Encounters between California gun owners and law enforcement personnel are often stressful and may have unfortunate consequences. This article offers practical suggestions to minimize the likelihood of problems. Later in the article you will find basic advice to follow, if you have a close encounter with law enforcement.
Precautionary measures that are suggested, may also aid law enforcement personnel in plain clothes, to minimize embarrassment or disruption of their activities, particularly when traveling or working in other jurisdictions.
"The only thing we know for certain about criminal defendants is that they attracted unfavorable attention. Everything else remains to be proven."(1)
Law enforcement personnel and firearm owners both benefit and everyone gets to go home sooner, if guns do not become an issue in those daily encounters which are unavoidable. If you choose to venture out with a firearm, each time you prepare to leave, think about what you are about to do from the perspective of an observer who does not know you, or your intentions. This thoughtful examination can also work well for law enforcement personnel.
Before transporting guns in a vehicle, check for defective lights and turn signals to reduce the likelihood of a traffic stop. Avoid unsafe driving, particularly speeding, changing lanes without signaling, following too close, and erratic steering. Imprudent driving often provokes a thorough inspection of the vehicle, its contents and the driver.
If you are transporting firearms, to avoid potential grief, your firearms should be in a closed and locked container or in the trunk of your car, but not the glove box or utility compartment of a vehicle. Before you place guns in a vehicle, do not rely on someone else; you should check each and every one thoroughly to make sure it is, in fact, completely unloaded and empty. If practical, ammunition and detachable magazines should be transported in a separate locked container. If your vehicle does not have a trunk, consider transporting your firearms in a locked container which is commonly encountered, but not normally associated with firearms. Examples include toolboxes, hard-sided luggage, musical instrument cases, and car-top cargo boxes.
Although it may be legal to transport an unloaded firearm (except for an assault weapon) in plain view, the mere sight of an unloaded and lawfully possessed firearm substantially increases the chance of an otherwise unnecessary encounter with law enforcement.
Despite your First Amendment right to do so, when transporting firearms in California, this law office recommends that you do not advertise your interest in guns. Never wear anything advocating violence or antisocial behavior. Leave firearms logo clothing and tote bags at home.
When taking firearms into or out of your dwelling or a motor vehicle, plan your activity to avoid or minimize exposure of the firearms, even if they are cased. If you are moving, consider transporting unloaded guns in a wardrobe box, lamp carton, blanket box, or foot locker and remember that in California, assault weapons and concealed handguns must be transported in locked containers.
Every time you are transporting firearms not on a concealed carry permit, think ahead and make your trip one direct and continuous journey to your destination.
If You Are Stopped By Law Enforcement
Always remember you have no duty to incriminate yourself and you have the right not to incriminate yourself.
Listen carefully to each question. If you were driving, you may be asked if there are firearms in the vehicle. You are not required to answer this question(2) however, if you refuse to answer, expect an immediate confrontation. To avoid this predicament, make certain that everything in your vehicle is being transported lawfully.
Unless asked to reach for something, keep your hands in plain sight. Be prepared to display your current driver license, vehicle registration and proof of insurance. An example of not being prepared is when your registration and insurance card is in the glove compartment underneath the handgun you are not licensed to carry.
If you are stopped while driving, expect the law enforcement officer to know the registered owner of the vehicle, and whether the registered owner has registered assault weapons or a concealed carry permit. This information is often available even if you are driving outside your home state. Also expect the law enforcement officer to be aware of outstanding parking tickets associated with the vehicle or warrants for the registered owner. If you are driving with an invalid driver license, if the registration or insurance coverage is expired, if the vehicle has equipment violations or is damaged in an accident, the vehicle is likely to be towed, impounded and searched.
Remember that making a false statement to law enforcement may be punished more severely than whatever you did to attract unfavorable attention. Finally, if you expect to be arrested, or cannot truthfully answer a question without incriminating yourself, say nothing or simply state that you would like to consult your attorney.
General Advice If You Are Arrested
1. Identify yourself but do not discuss your case with law enforcement or other inmates; and
2. If asked for consent to search, refuse, but do not obstruct law enforcement if they proceed.
California Penal Code Section 851.5(A)
"immediately upon being booked, and, except where physically impossible, no later than three hours after arrest, an arrested person has the right to make at least three completed telephone calls.... At no expense if the calls are completed to telephone numbers within the local calling area.
(1) Quotation from Eric H. Archer, Of Counsel to the Law Offices of Bruce Colodny in selected firearm matters since 1993, a contributor to this article.
(2) Unless you have a concealed carry permit and the issuing agency has imposed a disclosure condition.
Disclaimer: The information contained within is subject to change as a result of future court decisions and/or new legislation. For advice concerning a specific situation you should contact a qualified California attorney.