With Robberies Soaring, Why Shouldn't Letter Carriers Be Armed?

Matt Rourke

While violent crime may be down in many cities, there's one specific category of robbery that appears to be trending in the wrong direction: armed robberies of postal workers. Just this week letter carriers in Colorado Springs and Youngstown, Ohio have been robbed at gunpoint, and in the Bay Area of California, postal workers say robberies are taking place almost every day

According to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, there were more than 600 robberies of postal workers last year; a 30 percent increase from the number recorded in 2022. Letter carriers were injured in roughly 10 percent of those robberies, and at least one postal worker has been killed in a robbery while on the job. 

While robbing a postal worker can result in a ten-year federal prison sentence, it doesn't always work out that way. On Wednesday, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy bashed a federal judge's decision to sentence one San Francisco robber to just 30 days behind bars, calling the slap on the wrist "completely unacceptable."

“This sends a concerning message of encouragement to our nation’s criminals and a message of disregard to our loyal public servants, who deserve better protection and reassurance that the law will take crimes against them seriously,” DeJoy said. “America’s postal workers are entitled to feel protected as they go about their public service mission, and at a minimum should be able to take solace in knowing that the law protects them against crime as they perform their duties, and that any such crimes will be taken seriously by the courts.”

We've seen legislation introduced on Capitol Hill that would replace mail carriers' keys with electronic versions, review sentencing guidelines for postal-related crimes, and mandate that every U.S. Attorney's Office have a prosecutor designated to handle those crimes, but so far even Republicans have shied away from the most common-sense step of all: allowing letter carriers to also carry a concealed firearm while they're on the clock. 

I'm not talking about giving postal workers law enforcement powers, just the ability to defend themselves when they're on the job. Republican congressman Brian Fitzpatrick, who's the chief sponsor of the new postal-related legislation, says his bill is designed to provide "resources to protect our dedicated postal service workers while making sure we are punishing criminals to the fullest extent of the law,” but the greatest resource a letter carrier could have would be a lawfully carried handgun they could use to stop attacks like these. 

Jeremiah Grant, a postal carrier in Oklahoma City, was held up in April 2022 by a man wearing a mask. He clambered to take off his thick leather belt to which his key was attached while a gun was being pointed at him. The gunman also snatched his cellphone and smashed it.

Unnerved by the experience, Grant had difficulty sleeping and decided not to go back to his route.

"I’m no longer a letter carrier. I’m a clerk, because I don’t feel safe going out there," Grant said. “It’s not a feeling that I can shake, and it’s been almost two years now.”

Abbott, the Houston mail carrier, was victim of an attempted rape in which she fought off the knife-wielding attacker on her postal route 20 years ago. Ten years later, she was robbed of her arrow key.

Abbott worked through the trauma and still delivers mail. But she questions the sincerity of postal officials' efforts to stop crime.

“I believe they abandoned us. We are getting robbed of the keys and they’re not doing anything about it,” she said. “I feel like they don’t care.”

There aren't enough law enforcement officers to assign a bodyguard to every letter carrier in the country, so why shouldn't they be able to protect themselves? Because we're afraid about postal workers "going postal"? According to one study (admittedly, conducted more than 20 years ago), the homicide rate for USPS employees was 0.22 per 100,000, compared to 0.77 per 100,000 for the civilian workforce in general. Any way you want to slice and dice statistics, the fact remains that postal workers are far more likely to be the targets of armed robbers than their coworkers, but face at least a year in prison if they're caught carrying on the job. 

A federal judge in Florida ruled earlier this year that the ban on lawfully-carried guns in postal facilities is unconstitutional, tossing out an indictment against Emmanuel Ayala for possessing a firearm in a federal facility. Ayala possessed a valid Florida concealed carry license and had his 9mm tucked inside his fanny pack for self-defense while he was on the job hauling packages in a semi, but when he stepped into a Tampa post office with his gun in September, 2022, he was arrested by postal inspectors and charged with the federal felony. 

Ayala challenged his arrest on Second Amendment grounds and U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle agreed, ruling that the government had offered no historical evidence of a "national tradition" of barring guns from all government buildings, including postal facilities. 

Since the Post Office’s creation, mail carriers have faced the risk of violence.Passengers of nineteenth-century stagecoaches, which carried mail, “risked death or injuryif coaches were attacked by robbers or Indians.” Recognizing this reality, Congresses in the first half of the nineteenth century appropriated money to reward individuals who helped apprehend postal robbers. In the latter half of the nineteenth century, when locomotive became the dominant way to move mail, bandits threatened postal workers aboard trains. Yet the federal government never sought to ban firearms to protect employees or secure mail delivery. In fact, when mail train robberies became a growing threat in the early twentieth century, the Postmaster General armed railway mail clerks with “government-issued pistols” from World War I. 

Although the “general societal problem[s]” of violence directed towards postal employees and threats to mail delivery “ha[ve] persisted since” at least the founding, there is a “lack of a distinctly similar historical regulation addressing that problem.” As the United States acknowledges, the first prohibition on firearms possession in government buildings was not codified until 1964. And the first regulation specifically banning arms on post office property was codified in 1972. Section 930 itself was not enacted until late 1988, a mere thirty-five years ago.

1988's a heckuva long way away from 1791 or even 1868, which are the two time periods the Supreme Court has said are most important when looking for historical analogues to modern gun control laws. 

The government's edict barring postal workers from lawfully carrying in self-defense is already suspect from a constitutional perspective, and it's utterly lacking in common sense. Allowing letter carriers to legally carry a concealed firearm wouldn't by itself put a stop to the increasing number of armed robberies of postal employees, but it would at least allow them to defend themselves if they're the target of a violent criminal willing to take an innocent life to get ahold of a mail key. If Congress wants to adopt Fitzpatrick's bill, fine, but it should be amended to repeal the USPS prohibition on lawfully carried guns before the House votes on his proposal.