Monday, December 20, 2010

Won't people freak out and call the police if I openly carry a gun?

Short answer: It's possible, but not common.

Utah is a very gun-friendly state, and many residents of Utah have some familiarity with guns. In addition to that, people tend to assume that the calm, confident actions of a normal-looking person must be legal and most people are, frankly, oblivious to most of what goes on around them.

These factors combine to mean that open carriers find that the vast majority of people simply don't notice the gun, especially if it's not large or ostentatious, the majority of people who do notice the gun don't react to it and most of those who react ask questions or make comments rather than calling the police. People who open carry regularly report that the most common interactions are very positive ones, where the carrier has an opportunity to explain the issues to the curious or just engage in “gun talk”, chatting about shooting, firearms and lawful self-defense.

That said, negative interactions do ocasionally occur. Most often these take the form of store or restaurant employees asking the open carrier to leave. Sometimes these requests are provoked by questions from other customers but most often they are initiated by employees. The appropriate response of the open carrier to such a request is not to argue or debate the point, but simply to comply, ideally without completing a purchase and with a followup letter or e-mail to explain the carrier's point of view and to request clarification of the store policy.

In rare cases the police are called and become involved. In some areas, 911 operators are being trained to question “person with a gun” reports, asking what the person is doing, if he or she is threatening anyone, etc. In those areas, police are unlikely to be dispatched. If police do arrive, interactions are generally peaceful, though not all police officers are fully informed on the law so some may make false statements regarding the legality of open carry. If you are the recipient of police attention due to open carry, please stay calm, stay polite and if the officer is making incorrect statements, just say “I'm sorry officer, but I don't think that's correct. Can you please ask your supervisor to verify it?”.

If you are a person who has an unusual style of dress, hairstyle or appearance, especially if your appearance is one that might be associated with gang or criminal activity by many people, or if you appear or act intimidating or frightening even without a firearm, you are much more likely to have negative interactions and police interactions as a result of open carrying. This may not be fair or right, but it is reality. Also, young people and those who engage in body modification (piercings, tattoos) are more likely to have negative experiences with open carry. In contrast, well-dressed, well-groomed, responsible-appearing people tend to have no issues.

I don't have a concealed carry permit, can I carry a gun?

It is legal to carry a firearm in Utah without a permit, but there are some things to watch out for if you leave your own property or vehicle. Specifically, if you're carrying in public your firearm must be unloaded and unconcealed, and you must avoid school zones and buses or trains.

It might seem that carrying an unloaded gun is useless, but Utah's law has a peculiar definition of the word “loaded”. Specifically, the law says that gun is loaded if either:
  1. There is a round in firing position; or
  2. A single mechanical action will cause the gun to fire.
This means that you can carry a semi-automatic with a full magazine as long as the chamber is empty, because an empty chamber means there is no round in firing position, and it takes two mechanical actions to fire the gun: rack the slide and pull the trigger. For a revolver, the chamber lined up with the barrel must be empty, and if the revolver is double-action, meaning a pull of the trigger will rotate the next chamber into position, cock the hammer and fire the gun, then the next chamber must be empty as well.

In contrast to this odd definition of “loaded”, Utah's definition of “concealed” is very straightforward. A gun, or any other dangerous weapon, is concealed if it is hidden so that people aren't aware of it but it is readily accessible. In practice, the best way to open carry is to use a normal outside-the-waistband belt holster. I recommend using a holster that has some “retention” features, which are devices that lock the gun into place so it can't easily be removed by someone who isn't familiar with the holster, and I recommend practicing techniques to stop a gun grab attempt.  Such attempts are extremely rare, but your gun is your responsibility so it makes sense to be prepared.

The final issue to watch out for is locations where it's illegal for you to carry. The most frequently-encountered issue is school zones, but carry is also banned on UTA buses and trains and in bus and train stations. There are other areas that are off-limits even for permit holders, including courthouses, jails, secure areas of airports, etc.

Without a permit, it is illegal for you to carry within 1000 feet of any school property, where “school” means any pre-school, day-care, elementary, secondary, or post-secondary institution. Since day care facilities are often ordinary homes with no distinguishing marks, and post-secondary schools like cosmetology schools and massage therapy schools are found in many strip malls and may not look like schools at all, this means there are a lot of places that carry without a permit is illegal. The area within 1000 feet of a school-sponsored activity is also considered a school zone.

If it weren't for some exceptions in the law, school zones would make lawful unlicensed carry almost impossible, and would pose serious problems for owners of homes and businesses near schools. First, it is legal to possess a firearm on private property located within a school zone, with the owner's permission. Second, it is legal to possess a firearm in a vehicle located within a school zone, with the driver's permission -- as long as federal law enforcement isn't involved. The federal school zone law allows firearms in vehicles, but only if the gun is completely unloaded and in a locked container. This law has never been enforced since it was passed in 1995, but it is on the books.

Relevant laws:
  • UCA 76-10-505 bans carrying a loaded weapon on a public street. Note that the law does not define “public street”, so to be safe I recommend interpreting it as “anywhere but private property with the permission of the owner”.
  • UCA 76-10-502 defines when a weapon is deemed loaded.
  • UCA 76-10-504 bans carrying a concealed dangerous weapon.
  • UCA 76-10-501 defines “dangerous weapon” in paragraph (6), “concealed” in paragraph (3) and “readily accessible for immediate use” in paragraph (15).
  • UCA 76-10-505.5 is the state law that bans carrying a dangerous weapon (including firearms, per 76-10-501(6)) in a school zone.
  • 18 USC 922(q) is the federal law that bans carrying a firearm in a school zone.
  • UCA 76-10-1504 and UCA 76-10-1507 ban carrying a firearm on a bus or in a bus terminal.
  • UCA 76-10-1503 defines “bus” to include any transit vehicle, including trains like TRAX and FrontRunner.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

There's going to be an increase of activity here

I need to get my site up and running soon, but in the meantime I've decided to start posting here some of the content that I ultimately want to put there.  Eventually I want to build a fairly comprehensive FAQ list for people who want to understand legal carry of firearms and other dangerous weapons in Utah.  To begin with, I'm going to start posting essays on various topics here, with the intent that they'll eventually get incorporated into my FAQ list, and so that in the meantime I can easily refer people to them.

I'm going to shoot for adding one or two articles per day here, so expect to see some activity.

Here's a partial list of issues/questions I'm going to address:

  • Politics/opinion (note:  I'll give my opinions, but try to present all sides)
    • Shouldn't only police officers have guns?
    • Isn't it a bad idea to allow anyone who wants to carry a deadly weapon?
    • Doesn't allowing people to carry guns at our schools endanger the children?
    • Doesn't owning, possessing or carrying a gun make you more likely to get shot?
    • Why would anyone want to carry a gun?
    • Why would anyone want to carry a gun openly, if they can conceal it?
  • Legalities of carrying a firearm or dangerous weapon
    • I don't have a concealed carry permit, can I carry a gun?
    • I have a concealed carry permit, where can I carry?
    • How come Utah courtrooms don't provide firearm storage lockers, like the law says they should?
    • I have a concealed carry permit, does my gun have to be hidden?
    • Can my city or county ban dangerous weapons?
    • I'm a student or staff member at a Utah university, can I carry there?
    • My employer has a policy against carrying weapons at work.  Do I have to obey that policy?  What might happen if I don't?
    • What kinds of weapons does a Utah Concealed Firearm Permit allow me to carry?  How many can I carry?
    • What should I do if I see a "No Firearms" sign somewhere?
    • Can I carry in other states?  If so, which ones and what are the rules?
    • Can I take my gun on a plane?  A train? A bus?
  • Practical issues around daily carry
    • What kind of gun should I get?
      • What caliber is best?
      • Are revolvers better than semi-automatics?
      • What brand of gun is the best?
      • Are big guns better than small guns?
    • Is it important to use a holster?
    • What kind of holster should I use?
    • Should I use a lot of different holsters?
    • What should I do with my gun when I go to the bathroom?
    • If I'm pulled over by the police and I have a gun, do I have to tell the officer, and if so how should I do it?
  • Firearm safety
    • What's the difference between an accidental discharge and a negligent discharge?
    • How can I make sure that my guns don't hurt anyone?
    • How can I make sure that my guns aren't a danger to my children?
    • Are there any special safety precautions I should take while carrying?
    • Is it safe to carry a gun with a round in the chamber?
  • Securing firearms
    • Am I responsible for keeping my guns secure?
    • How can I secure them in my home?
    • How can I secure them in my car?
    • How can I secure them when I travel on airplanes or trains?
  • Training
    • How much training do I really need?  Isn't the Concealed Firearm Permit course enough?
    • What kinds of training are available for free?
    • What kinds of training are available for fee?
  • Legality of self-defense
    • Who am I allowed to defend?
    • When is it legal to shoot someone?
      • On the street
      • At home
      • In my car
      • On my property
    • Do I have to try to escape before I can defend myself?
    • When should I shoot someone?
    • When should I NOT shoot someone?
    • Should I threaten someone with my gun?  Should I draw if I'm not planning to shoot?
    • Is it necessary to carry a non-lethal defensive tool, like pepper spray?
    • If I get in some sort of altercation that doesn't involve my gun, should I call the police?
    • If I get in some sort of altercation that does involve my gun, but I don't shoot anyone, should I call the police?
    • If I shoot someone, what should I do next?
      • What should I do before I call 911?
      • What should I say to the 911 operator?
      • What should I do while waiting for the police to arrive? 
      • What should I do when the police arrive?
      • What should I say to the police?
      • Will I be arrested?  If I am, what should I do?
    • Can I be sued even if the police decide I didn't commit a crime?
  • Utah's Concealed Firearm Permit
    • Who is eligible to get a permit?
    • What records does the state examine to determine eligibility?
    • What's the process for getting a permit?
      • How much does it cost?
      • How long does it take?
      • What are the steps?
      • Can I get a temporary permit quickly if I'm in danger?
    • How long is the permit good for?
    • What is the process for renewing a permit?
    • What kinds of things might cause my permit to be suspended or revoked?
I'm sure plenty more stuff will come up as I flesh this out.  I'm going to attempt to use the newspaper article structure for each answer, meaning that the article provides the basics first then incrementally expands the details, so the reader can stop at any point.

My collection is complete(ish)!

I drive an electric car, a Tesla Model S. Generally, I never worry about how or where to charge it. It has a large battery and a long range,...