Is it legal for me to keep a gun in my car?

Keeping a gun in your car in Pensacola, Milton, Navarre and Gulf Breeze, Florida.As most of us are aware, the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees every American’s right to own a gun. That right doesn’t stop when you get into your vehicle.

In fact, in communities like Pensacola, Navarre, Milton and Fort Walton Beach – really, anywhere in this part of Florida — it is quite common for drivers to keep firearms in vehicles. Who hasn’t seen trucks with gun racks in their windows, sporting one or more hunting guns?

In fact, it’s just as legal to keep your handgun in your car depending on how and where you keep it.  Making sure your gun is in plain sight – that is, not concealed – is the key to its legality. The legal definition of “concealed firearm” is contained in Fla. Stat. §790.001. This statute defines a “concealed firearm as any firearm carried on or about a person (or car) in such a manner as to conceal the firearm from the ordinary sight of another person.” (Emphasis added).

You can have the gun laying on the passenger seat or uncovered on the floorboard. That’s legal.  Florida, unlike some states like Texas, does not have an “open carry” law –where you can strap a holster with a handgun on and do your shopping.  See Fla. Stat. § 790.053.

The possession of a concealed firearm in Florida is a 3rd degree felony punishable by up to five years in state prison.

To be charged with possession of a concealed firearm the gun must be “readily accessible for immediate use.” This means that a firearm or other weapon is carried on the person or within such close proximity and in such a manner that it can be retrieved and used as easily and quickly as if carried on the person. If the gun is securely encased it is also not concealed for purposes of the statute. “Securely encased” means in a glove compartment, whether or not locked; snapped in a holster; in a gun case, whether or not locked; in a zippered gun case; or in a closed box or container which requires a lid or cover to be opened for access.  See Fla. Stat. §790.001.

The key question in determining whether a firearm or any weapon for that matter is “concealed,” turns on whether an individual, standing beside a vehicle in which the person with a firearm is seated, may by ordinary observation know the questioned object to be a firearm.

However, the issues of whether a firearm is “concealed” under Florida law varies depending on the facts of each case.  For examples cases have held that a weapon stashed between the seats of a car was concealed but an unloaded firearm wedged between car seats did not qualify as concealed when the ammunition was not in ready reach.

The court in State v. Hinkle, 970 So. 2d 433 (Fla. 4th DCA 2007), held that a firearm on the seat of a car, covered with flowers, qualified as a concealed weapon. In another automobile case, Dorelus v. State, 747 So. 2d 368, 371 (Fla. 1999), the Florida supreme court recited several variables that could determine whether a weapon was carried in a manner that would hide it from ordinary sight, including the weapon’s location within a car, such as on a seat versus in a closed console, whether it was concealed by another object such as a towel, or whether the defendant concealed it with his body.

If you get pulled over while carrying a gun in your car, you need to have a plan for how to handle that situation. I suggest when you give the officer your driver license and registration, you calmly and clearly inform the officer of the presence of a gun. The officer may then instinctively draw his or her sidearm. Listen carefully and comply fully with the officer’s instructions.

While legally carrying your gun in your vehicle, there are significant restrictions on what you may do with it.

Firstly, you cannot display the gun to other motorists in any manner that might be remotely considered threatening.  If any reasonable person in that motorist’s position feels threatened by the sight of your gun – even if you do not point it at them – you might be charged with “aggravated assault with a firearm,” which carries with it a three-year minimum mandatory prison sentence. I have seen several cases of “road rage” where a driver’s gun – although never fired – got them into exceptionally serious trouble.

Also, if you find yourself in a situation where you feel threatened – say, you’re at a party and an argument breaks out, you cannot, under the law, retrieve your gun from your car, return to the party, and use the gun to defend yourself. Once the threat is over, e.g. you’ve gone to your car, you could have just left.  Returning with the firearm does not avail yourself of Florida’s “stand your ground law” or a “self-defense” argument, both subjects will be the topic of future blog posts.

Gun violations are very serious in Florida. We have what’s known as a “10-20-Life” Law. That means, under certain circumstances, if you brandish a gun, that can subject you to a minimum mandatory ten-year prison sentence. If you fire a gun, that’s an automatic twenty-year sentence. If you injure someone with a gun, that could potentially put you behind bars for the rest of your life.

If you are facing criminal charges related to a gun incident, please contact The Jenkins Law Firm to see if we might be able to assist you.  We appreciate the stressors associated with being charged with a criminal offense.  If for some reason we cannot take your case at the moment or if we are unable to help you, we’ll be glad to point to someone who can.

NOTE:  The information we provide in this blog is not legal advice and should not be interpreted as such.  This blog in large part is designed to help the public understand the criminal justice system and certain criminal offenses a little better.  It is not a substitute for legal advice and must not be taken as such.