Have gun, will travel
Apr 11, 2012 -
Law-abiding gun owners can run into serious trouble when on the move. Venturing into firearm-unfriendly states creates confusion about what individuals need to do to abide by a confusing maze of regulations. Congress should act to prevent honest citizens from winding up behind bars because police are misinformed.
Rep. Morgan Griffith introduced legislation in late March to strengthen national gun-transport laws. “The most important clarification in this bill is that when you are traveling, as long as your weapon is in a locked container and unloaded, you shouldn’t have to worry about being arrested,” the Virginia Republican told The Washington Times.
The danger is real. “Gun owners traveling through states like New York and New Jersey are being harassed by the failure of these local jurisdictions to follow federal law,” said Chris W. Cox, chief lobbyist of the National Rifle Association. “This bill will help ensure that the provisions of the Firearm Owners Protection Act are enforced throughout the country.”
Mr. Cox is referring to a statute that protects individuals transporting firearms from any local restrictions that would otherwise prohibit passage. Guns can be moved between any two places where they can be legally possessed as long as they are properly stowed.
The House legislation makes it clear that travelers have the right to make stops, overriding any state laws that only allow transport directly to and from a firearm-related activity. This would clarify that it is lawful to get gas, buy food, perform vehicle maintenance, obtain emergency medical treatment or conduct any other incidental activity. Resting in temporary lodging overnight is also allowed.
The bill makes clear that transporting properly stowed ammunition is protected by Congress. Last month, a New Jersey appellate court upheld felony charges against Brian Aitken for bringing ammo along with his legally owned firearms as he moved between residences.
Some state and local governments consider federal law as an “affirmative defense” that may only be raised after an arrest. To stop this practice, Mr. Griffith’s bill shifts the burden of proof so law enforcement can only act with probable cause that federal law has been breached.
To ensure compliance, the legislation mandates that courts pay the legal bill for anyone who successfully uses the federal transport law as a defense in a criminal case. “If a state violates a federal law and then turns around and has to pay attorneys’ fees, I think states across the country will quickly make sure that all the local law enforcement know what the rules are,” said Mr. Griffith, a former criminal-defense attorney.
The Washington Times series “Emily Gets Her Gun” has documented how D.C. officials have been misinforming the public about transport laws. The actual rules aren’t nearly as restrictive as the Metropolitan Police Department claims on its website. This federal legislation would force the District to accept the reality that tourists passing through the nation’s capital are welcome to bring their firearms with them.
Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.