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ABOUT THE AUTHOR Bryan L. Ciyou is a trial and appellate attorney at the Indianapolis law firm of Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. He earned his BA with distinction and graduated through the honors program, along with his JD,... Read More

A Good “Bill”?

Legal or Congressional Bills: Where Does The Right To Interstate Transportation Of A Firearm From One Lawful Place To Another And Possession Begin?

No one, including gun owners, wants a bill, and most of us have a particular aversion to legal bills because that means we have a civil or criminal problem that may impact our freedom. On the other hand, we know everything from the roads we drive to the electricity to power our air conditioner or television comes from some bill–taxes to utilities–the old adage the only things in life that are certain are “taxes (and bills) and death” is reality.

With the federal right to interstate transportation of firearms, unloaded and separate from the passenger compartment and locked away,1 which gives the Second Amendment meaning across the Nation, state law kicks in and applies when a person is no longer involved in interstate transportation. In fact, it is the same federal statutory right that allows a firearm in similar condition to be declared and checked in baggage removed from the passenger area of commercial flights and (certain) Amtrak routes.

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But where is the line drawn between interstate transportation guaranteed by federal law and illegal possession under state law? With commercial transport, this issue does not really come up. No law enforcement officer, prosecutor, judge or jury is likely to arrest a passenger with a properly checked firearm in baggage with a violation of state law because the plane or train makes an unexpected landing and delay in a given area.

This is not the case under private transportation in your car, truck, van or motor home. There are a number of instances across the country where a person who stopped too long or departed from a direct course between two lawful places was arrested by state law enforcement officers who contended they were possessing the firearms in violation of state law, not conducting or engaged in interstate transportation. This is particularly problematic is states with restrictive gun laws.

Stated differently, at what point does taking a course other than a straight (road) line between two points or stopping to sight see along the way, disconnect the federal right to interstate transportation and engage state penal provisions. Unfortunately, this is an unanswered question.

In these cases, where arrests have occurred with legitimate disputes about transportation versus possession, the citizen-turned-defendant, paid two (2) bills, taxes for a federal statutory provision to allow for interstate transportation and legal fees to defend himself in a state criminal court.

Now there is a potential solution to some of the ambiguity with the federal statute’s application: Rep. H. Morgan Griffith, a Virginia Republican, has introduced H.R. 42962 to Chapter 44 (Firearms) of the United States Code, which sets forth the right to interstate transportation.

Under Rep. Griffith’s bill, interstate transportation would include activities incidental to transportation to clarify the intent of the bill. Precisely, if H.R. 4296 becomes law, the following non-exclusive list of activities would be lawful under federal law as a part of interstate transportation, which would be supreme to and override any state law to the contrary:

  • Temporary lodging overnight.
  • Stopping to eat.
  • Time for fueling and vehicle maintenance.
  • Emergencies.
  • Medical treatment.

Thus, with this bill, stopping hiking and camping in a state where the law would not allow possession (such as an assault weapon), as a part of transportation between two lawful beginning and end points would not provide affirmative defense of sorts to violation of state law; this means that you could still be arrested, charged, and convicted for violating state penal laws with regard to the firearms, if it is unclear it conflicts with the federal right to interstate transportation.3

On the other hand, a stop for the night would be permitted.

A central focus of complying with local, state, and federal gun laws is understanding the limits and application of the law. This is a good bill, namely H.R. 4269, and strikes a balance between law enforcement needs and gun rights. That is, the bad guys will still be bad and subject to arrest for having firearms, but a judgment call or perceived technical violation (stopping for the night to sleep) will not result in arrest and confiscation of the gun.

If you agree, you should support H.R. 4269 and other local, state and federal laws that keeps us safe, is respectful of the job of our police officers, but at the same time, maintain our constitutional right to keep and bear arms. If you see the benefits and detriment to understanding law and having clarifications and a dialogue about (this) problematic areas, then this blog post has met its educational goals.

This blog post was written by attorney Bryan L. Ciyou, Ciyou & Dixon, P.C., Indianapolis, Indiana. It is not a solicitation for legal services or an indication any member of the firm practices outside of jurisdictions where licensed.

  1. 18 U.S.C. § 926(A).
  3. 18 U.S.C. § 927.

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Table of Contents

About the author
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Bryan L. Ciyou is a trial and appellate attorney at the Indianapolis law firm of Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. He earned his BA with distinction and graduated through the honors program, along with his JD,... Read More