Truckers and Self-Defense Series (Article 6 of 8)

The Safety Issues Truck Drivers Face | Protection on the Road | On the Road — Jerry Drolshagen Profile Specialized Driver — Mark Schmidt Profile | The Road Calls — Paul Lathrop Profile | Truckers and the Law | Carrying While Driving | Options for Truck Drivers


When Cal Martin wrote the trucker anthem “Diesel Smoke, Dangerous Curves” back in 1951, the deadly bends he referenced were most likely the perilous corners of the steep mountain pass the driver was navigating. You could argue though that the “dangerous curves” in the tune later popularized by Red Simpson were those of the waitress “at the bottom of the grade,” who the driver was burning brakes, stripping gears and risking his life just to see.

In any case, the song was not suggesting another long, winding and potentially treacherous road that long-haul drivers must navigate today: the law of self-defense. But, as almost any big-rig vet could tell you, staying legal and staying safe while out on the road can be every bit as harrowing as “goin’ downhill with a heavy load.”

Consider the challenges for truck drivers:

  • A driver must stay compliant with laws in every state (and sometimes even every county or city) through which he or she drives while possessing firearms or other weapons.
  • As the political battles for national reciprocity for concealed carry permits continue, law-abiding citizens can become instant criminals just by crossing state lines.
  • Facing a serious lack of safe parking options, drivers often face harassment from vagrants and prostitutes and are exposed to criminals seeking easy targets.
  • Following a violent crime, a driver is forced to navigate the criminal justice system as the victim of an attack or sometimes even as a defendant who committed an act of self-defense.

One wrong turn and a driver could end up dead or arrested, either lacking the means to properly protect himself or herself against a threat or, on the other hand, jailed and paying exorbitant legal fees. To make matters worse, many truck drivers lose their jobs while facing those legal battles.

Mike’s Law

When driver Michael Boeglin left for Detroit to deliver a load of aluminum coils to Thyssenkrupp in June 2014, little did he know it would cost him his life. The 31-year-old Indiana resident was found shot to death inside his burned-out Freightliner, which was parked by an abandoned building near his drop. He left behind a wife who was pregnant with their first child.

The case caught the eye of James Lamb, a former state motor carrier investigator who founded the Small Business in Transportation Coalition. This 15,000-member business association is dedicated to promoting and protecting the interests of small businesses in the industry. Lamb posted a photo of the crime scene on his Trucker Lives Matter Facebook page shortly after reports of the murder surfaced and then set about drafting “Mike’s Law.” The proposed law would have created a special type of federal firearms carry permit under the auspices of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to cut through the patchwork of state laws that impede workers who would like to travel with defensive firearms.

“It was meant to try to widen the net as much as possible,” Lamb declared. “It wasn’t going to be just for truck drivers. In fact, it wasn’t even going to be transportation-related. It was for any American who was working in interstate commerce.” However, when Lamb brought his bill to the National Rifle Association (NRA) with the hope that the organization would champion it, he was in for a surprise. The gun-rights advocacy group took issue with it being a “special carveout” and the fact that it was predicated on interstate commerce as opposed to the Second Amendment.[1]

Drafting Laws for Truck Drivers and Beyond

“And so we went back to the drawing board,” Lamb said. “What if we made this more expansive so it covers everybody?” He drew up the “Michael’s Law Amendment” to Federal Code 18 USC § 926A. The original code declares that as long as the owner of a firearm can legally carry in the state he or she left and the state to which he or she is traveling, the firearm is unloaded and the ammunition is not easily accessible, he or she can legally cross state lines.

“We took the existing ‘peaceful journey’ statute where you’re able to carry unloaded from state to state,” Lamb explained, “and changed it to readily available and loaded to capacity.” Convinced he’d found a backdoor route to national reciprocity that was immune to a 10th Amendment challenge, Lamb once again appealed to the NRA, even appearing with NRA commentator Colion Noir for an interview on NRATV. But nothing ever came of the discussions. “That’s their domain,” Lamb stated. “They’re going to figure out how to solve it. They don’t need anybody’s input. And they don’t want to face the realization that some transportation trade group fixed the problem for them.” Lamb, who is based in Florida, has lobbied Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Rick Scott, R-Fla., to no avail. He’s currently open to working with any gun-rights advocacy group or lawmaker that will take up the fight.

Ashley Boeglin, Michael’s widow, was involved in the initial push for Mike’s Law before stepping back to care for her child. She believes the holdup is politics, as usual. But she maintains hope that eventually things will fall into place. “The big thing is just trying to keep this on the forefront,” she declared. “We really want to strive not only for our loved ones that are out there but also the new drivers that’ll be coming on in the future. Because it’s just that important.”

National Reciprocity

Of course, Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill have been pushing for national reciprocity for concealed carry permits for years. Recently, the cause has been championed by Rep. Richard Hudson, R-North Carolina, and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who have introduced legislation in the House and Senate, respectively.

The issue “crystalized” for Hudson after the October 2013 arrest of Shaneen Allen, a Philadelphia resident with a Pennsylvania License to Carry Firearms who was pulled over for a routine traffic stop in New Jersey. When Allen told the officer she had a handgun in her car, she was arrested, jailed and faced a mandatory prison term before being pardoned by then New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

When he first heard of Allen’s plight, Hudson thought, “We’ve got to do something about this.” And so he was inspired to introduce new legislation in Congress. “It makes criminals out of law-abiding citizens who have gone out of the way to follow the law to protect themselves,” Hudson said of the current mishmash of state laws. “It makes criminals out of them because they cross an imaginary state line. And I just think that’s wrong.”

His Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act (H.R. 38) was predicated on Article IV, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution — the Full Faith and Credit Clause. It’s the same section that allows for driver’s licenses to be recognized in all 50 states. The act passed the Republican-controlled House in December 2017 and, to his surprise, went nowhere. “We couldn’t even get a hearing in the Senate, even though Sen. Cornyn, in fact, has a companion bill,” Hudson said. “I had a lot of conversations with a lot of senators, including Sen. [Mitch] McConnell. But, for whatever reason, it never got scheduled for a vote.”

Formidable Obstacles

Hudson reintroduced the bill in January 2019 but sees a formidable obstacle in Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. “As long as she’s Speaker [of the House], I don’t have high hopes,” he said. “If there is a large compromise package on gun violence, I’d love to see H.R. 38 as part of that. I know it’s a long shot. But that, to me, is probably the only opening in this Congress.”

Sen. Cornyn declined to be interviewed about his parallel legislation (S. 69) but issued the following statement through an aide:

“As Americans, we have a right to self-defense. I have my license to carry, as does my wife and many other Texans. My legislation — the Constitutional Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act — would ensure this right will not be infringed. It should be legal for those who have a license to carry [a] weapon from state to state as long as they obey the laws in that state, like you would with a driver’s license.”

Cornyn’s plan would grant reciprocity while still keeping intact state prohibitions on those not allowed to have gun permits. The bill awaits committee action at the time of this article’s publication.

Where Do the Laws for Truck Drivers Go From Here?

The question remains though: Why was nothing accomplished during the two years when Republicans controlled the White House and both houses of Congress? Dan Zimmerman, managing editor of The Truth About Guns, believes the blame lies with Republican leadership. “I don’t think [former Speaker of the House] Paul Ryan or [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell had any interest in expending one red cent of political capital,” he indicated. “I don’t think they see that much value in pushing gun rights. All they know is they would get a firestorm of criticism from the press for making it easier for crazies to carry guns, which is how it would be portrayed.”

Dave Workman, of the Second Amendment Foundation, said he was surprised when H.R. 38 didn’t sail through the Senate. Looking back, he said that lawmakers were probably focused on the budget, building the border wall and a possible Trump impeachment. That said, Workman thinks “constitutional carry” at the state level is the path forward. The concept reflects the view that the Second Amendment does not abide restrictions on gun rights. At the time of this article’s publication, 16 states do not require a permit to carry a loaded, concealed firearm for any person of age who is not prohibited from owning a firearm.[2]

“In an ideal world, there would be no licensing anymore,” Workman said. “You’d be able to carry openly or concealed in a peaceable manner. And it would really be nobody’s business.”


Endnotes

[1] The NRA did not respond to requests for an interview for this story.
[2] In Idaho, North Dakota and Wyoming, this only applies to residents of each state.

Truckers and Self-Defense Series (Article 6 of 8)

The Safety Issues Truck Drivers Face | Protection on the Road | On the Road — Jerry Drolshagen Profile Specialized Driver — Mark Schmidt Profile | The Road Calls — Paul Lathrop Profile | Truckers and the Law | Carrying While Driving | Options for Truck Drivers