Monday, December 20, 2010

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.

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