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Taxi driver. (Exercising the Right).

Former taxi driver John Lutters of Seymour, Connecticut, drove a cab in the Nutmeg State for about three years. Shortly before midnight on June 15, 2001, he picked up a fare who placed a pair of scissors at his neck and sought to rob him. When Travis Hazelwood, 38, began slashing Lutters' throat, the beleaguered cabbie managed to pull a handgun he was carrying and shoot the thug. He then dragged the mortally wounded Hazelwood from the cab, left him on the side of the road, disconnected the cab's two-way radio, and drove off.

A few hours later, after Lutters' dispatch center informed him that police were looking for him, he turned himself in.

State prosecutors concluded that the killing of Hazelwood was justified, but Lutters was nevertheless charged with carrying the firearm without a permit.

Lutters' attorney filed a motion to dismiss the charge, arguing that his client did not need a permit because state law provides exemptions for guns in homes and businesses. Lutters' taxi, he contended, was his place of business.

On May 22nd, Connecticut Superior Court Judge Lubbie Harper Jr. ruled that owner-operator taxi drivers are indeed allowed to carry guns in their cabs without obtaining state pistol permits, provided that they have some level of ownership interest in the vehicles. He asserted that the gun control laws were designed to reduce the number of weapons circulating in the "public sphere," but not limit the rights of property owners to protect their property. "Though taxi cabs are mobile, that fact alone does not necessarily make them fall within the public sphere," he held. "Therefore, as long as a cab driver can show that he has a proprietary or controlling interest in the taxi cab, the court sees no reason to treat cab drivers differently from other business owners." Since Lutters had leased his cab with an option to buy, Harper held that he had met the "proprietary or controlling interest" litmus test.

Nevertheless, Judge Harper declined to dismiss the weapons charge, opting instead to allow prosecutors to present evidence that Lutters had carried the gun outside the cab at some point on the night of the shooting. He gave them two weeks to decide if they still had a case.

During a June 6th hearing, Assistant State's Attorney John P. Doyle acknowledged that, in light of Judge Harper's May 22nd decision, the state had "insufficient evidence or cause" to proceed. Judge Harper then dismissed the charge against Lutters. Assistant State's Attorney Doyle, who maintains that taxis should not be exempt from the gun control laws, promptly announced that an appeal would indeed be filed. After all, he had implied during the hearing, it would be a shame to open a "Pandora's Box" that might allow traveling salesmen, neighborhood ice cream truck drivers, and others to defend their lives like Lutters.
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Title Annotation:uses gun to avert robbery
Author:Lee, Robert W.
Publication:The New American
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1U1CT
Date:Jul 15, 2002
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