Virginia Law on Concealed Firearms in a Vehicle
Generally, a Concealed Handgun Permit (“CHP”) is required to carry a concealed firearm in Virginia. One area where this can lead to complications is in your vehicle.
If you have a CHP, then where you store your firearm while transporting it in your car is not terribly important, legally. However, if you own a firearm, or are transporting one for any reason, without a CHP, then it is important to be mindful of where and how the firearm is stored.
Any person who may lawfully possess a firearm and is carrying a handgun while in a personal, private motor vehicle or vessel and such handgun is secured in a container or compartment in the vehicle or vesselVa. Code 18.2-302(C)(8)
So, without a CHP, you may still transport a firearm in your vehicle as long as 1) you may lawfully posses a firearm, and 2) the handgun is “secured” and “in a container or compartment.”
That second factor, “secured” and “in a container or compartment” are very important, especially if you have recently been charged for Carrying a Concealed Firearm in your own vehicle.
Recent Developments That Affect Concealed Firearm Cases in Virginia
Myers v. Commonwealth, 299 Va. 671 (Va. 2021) is a recent Virginia Supreme Court case from May of 2021. The Virginia Supreme Court was asked to interpret this particular exception for transporting a firearm in a vehicle. Prior to this case, charges for Carrying a Concealed Firearm were commonplace when drivers had the firearm stored anywhere other than a latched glove box, other hard, latch-able container, or the trunk. In other words “secured” and “container or compartment” were construed very strictly.
In Myers the Defendant was charged with Carrying a Concealed Weapon because the police found a firearm in a backpack inside of a car. The backpack was on the front passenger seat floor, and the firearm was in one compartment which was zipped closed. The parties agreed that the backpack was a “container,” so the issue was whether or not the firearm was “secured” when it was zipped inside the backpack. T
he Court then looked to the legislative history – the process of passing the law – to learn what the General Assembly might have meant by “secured.” What the Court found was that the General Assembly had specifically taken out language that required the firearm to be locked. Therefore, secured could not mean “locked” in this context, otherwise the Assembly would have left that language in.
So “secured” does not mean “locked.” But it still means something, and that does mean just “inside.” The standard used by the Court, and applicable to these cases, is a “latched-or-fastened” standard. So inside of a backpack is not O.K, but inside of a zipped backpack is permissible. Inside of a latched glove compartment is O.K. But many center-consoles (arm-rest compartment) don’t actually latch shut, so this is likely not an acceptable place to transport a firearm in your car. Concealing a firearm on your person is illegal in your vehicle without a CHP. But other bags or storage accessories that meaningfully close and require some effort or step to open are probably an acceptable way to transport a firearm -legally. More practically, if you do not have CHP, you should not store a firearm in a bag, because when you are not in a vehicle, this exception does not apply, and you can be convicted of Concealed Carrying without a license. It is fairly common for people to forget that a firearm is in a particular bag, and then end up in trouble because of it. You can purchase a lock-box that locks shut, and can be secured with a cable underneath your seat. This provides legal protection – and it less likely to be stolen.
In short Myers found that the exception for transporting a firearm in your vehicle without a CHP is more broad than it had been understood to be. In the near-term, this means that police across Virginia are accustomed to arresting Virginians for transporting their firearms in a way that is very likely legal based on this new case. While the Commonwealth may have had a great case against you in 2020, the law has moved somewhat in your favor. But this exception for transporting a firearm in your vehicle is treated as an affirmative defense. This means that the burden is on you or your attorney to raise. If you fail to do so, you may still be convicted.
For this reason it is important to hire an attorney if you have been charged with Carrying a Concealed Weapon without a license. Your attorney should take the time to learn all of the facts about exactly what happened. This is a very fact specific charge, with fact specific exceptions, and your attorney should be prepared to look into those facts and every defense that you may have.
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