in the back so he could unload at 6 a.m. This was a regular customer and they usually opened on time to let him deliver. On this morning, however, nobody opened. "About 45 minutes later they finally opened the doors. The manager said that they had been broken into last night. He took me in to see the video footage and we watched people throw a couple of concrete blocks through the front doors. They went inside and in about four minutes cleaned $10,000 worth of shoes out of the store. Had they known I was around back with a trailer load full of shoes, who knows what might have happened?"
He has seen a deputy sheriff shot by thugs while waiting at a stoplight in San Antonio and drug deals right in front of his truck in Memphis. "You never know what's going to happen out there or who you will run into while you're trying to do your job."
Contrary to what many drivers believe, there is no federal law that prohibits truck drivers from carrying guns in their trucks as long as they adhere to local and state laws. However, many carriers prohibit company drivers from carrying weapons. Says Brian: "Even when I was a company driver I carried even though the employee handbook stated that it was against company policy. I'd rather get fired because I've got it than to need it and end up in a box underground because I didn’t have it."
James Lamb, chairman of the Small Business and Transportation Coalition claims that he has 11,000 signatures on a petition backing a bill he authored called "Mike's Law" named for Michael Boeglin, a 31-year old Owner-Operator who last year was shot to death inside his truck. Boeglin had parked by an abandoned building that had been stripped of metal by people collecting scrap to sell. He was to pick up a load at a nearby steel plant.
Mike's law would make it legal for working truckers to carry their weapons throughout the United States. "We drafted this bill. Immediately we got Senator [Marco] Rubio behind it and we just needed a co-sponsor in the House and we had trouble with it. Everybody that we’d gone to, every representative in the House that typically supports gun rights, has consulted the NRA (National Rifle Association) and the NRA has indicated that it does not like the bill and that they would not support it."
Lamb says that the NRA does not support the initiative because it calls for a special 'carve-out' for truck drivers, and the NRA's position is that all Americans, not just truckers, should be able to carry their permitted weapons anywhere.
When asked about Mike's Law, an NRA spokesperson referenced an Oct. 15 statement on their website National Rifle Association of America, Institute for Legislative Action. "Mike’s Law would give commercial truck drivers the right to carry their legally owned firearms anywhere they travel. We support that right and would never oppose the introduction of Mike's law. We also believe such a right should be enjoyed by all. That is why the NRA has been working to pass Concealed Carry Reciprocity in the United States Congress. Once signed into law, the right to carry nationwide would extend to truck drivers, bus drivers, families on vacation, and anyone out on the open road." Lamb says he is reworking the bill's wording.
Some drivers take issue with the idea of truckers carrying any kind of weapon and instead choose to be more aware and careful about their surroundings.
Debra, a Florida-based trucker, says her problem with driver carrying guns is that it's not necessary and dangerous. Although careful not to blame the victims she says: "I have a problem with Mike’s Law and with Jason’s Law, [an initiative to provide more parking spots for drivers] and with the two drivers. If they would have been professional drivers, they never would have parked illegally and they never would have been killed." She adds: "I have never once parked illegally out here, and I’ve been driving for 16 years. I've never once parked in an abandoned parking lot. I don’t park overnight at Wal-Mart. It's is a department store, not a truck stop."
She says: "Do I think that there’s trouble out here with parking? Yeah. There’s a big problem out here with parking., but I have also been able to make things happen. There are reserved parking spots which I’m all for because there are times where you need them. I’ll pay for a parking spot in a New York minute. I’m an Owner-Operator. It’s not free for me. It’s coming out of my own pocket… Why would you park in an abandoned truck stop parking lot or an abandoned field that number one, is illegal because it's not your property. And two, why would you park some place like that anyway? It can be dangerous."
She is very careful about planning where she will park and gives herself a two-hour window of opportunity to find a safe parking place. "You have to be smart about it and not just run your hours and then try to figure out where to park. I've been to places where I thought I could park but they were closed. I have called the local police in some situations and they have been very helpful and led me out to find a safe place to park. With all the phone apps and such there's no reason to park illegally or in an unsafe place."
She says that drivers need to end the mentality that says they end their HOS day exactly on time, and park where they are.
Joe, a driver since 1974, says that the country has changed since he first hit the road. "We’re starting to see more and more incidents of drivers being mugged or accosted at rest areas. Sometimes you can’t find a good parking place. You have no available parking except in an area that is less than comfortable."
Does he carry a gun? "I know a lot of drivers who carry guns but I don't. I carry a taser because it's legal in 45 states."