Florida judge rules ban on guns in U.S. post offices is unconstitutional
By Allen Abel
The United States Postal Service cannot prohibit its employees and visitors from carrying a properly registered gun into a post office, according to a sweeping Jan. 12 decision by a federal district judge in Florida.
In a case involving a USPS truck driver who was arrested after entering a Tampa, Fla., postal facility with a pistol in a fanny pack, Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division, declared the existing ban on firearms on postal property — and, by extension, at all other locations owned by the federal government — unconstitutional.
Judge Mizelle’s decision in United States of America v. Emmanuel Ayala referenced the 2022 opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen, in which it held, by a 6-3 vote, that the Second Amendment protects the right to carry a handgun for self-defense.
“ … it still remains unclear why restricting firearms in government buildings, rather than private buildings or public spaces generally, would uniquely promote public safety,” Mizelle wrote. “Public safety concerns were not unknown to the Founders. Yet such concerns were not addressed through sweeping bans on firearms possession. Just the opposite.”
The arrested employee was USPS driver Emmanuel Ayala, who holds a Florida concealed-carry permit for a Smith & Wesson 9mm pistol. He faced a fine or imprisonment for up to one year, according to USPS Poster 158, “Possession of Firearms and Other Dangerous Weapons on Postal Property Is Prohibited by Law,” published in 2019.
According to the background section of Mizelle’s ruling, Ayala sometimes “carried the firearm onto Post Office property when retrieving his semi-truck from work” to provide additional protection during his short walk “to and from the employee parking lot.”
Mizelle wrote: “On September 14, 2022, Ayala wore his fanny pack, with the gun inside, as he walked from the employee parking lot through the metal turnstiles and into the post office. … After he clocked in, two agents from the U.S. Postal Service’s Office of Inspector General stopped him and tried to detain him. … Ayala fled, but was eventually arrested by officers from the Tampa Police Department.”
Mizelle used the Postal Service’s own published version of its history to frame her ruling.
“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 injury if coaches were attacked by robbers or Indians,’ ” Mizelle said, quoting a passage from the book The United States Postal Service, An American History.
“In the latter half of the nineteenth century ... bandits threatened postal workers aboard trains,” Mizelle said. “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,” Mizelle said, citing the aforementioned history text about the USPS.
In 1961, Postmaster General Arthur Summerfield of the U.S. Post Office Department (precursor to the USPS) was urging postal employees to acquire firearms and learn how to defend themselves against criminals.
“All U.S. post offices were mandated to hold small-firearms training sessions and key postal personnel throughout the nation were being equipped with loaded .38-caliber Colt revolvers,” the Times-Standard newspaper of Eureka, Calif., reported in an article published on the paper’s website in 2018. “Nationally, these safety efforts were launched in response to a series of mail robberies and hold-ups in which some carriers in larger metropolitan areas were assaulted and badly beaten while on the job.”
The Times-Standard said that William Lambert, Eureka’s postmaster at the time, “designated postal clerk Henry Grossi to attend a Regional Firearms Training Program school in San Francisco.”
“The choice was a natural, Lambert said in the Oct. 19, 1961 Humboldt Standard, because Grossi was a retired U.S. Marine and was ‘highly adept not only with firearms, but with some of the hand-to-hand rough stuff’ that could quickly incapacitate a would-be mail thief.”
“The Postal Service regulates its facilities for the safety, economy, and convenience of customers and employees engaged in postal business nationwide,” a USPS spokesperson told Linn’s Stamp News after Mizelle’s decision was announced. “One Postal Service regulation in this regard prohibits the possession or storage of firearms on real property under the charge and control of the Postal Service, and that regulation was upheld by a federal court of appeals in 2015.”
“We are evaluating the interplay between our regulation and the recent interpretation of the broader federal criminal statute and determining the appropriate next steps,” the USPS said.
The Postal Service provided additional information in a news release published Jan. 18:
“A recent Florida district court decision is being misreported or may be misinterpreted as holding that the Postal Service’s ban on carrying firearms — either openly or concealed, or storing them on USPS property — is unconstitutional. In fact, the case dealt with a different federal statute and does not involve the Postal Service’s regulation. Therefore, it does not change the organization’s policy.”
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