Saturday, January 24, 2015

Toting your heater

Since we are Type M for Murder, and murder is homicide, and about half of all homicides in the U.S. are committed with firearms, I thought I'd share a few thoughts about guns. First of all, talking about guns is like talking about grammar and punctuation; there's always an exception to the rule!

A lot is written about guns for mystery writers but I don't see much information aside from the hardware; advice like revolvers don't have safeties, don't call a magazine a clip, etc,. Instead I decided to write briefly about the legalities of carrying a gun in the U.S.

What astonishes a lot of non-gun people is learning that in most places in the U.S. as a private citizen you don't need a permit (or license) to own or buy a gun. (Automatic weapons like machine guns do require a special federal license and a lot of red tape to purchase.) The laws vary from state-to-state and some municipalities have their own restrictions, and these laws change as the debate over gun rights ebbs and flows. Federal law says that if you buy from a dealer (such as a gun shop, sporting goods store, Walmart), you have to fill out a form attesting that you have no record of violent felonies, never been convicted of certain drug crimes, not have any protective orders against you, not have mental health restrictions, etc., Then you pay ten bucks and the dealer runs your name through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. The law doesn't restrict sales or transfers between private individuals in the same state, however, in some states all gun transfers require a background check. Also, federal law prohibits the sale of guns across state lines unless it goes through a dealer. And how does a gun cross state lines to get from dealer to dealer? Through the US Mail.

Once you have a gun, carrying it is another matter. In Colorado you are allowed (assuming you are entitled to possess the gun) without a permit to carry a loaded pistol in your car or truck for protection of life and property. The caveat is that if you get into trouble and the police find that gun, they're very likely going to slam the cuffs on you for a stay at the iron-bar hotel. You are prohibited from carrying a loaded shotgun or rifle in your conveyance and the ammunition must be stored separately. You can get a concealed carry permit which does allow you to carry a loaded handgun. The requirements (such as training) for that permit vary from state-to-state. You have "Shall-issue" which means that if you're entitled to own a pistol, then you are issued the permit. "May-issue" is a lot more restrictive and you have to prove why you need the permit. In some states, like New York or Hawaii, getting a "may-issue" permit is almost impossible. "No-issue" means what it says, and we're talking Guam and Puerto Rico. And then you have other restrictions such as no firearms allowed in places that serve alcohol, on public school grounds, on federal property, that sell marijuana, etc., However, many colleges do allow concealed carry on their campuses. Some states have reciprocity agreements that recognize a permit from another state, but that requires that you do your homework. Remember, concealed carry means "concealed" and if you flash your piece without good cause, then you've violated the conditions of that right to carry. An example would be that if you have a concealed-carry permitted pistol, get into an argument with someone and to prove your point, you show your gun...then WHOA! You could be accused of menacing with a deadly weapon. And if you do get a concealed carry permit you're advised to buy legal insurance because should you ever have to use the gun, you can lawyer up and protect yourself from over-zealous prosecutors and getting sued by your attacker!

"Open carry" is another patchwork of laws. Basically open carry allows you to carry your gun in public. In most places that means unloaded unless you're in the act of hunting and have the appropriate hunting permit. Some states allow the open carry of handguns and others do not. Interestingly, a lot of businesses that sell guns, such as sporting goods stores and gun shops, do not allow open carry. If you bring a gun onto the premises, it had better be in a case, often with a trigger lock, and definitely not loaded.

For law enforcement the rules are different. If a cop or agent is authorized a firearm, then he or she can carry concealed without a permit. And Congress passed the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act which means that such a law enforcement officer or retired law enforcement officer can carry a firearm in any jurisdiction in the U.S. But there are exceptions.

Whew. So many rules. Fortunately with the mighty Internet, you can type in "gun laws" and the name of wherever you live or want to do research and find plenty of information. Just don't shoot yourself.


Sybil Johnson said...

Thanks for all that. I had no idea how convoluted all those rules were. And, as always, I enjoy your labels.

Eileen Goudge said...

Who knew? Great info. Thanks. I'm printing this one out.