by Karen MacNutt

Many of our readers have the right to carry a handgun for self defense or would like to do so. The laws of each state are different. In some states, like Massachusetts, you need a permissive license to even have a handgun in your home. In other states you need a permissive license to carry a handgun outside of your home even if the gun is unloaded and locked in a case. In states like Maine or New Hampshire, you can carry a handgun openly without a license but you need a license to carry one concealed. A growing number of states require you to have a license if you carry a gun concealed. Most of those states require the license be issued if the applicant is not disqualified. That is, unlike states like New York, the licensing authority has no discretion in the licensing process but is held to fixed standards. Before you even think about carrying a gun, know the law in your own state.

In the so called “open carry” states, the law says you can carry a gun if it is carried openly, sort of like the cowboys did. Sometime local law will arrest people who carrying in that manner because they do not want people to carry guns. Unless the gun owner is hunting, fishing, engaged in some deep woods activity or business related security work, the police say the gun owner is disturbing the peace. If all you do is go back and forth to the range, many of these states do not required you to have a license as long as the gun is unloaded and cased. If it is loaded and cased, or if your rain coat covers the gun, or if the gun is not visible but accessible, the claim can be made that you are carrying concealed. For these reasons, open carry is not a good option.

In some states once you have a license to carry, it makes no difference if the gun is carried openly or concealed. The rest of this article will presume you live in a state that requires you have a license to carry but does not specify how you are to carry once the license is issued. THIS IS NOT SO IN ALL STATES. In some state “carry” licenses may be restricted by the issuing authority. In those areas you should comply with the restrictions. If you do not, you will, at the minimum have your license revoked. You could face fines or even jail sentences in other areas. KNOW THE LAW IN THE STATE YOU INTEND TO CARRY IN.

Assuming you have a license that allows you to carry a gun for self defense, there are still ways to get into trouble without trying. There are places you may not take that gun even if you have a permit. Under Federal law you may not take a gun onto any Federal property if a notice is posted excluding guns. Most Post Offices have such notices. All Federal Prisons, most Federal Court Houses and Office Buildings are posted. Court Houses and prisons usually allow you to check your gun when you enter the building. You should always disclose to the entrance security check point that you are carrying and that you wish to check your gun. The check point guard will also want your mace, your Swiss Army knife and anything else that could conceivably be a weapon. In some facilities even a single spent shell casing in the lining of your jacket can cause you trouble. Federal Reserve Banks do not allow guns and do not have a means of checking guns. Military posts usually require special permits from the Provost Marshall to bring a gun onto post. Most will not allow you to carry for protection but do allow hunting or target shooting at events with permission. Federal Parks and Forests are often posted although I have always been treated well by Rangers who gave me permission to keep my gun while in a camp as long as it was unloaded and cased. Federal law also prohibits guns on common carriers unless they are checked through in luggage, unloaded, or are give to the person in charge of the conveyance, unloaded and cased. Although most of us think of air plains with this limitation, the law covers busses, boats, trains or any other public transportation system that travel interstate and carries passengers for hire. It would not cover a municipal bus system unless you are in one of those few cities that sprawl across two states. If you are going to take your gun onto a common carrier that travels interstate, check with the company first to determine what their rules are.

The airlines have no sense of humor in this area. Do not joke about having a gun. Do not bring a gun, gun parts, toy guns, ammunition, or anything that looks like a gun beyond the metal detectors in an airport. Always check such things through in your luggage.

Federal law also makes it illegal to have a gun in or on the campus of any school or college without the written permission of the person in charge. Undeveloped land owned by a school or investment property owned by the school usually is not covered but buildings used for educational purposes, dormitories, supporting facilities and the land immediately surrounding such buildings is covered.

State laws make it illegal to have guns in many of the same places. Court houses, places of incarceration, mental institutions, some other public buildings, and schools are usually off limits to civilians carrying guns.

Some private parties post their property. Usually such postings are backed by the laws of trespass. That is, if you own land, you have the right to say who can come onto it. If someone enters your land without permission, you can have them arrested. Trespass is a fairly minor crime but it could result in your losing your license if the issuing authority believed you showed poor judgement. In some states there is a distinct crime committed when you carry a gun onto someone’s property without their permission.

Of more significance are employers who bar employees from carrying guns while at work. Because of a number of high profile shootings, such company rules will probably become more common. For women, the most frequent cause of death on the job is murder. Women are often the sole employee in convenience stores or small shops. This is very dangerous. A number of chain stores bar employees from having guns out of fear they will get sued if someone is hurt. If their employee is killed on the job, their liability is limited by workmen’s compensation laws. If an employee kills someone, even if it is justified, the employer fears being sued.

Some people will raise the specter of disgruntled employees shooting fellow employees as a reason for keeping guns out of the work place. In most of the mass shooting in the work place several factors were present. First, the killer had plenty of time to commit multiple murders because no one else was armed and able to resist the aggressor. Second, the killer, in almost every case, was on Prosaic or some other SSRI type of medication with inadequate medical supervision. Be kind to your fellow employees. If people were only more polite and less emotionally cruel to people around them, I can not help but think that some of these crimes would not have taken place.

The problem for the gun owner, however, is if your employer says, “Don’t bring your gun to work,” and you do, you will be fired for cause. That means you can not collect unemployment.

If you carry a gun, and you find you have to enter a place where you may not take your gun and they have no provision for you to check your gun, you may be tempted to leave the gun in your car. In some states that is lawful, in others it is not. Know what the law is in state in which you plan to carry the gun. If you can not bring your gun into a building and you can not leave it in your car, you have a problem. Do not think you can “sneak” the gun in. Too many places have metal detectors some of which are not at all obvious.

Use discretion if you carry. Do not take the gun with you if you think there will be a problem. Some amusement parks and sports arenas have become very strict about what people bring into their facilities. Never carry a gun if you are going drinking or if you are going to a place where other people might be drinking to excess. It is asking for trouble. Avoid trouble.

Be aware that the license from your home state may not be recognized in any other state in the union. Many people have gotten into trouble because they crossed with their gun into another state for some minor errand and innocently came to the attention of the local police. Know the law of every state you intend to carry your gun into and obey it. Many require non-residents to have special non-resident licenses. Other states will recognize the licenses of some states but not all states.

Unless you are working in security, on a hunting trip, or in some kind of public entertainment such as a parade or reenactment, you should always carry your gun in such a manner that no one knows you have it. The public has been so inflamed, that the mere knowledge you are carrying will upset some people. Not only is it poor etiquette to cause distress to the people around you, but they may call the police. Police officers responding to a “person with a gun” call are understandably edgy. No matter what, the experience is apt to be unpleasant for you. For the same reason, I never use my firearms permit as an ID for any purpose other than to purchase guns or ammunition. Also, with the growth of identity theft, you do not want some bad guy to dummy up a fake permit with your name on it.

If I am stopped by the police for a traffic violation (yes I sometimes go a little fast on the highways), I never tell them I am carrying a gun. I have nothing in plain sight that would give them reason to believe I am carrying a gun. When I go target shooting, I carry my equipment in a plain bag that does not look like a gun box. If I have a rifle case, it is some place inconspicuous, like under last weeks Sunday paper, the remnants of a Burger King meal, and whatever I have in the car that would make it less conspicuous. (Note that some states require long arms be carried openly in racks. Once again, know your state law.) I do not have my gun permit near my driver’s license or registration. If it is at night, the first thing I do is turn on my interior lights. I bring my handbag up to the dash board so the officer can see what I am doing. I do not rummage around the floor of my car. I keep my hands in plain sight. Traffic stops are very dangerous for police. I do all that I can to improve the comfort level of the officer.

Sometimes police will ask permission to search your car. You should never give them permission. You should say something to the effect, “Gee officer, I would love to help but my lawyer says I should never give permission to search. I’ll step out of the car if you want and leave the keys in the ignition, but, I am not giving you permission to search.”

Although most officers are good, some are just on a fishing expedition. Once they stop you they feel like they must find some crime to charge you with. If you do not agree to the search, and they claim your tool set contains burglarious instruments (such as a screw driver) in violation of law, your lawyer can at least bring a motion to suppress. As off the wall as that sounds, I have had clients so charged because the officer did not like their looks.

As an armed civilian, every meeting you have with a police officer is potentially dangerous. The officer does not know if you are a good guy or a bad guy. If your gun is visible, he knows you are dangerous. Follow the officer’s directions promptly. Make no sudden moves. Keep your hands visible. Tell him or her that you have a proper license for the gun. Do not reach for the license. Tell the officer where it is. Many civilians and off duty police officers have been shot by uniformed officers responding to a call for help or on a break in. The uniformed officers arrive and see someone coming out of the shadows with a gun. They react in fear. If you call for help because of a break in, don’t wander about with your gun drawn. Stay in one spot and tell the police what you look like and where you will be. If your business or home has been burglarized while you were away, stay in front of the premises until the police arrive. Immediately identify yourself.

Understand the laws of self defense in your state. If you use or even show a gun, your life will change forever. You want to make sure that what you do is absolutely necessary. Learn to smile and thank people when they are nasty to you. Learn to avoid trouble. Learn to walk away when your intuition tells you something is bad. Smile when people cut you off. Thank people for giving you the right of way when you cut them off and they give you the finger. Be a peace maker who always urges reason. Keep your hand away from your gun and your gun out of sight but always position yourself so that if an argument escalates to life threatening violence you can either get away or get your gun.

Never get involved in an argument on the highway. Never stop your car unless required by law to do so such as when there has been an accident. Never argue with someone over fault. Without using the words “I’m sorry,” which admits fault, be consolatory. “Gee, I didn’t see you. Are you OK? Should I get an ambulance? Here is my name and insurance information. Can I have your information so I can give it to my insurance company so they can handle it. That’s what we pay them for. Do you want me to call a tow truck?” You say this showing your phone. You could, of course, just as easily call the police.

If you have a crack pot bothering you in your car, never open the doors. Kept them locked. Never get out of your car. You can always show your license and registration though the window. Remember, your car goes in two directions. You can, and should, drive away from a situation if it starts to turn violent. Go to a police station, a fire station, a hospital or some place where you and the other person knows there will be people with authority. Call for help on your cell phone.

The old west was, by all accurate accounts, a very polite society. Being polite is being strong. It is being smart. It avoids trouble. Never use threatening words or theatrical words such as, “Go on, make my day.” They sound soooo bad in court. They make you look like a nut. Keep in mind, if you have to use your gun, what you say is apt to become part of the case for or against you. You want to sound as if you made every attempt to avoid trouble.

The world is not a gallery of pop up targets. Do not let your imagination get the best of you. Do not be confrontational. Back away from trouble when you can. Things like cars and TV sets can almost always be replaced. Only use or display a gun if your life or the life of another is in imminent danger and there is no safe way to retreat. If you have the chance, give your assailant every opportunity to leave or change his or her mind.

If the treat is real, do what you must to save a life. The courts will sort things out later. It is an awesome responsibility. You should give it a lot of thought before hand.

This article was reprinted from Women&Guns, Copyright © Karen MacNutt