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Departments : Point of Law

Proper Policing in the Land of Armed Civilians

Civilians are legally carrying concealed firearms more than ever.

June 01, 1996  |  by Lea Hawley

You are in a convenience store and notice a man with a slight bulge under his sweatshirt bending over to pick up a loaf of bread. You think he may be carrying a concealed firearm. What do you do?

With 42 states now allowing civil­ians to carry concealed firearms, there is a good chance this man is acting within the law. You will encounter, civilians legally carrying concealed firearms more often today than ever before. How you should respond is largely determined by the behavior of the civilian and the laws in your state.

Illegally carrying a concealed firearm is considered a breach of the peace. In Marden v. State, for example, a police officer overtook a man who fit the description of a rob­bery suspect. The suspect was outside city limits and beyond the officer's jurisdiction. Upon seeing the officer, the man raised his hands, reveal­ing a gun in his belt that had been covered by his jacket. The officer informed the man he was under arrest for carrying a concealed weapon.

The court held that the arrest was lawful because the suspect's concealed weapon con­stituted a breach of the peace. The officer's action in making an arrest outside his jurisdiction was justified as being within his capacity as a private citizen.

It is the responsibility of the state to determine who will be issued a per­mit or license to carry a concealed firearm and that each applicant meets all of the requirements before a permit is issued. In Florida, for instance, applicants are required to be U.S. resi­dents, at least 21 years old and free from any physical infirmity that pre­vents the safe handling of a firearm. Permits are denied to felons and any­one who habitually abuses alcohol or has been committed for controlled substance abuse.

Applicants must desire a legal means of self-defense and demonstrate a com­petence with firearms (safety training). Those who have been judged incapaci­tated or committed to a mental institu­tion are denied concealed firearm per­mits. The same holds true for applicants who have had a felony adjudication of guilt, a withheld or suspended sentence or recent misdemeanors involving vio­lence convictions.

Most of the other states that allow private citizens to carry concealed firearms have similar requirements regarding age, firearm safety training, felony or violent crime convictions and physical and mental health conditions. Thirteen states require civilians to have a specific need for a permit. Firearms are prohibited in eight states (Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Ohio and Wisconsin), as well as Washington. D.C.

Offensive Carry

Generally, carrying a concealed firearm without a permit is an offense. But there are exceptions to this rule. Most states, for example, allow a civil­ian to carry a concealed firearm in his or her own home. The exact areas included in the home vary from state to state, however, and may not include fenced-in property (Pierce v. State), public streets or alleys (Dunbar v. State), parking lots of multiunit apart­ment buildings (Sherrod v. State) or someone else's home (State v. Stan­field). A motel room, however, can be considered the equivalent of a person's home (Cockin v. State).

Another exception is that a civilian may, in some cases, carry a concealed firearm in his or her place of business. In some states, s limited to employees of busi­nesses whose duties include the pro­tection of money and property, such as guards and watchmen (Com. v. Walton). Other states allow a person to carry a concealed weapon at his or her place of business even if he doesn't own the business and hasn't obtained the permission of his employer (State v. commons).

And in some states, an unlicensed, concealed firearm may be carried in a motor vehicle. Others allow civil­ians to carry unlicensed firearms when they bring them home from making a purchase at a store, when they are moving, when going to a shooting range or for a number of other lawful uses.

Once a person has a permit or license to carry a concealed firearm, they may carry it any­where not prohibited by law.

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