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Gun Left in Car - Legal?

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 Gun being put in car trunk

 It is bound to happen at some point. You are carrying your handgun lawfully on a Class-A LTC on your daily errands when you have to go somewhere that you can’t take the handgun. Let’s say your child’s school calls – your son is throwing up and needs to be picked up within the hour. Massachusetts General Laws ch. 269, §10(j) clearly says that you can’t carry a firearm (or other dangerous weapon) on your person in a building or on the grounds of a school (including colleges) without the written authorization of certain school officials. In the wake of Newtown, it is not worth taking chances with this statute.
So what can you do? Unfortunately, the answer is not clear.
Chapter 140, § 131C concerns weapons in a motor vehicle. You can carry a loaded firearm on your person, under your direct control on a Class A permit. Someone with a Class B permit can transport a firearm unloaded and contained within the locked trunk or in a locked case or other secure container. Arguably, if you make a brief stop you are still transporting the firearm, and you could place it unloaded in the trunk (if you have one) or in a locked case or container. (The ammunition, apparently, does not need to be in its own locked container, but it must be separate from the firearm.) Trigger locks and cable locks do not count! A locked glove compartment might count, but the trunk or a locked case/container is a better option.
The other possibility is Chapter 140, § 131L which concerns weapons being stored by the owner. To comply with 131L, you need to secure the firearm in a locked container or equip it with a tamper resistant mechanical lock or other safety device. (§ 131L does not say the firearm has to be unloaded.) What is an appropriate locked container under this section – according to the Court, "the container must not merely be locked, but securely locked ... [i.e.,] maintained in [a] locked container[] in a way that will deter all but the most persistent from gaining access.” Com. v. Parzick, 64 Mass. App. Ct. 846, 850 (2005). Use something sturdy with a reasonable lock.
The only case interpreting this area, so far, is Com. v. Reyes, 464 Mass. 245 (2013). In Reyes, the defendant was a corrections officer who carried his firearm to work one day at the house of correction. When he asked for a key for a gun locker, he was told the lockers were all full. He put the handgun, including a loaded magazine, in the glove compartment of his car, parked in an employee lot directly in front of the entrance, and went to work. It is not clear whether the glove compartment was itself locked. Corrections officials asked to search his car and found the firearm. He was arrested, and convicted of violating both G. L. c. 140, § 131C (a) (carrying statute), and unlawfully storing a firearm (after leaving it in his motor vehicle) in violation of G. L. c. 140, § 131L (a) and (b) (storage statute). Reyes was granted a new trial after his appeal because the trial judge did not properly define “locked container” for the jury.
The Court said that leaving a firearm in an unattended vehicle while at work is storage under G.L. ch. 140 § 131L. A secured container “must be capable of being unlocked only by means of a key, combination, or other similar means.” The locked passenger compartment is NOT a secure container. The Court specifically mentions a locked vehicle trunk as a possible secured container.
As to the glove box, the Court says it might suffice under § 131L “depending on the particular factual circumstances including the nature of the locking mechanism, whether the motor vehicle was also locked and alarmed, and ultimately whether in the circumstances it was adequate to ‘deter all but the most persistent from gaining access.’”

The Court discusses § 131C, but does not explain whether § 131L applies to all instances of a firearm left unattended in a vehicle, or to only situations where the firearm has been left unattended for a long period. Reyes was convicted under both statutes, implying that both applied to him.

Bottom line:
The safest process is to put the firearm, unloaded, in a secured case or container when you have to leave it unattended. This complies with both 131C and 131L. If you have a trunk, you can keep a lockable storage box in it in case of an emergency. (If you use a proper storage container, you don’t have to secure the container to the vehicle – see Com. v. Lojiko, 77 Mass. App. Ct. 82 (2010)). While the locked trunk will qualify, a container within the trunk will protect your firearm from dings and scrapes, and inadvertent discovery if you have to open your trunk while it is still there.

Want to discuss or ask questions? Post a comment to this blog.

Comments

  • Lyn Bates Monday, 12 August 2013

    So, does this mean that even if you have a car with a locked glove compartment, locked doors, and a security system, you cannot leave a loaded gun there?

  • Lisa Steele Tuesday, 13 August 2013

    Correct. In Com. v. Reyes, the defendant is convicted of violating both statutes. It is important to remember that the courts interpret statutes literally and attempt to give meaning to each word and phrase. § 131C explicitly uses the word "unloaded". § 131L does not specifically say that the firearm must be unloaded. You are in violation of § 131C if the firearm is loaded, no matter what kind of container it is in. Note that in Reyes, it is a jury question whether a locked glove compartment, locked doors, and security system comply -- the court does not say that it does comply. It may be safer to use a locked container in the trunk if you have that option -- it more clearly complies with both statutes, avoids your firearm getting dinged up, and keeps it from being inadvertently exposed if you have to open your trunk for some reason.

    The problem is that § 131C and § 131L were not well drafted -- ideally, the Legislature should have explained what it means by transporting firearms under § 131C and storing them under § 131L, used the same words to describe the containers needed under both, and been consistent with words like "direct control" (§ 131C) and "control" (§ 131L).

  • Don Green Monday, 16 December 2013

    So the law is not clear, and the citizens get to take the fall for it......The laws concerning firearms are so shaky anyone could end up in prison over them....I wonder if the people who write these laws have the sense of a box of hair.

  • Car Care Products Wednesday, 18 December 2013

    Your blog post is informative and helpful. I like the way you written it. Thanks

  • Lisa Saturday, 18 June 2016

    That depends on the state. I can't speak for Massachusetts, but in Florida, you can leave a gun in your vehicle on school grounds as long as it is "securely encased", which is defined quite broadly. Alabama doesn't explicitly mention schools as prohibited, but has a law against carrying into places where security guards and no guns signs are posted.

    Congress also repassed the Gun Free School Zones Act a few years after the Supreme Court ruled the prior version unconstitutional (I don't think the new version has been tested in court), so you would need a state issued license to carry if the school is a K-12 institution to stay on the safe side of federal law regardless of what state you are in.

  • Smithd149 Thursday, 17 September 2015

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  • nick Monday, 24 August 2015

    i leave a loaded shot gun in the truck at ALL TIMES beacuse its my right

  • Lisa Steele Monday, 24 August 2015

    Whether the police, prosecutors, and juries will agree depends on where you live. In Massachusetts, you are in violation of state law and the state courts have taken a narrow view of what the Second Amendment means. The federal courts for the First Circuit are likewise taking a narrow view. And it doesn't look like the U.S. Supreme Court is going to take another case on the Second Amendment soon. The two existing cases, Heller and McDonald, discuss rights in the home, not in public.

  • billy bluefeather Monday, 08 December 2014

    I have a class A permit..I was carrying my 22 cal pistol.through town.and took it out of my pocket and put it on my consol right next to my elbow..I heard a sound like glass whem i set it down on the consol.. i looked down and saw it was laying on my gps screen i reached over and picked my gun up and untangled th gps cord.then put it back down next to me again inside my consol within arms reach..
    Five minutes later i was surrounded at gunpoint by 5 police...and arrested, hancuffed and put in a cruiser..Some one was following me and called the cops and reported that i had pointed my gun at them..I never saw who it was..and absolutely never pointed my gun at anyone...He told the cops i was traveling slow in my vehicle and he said that i was involved with him in a road rage incedent..I never saw who it was and never noticed anything unusual in my side mirror..
    I'm under bail and have to answer charges of assault with a dangerous weapon.and improper firearms storage/..The gun was never out of my control..I have has a class A license for 50 years..Have a perfect firearms record..I am devistated by these charges the way i was treated..And am thinking about sewing the person that falsely accused me..without any proof just somebodies say so..And the police for charging me with two felony's ..
    What can i do to protect my reputation.. I'm asking for a public defender tomorrow at court ..

  • LynB Monday, 08 December 2014

    Billy, I'm sorry that is happening to you, and I hope you can afford a lawyer who is familiar with firearms issues in Massachusetts. GOAL, the Gun Owner's Action League, might have some lawyers to suggest. Others in MA that I've heard about are: Karen MacNutt, Andrew Branca, Jesse Cohen, Dick Bremer. Let us know how your situation develops. I hope you can beat all the charges.

  • D Gary Green Saturday, 06 December 2014

    I want to thank the people who have responded, because they have made me think about using a gun, even a justifiable situation. The responder who wrote, rarely do you disable someone with one shot and they woould then empty their gun on you and probably seriously wound you or kill you. Rethinking this, if someone came after me with lets say a knife, then I might be able to cause him to put down the knife and leave.
    It is probably a kneejerk action that might make you go for your gun...that would be clearly a horrible mistake says the comment noted by a very aware writer.
    I do think if anyone has a gun, they need to read all these comments and think about what action they might take in the even someone pulls a gun on them, because as the writer said, the very thing that you might think might protect you would get you killed. The robber would simply have to kill you to prevent you from shooting them....

  • LJS Saturday, 06 December 2014

    The law in many states is clear -- the justification for deadly force in self-defense is limited to defense of human life and prevention of serious bodily harm or sexual assault. If one honestly thinks the carjacker or store robber will be satisfied only with the money or car, let them have the property -- give the cops a good description and they are likely to find them later. But the defender isn't required to take that chance -- if you sincerely think the bad guy intends you death or serious bodily harm regardless of what you do (and your belief is objectively reasonable), then you've likely got a decent self-defense case if you use force. Using force to defend property is iffy -- state laws vary widely. Also, in the ambush-crime scenarios described, think really hard about whether it is tactically wise to shoot the bad guy -- handgun rounds are rarely one-shot disable/kills and getting into an exchange of gunfire with the bad guy, even if you mortally wounded him on the 1st shot, is a good way to get yourself badly hurt or killed.

  • D Gary Gree Friday, 05 December 2014

    You mean to tell me if someone comes into my place of business and points a gun at me and says, Give me all your money..THAT is Property right???
    Suppose then I have a gin in the cash register and I pull it out and shot them, since I would be protecting property I could go to jail....THAT is rediculous.

  • Joe shmo Wednesday, 10 June 2015

    If they point a gun at u then u absolutely have the right to shoot, at that point u are in fear of ur life!!!

  • D Gary Green Wednesday, 03 December 2014

    I just bought a permit and got it over with..Brunswick is a high crime place...My life is worth 75.00.....The problem I see with any gun is this, Supose someone trys to carjack you. They already have the upper hand and probably already have a gunpointed at you..If indeed you tried to grab yours, they would have to shot you or die themselves. How do you handle this sort of this....Maybe if you were walking in an unsafe place, you might carry a concealed weapon and if you had a permet, then you could get it out too defend yourself...In most all cases, the robber already has you in their sites...

  • fran Thursday, 17 December 2015

    When I feel unsafe I put my gun in my coat pocket with my finger on the trigger, ready to shoot right from the pocket, In summer my 7 ounce kel tec is in a pant pocket ready to draw out. If it's REALLY a dangerous situation my little beauty is small enough to be IN MY HAND by my side, prepared to shoot from my hip area or simply hold your gun under your armpit while crossing your arms, like steven segal does before he punches. You're clever enough to get a permit and gun, if you really can't come up with a plan I'd suggest you need individual training to work you through various situations.

  • Lyn Bates Friday, 05 December 2014

    If someone wants to take your car, or your money, the best strategy is to let them, even if you have a gun. It isn't legal to use lethal force to protect property; it is legal only to protect your own life or the life of another person.

  • Dave Monday, 01 December 2014

    So, I bought a combination lock pistol safe, and bolted to the floor in the cab of my truck, right between the two front seats. A full magazine is inserted into the pistol, but there is no round loaded in the chamber. Is my gun loaded?

  • Lyn Bates Friday, 05 December 2014

    I was hoping a lawyer would respond to this, because I'm not sure whether it is legal or not. If I had to guess, I'd say you need to remove the magazine to make it legal.

  • Lisa Steele Friday, 21 November 2014

    Note that the new statute, Chapter 284 of the Acts of 2014, got rid of the LTC-B. They removed the language in 131C about B permit holders transporting unloaded in a closed container or in the trunk. As it stands there is no affirmative language allowing you to transport a handgun in a car other than under your direct control. I think that you could still do it unloaded in the trunk, and refer to the old statute and/or FOPA as authority for being able to do so.

    There's no conspiracy theory behind why laws are badly written. Gun laws in particular are a product of intense negotiation and compromise in the legislatures. Sometimes a majority can only agree on vague language and then depend on the discretion of police/prosecutors to interpret it with some common sense, and when that fails, on the Courts to use some sense. It is also really, really hard to write laws that are both understandable and cover all the weird things that happen in daily life.

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