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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

  • 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.

  • Lo Thursday, 20 November 2014

    I leave my loaded pistol on the car all the time..

  • Lyn B Friday, 21 November 2014

    Lo, Gun laws vary a lot by state, but if you live in Massachusetts, leaving a loaded gun in your car is definitely illegal. The most reliable way to meet MA laws is a locked container in the trunk.

  • Sebastien Marcotte Tuesday, 09 September 2014

    You have a blog interesting. Keep up the good work

  • LJS Sunday, 02 February 2014

    Understand that to pass any law, you have to get a majority of legislators to support it. Many ambiguities creep in because the two most passionate sides can't agree on more clear language and they rely on the police and prosecutors to use their discretion appropriately, and the courts/juries to sort things out when the police/prosecutors do something stupid. It isn't that they are trying to create traps for the unwary, but that they can't get agreement by plain writing.

  • D Gary Green Sunday, 02 February 2014

    If congress was doing it's job, the laws would be clear and forthright. The legal system of this country is biased to separate you from your money. Lawyers love it when they get to interpret the laws and charge you an arm and leg.
    I live in Georgia and you can keep a gun in your glove compartment loaded and ready to shoot an intruder or carjacker. If you take it out and with you concealed, you need a permit at 75.00. It is amusing you must pay for your second ammendment rights. The concealed weapons permit pretty much keeps you out of the courts. It may be interesting that the people selling the permits will offer no legal advice.....

  • Mark Shean Sunday, 02 February 2014

    Err on the side of caution, the laws are vauge on purpose so the citizen can be burned any number of ways.

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