Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Why I'm getting a CCW permit

What to do when stopped while transporting firearms.

The trials of gun ownership never cease. At least, in California...

After weeks of study and research I've determined that when it comes to gun laws; you are truly at the mercy of the District Attorney. At worst you find yourself on the receiving end of a DA with something to prove, with a gun-unfriendly jury convinced that you are an evil outlaw attempting to use the system of "laws" (he would use air quotes, you know it) to avoid much deserved jail time. Yikes. At best you find yourself dragged through the mud, possibly at the loss of property, and spending tens of thousands of dollars keeping yourself out of jail on charges that will just be dropped anyways.

Gun ownership and active use in California seemed difficult at best, threatening at worst.

After a recent trip to the range with my dad (LA Sheriff of more than 35 years) we got to talking about legal transport of firearms. Not the silly what-if scenarios you read about on so many boards where people attempt to skirt the law to get away with keeping their gun in their car without a CCW permit, "Yes, I do have a gun in the car. Where am I going? Why, to or from the range... (tee hee!)." Idiots. Some folks argued for pages on whether or not to admit to a cop that you're transporting firearms in your car (lawfully or unlawfully). What the argument boiled down to was that it really depends on the cop. Is the cop of the mind that law abiding citizens should be allowed to own guns (and *gasp* transport them?!), or is the cop a rookie looking to impress his superiors? It even got into the whole off-list lowers discussion; will the cop know about OLLs? Will the cop take your word for it when you educate him about the law? Or will he just confiscate your possibly illegal weapon just to be sure? 10 to 1 on the last.

Back to our conversation, I covered a number of legal aspects of searching cars, and he covered what the average cop's responses would be fairly well. Here's some of the highlights...

1. If a cop wants in badly enough, he'll get in.
If there's no probable cause to search your vehicle, and they want to; they will find it. Maybe they thought they smelled drugs, maybe they thought they saw you make furtive movements when driving by, there are a number of easily pardoned reasons that can be used to search your car. Some will stretch the truth or even simply lie to get a look around in your car. They are convinced that they are doing it for their own safety, and to enforce the law, most will not think twice about this. I was told about cops who picked up unloaded handguns and loaded magazines stored separately and in some form of locking container, and simply put the magazine into the gun, and called it loaded. Again, they view this as an officer safety issue. Unless you have everything on video, good luck convincing the Judge that the law enforcement officer is lying to him.
My dad went over some specifics regarding implied consent, and other tricks to getting into your car entirely legally. There are provisions on what can and can't be searched, but it all falls apart when confronted with a cop who thinks you're up to no good, and thinks everyone would be better off with you off the street or disarmed.
Pretty much the only semi-safe thing we came up with was putting the gun in a small COMBINATION (no keys!) locked box that isn't obviously for guns. A money box is a good choice. Dad said that in that case, perhaps the case will be busted open and tossed into a dumpster on the way in, and its contents submitted into evidence. I thought this was a bit extreme, but he insisted that it could, and probably did, happen. The only saving grace for this instance was the thought that the cop's in-dash camera would record the officer returning to his car with an obvious box. Whether or not the cop HAS an in-dash camera, and the department would be willing to relinquish the (unedited) footage is another matter entirely. But this was about as close as we got.

2. 99% of the time, your mood determines the cop's mood.
Cops are put in life threatening situations every day. The only thing that keeps them alive is a sense of good guys, and bad guys. Since you can't always tell one from the other they develop a list of things that good guys do, and a list of things that bad guys do. One of the big things that bad guys do, is disrespect the police. If you give a cop attitude, he's not going to "make it hard on you" just for payback, he's going to do it for his own safety. In his experience people who give cops attitude have something to hide, and you, a law abiding citizen confuse yourself with a law breaker simply by acting like one. Cops treat (perceived!) good guys and bad guys differently. If you don't want the bad guy treatment, don't act like you need it.

3. Rights-thumpers get no love.
I thought this was the answer.
"Officer, I will produce my license, registration, and proof of insurance, if you cite me, I will sign the citation; but I will not answer any questions without an attorney present."
Simple, yes? What cop couldn't respect a citizen exercising their rights? My Dad for one. In one of our many hypothetical traffic stops I felt confident in whipping out that line. My dad's response was immediate. "You're hiding something." I reasoned that it could just be a citizen who knows his rights, to which he replied, "Doesn't matter. Non-cooperation is a sign of hiding something. I'd definitely want to search that car." Oh well. So much for my proud, defiant response to unlawful search...

4. Most cops don't know the law.
At least, they don't know all of it. This is why your best defense is to know the law, and act within it. There's a pretty good chance that once on the stand, the officer will nullify his search (and its findings), and leave you free to go. But its up to you to now the specifics they don't. Dad said that he was "amazed" that so many convictions come from illegal searches, and/or poorly written reports. He though that he could personally get 90% of traffic stop cases thrown out simply by asking the right questions.

So what's the final answer from Dad?
Lie. Say you don't have any firearms in the car, and give them no reason to believe there are any. This includes any gun-related items left in an area readily viewable from the outside of the car. Too much can go wrong. If you lie and don't get away with it, the courts will decide if you were transporting legally or not (which you should always be).

So, after all this nonsense with probable cause, caveats, implied consent, and truth stretching I asked my Dad the serious question.
"What happens if you have a CCW permit?"
"Nothing. It's almost always legal to have a loaded gun on your person, or in your possession."
"Well then... For the sake of simplicity, I'll just get one then!"

There you have it. I didn't plan on getting a CCW permit, but now I need one to just ensure my freedom as a firearm owner. Beautiful. Fortunately, I found a number of California CCW resources with tricks and tips for getting approved on the first try. The process IS cumbersome, but is clearly worth it. I'm fairly confident that I'll be able to get a CCW permit, and am lucky to be in a "may issue" county. ("May issue" means that if you're a law-abiding citizen with no criminal past, with numerous character references, and want to be able to protect yourself, your loved ones, and others... You will be denied your 2nd amendment right to bear arms. You need something much more precious than life to protect! Like diamonds, cash, or drugs. No I'm not kidding. Protecting life will not get you approval in a "may issue" county, protecting lots of cash will! My solution? Give your kids diamonds!)

For your reading pleasure, I've provided one of our better traffic stop exchanges; enjoy!
Dad: Hi, any weapons in the car?
Me: I will produce my license [...] not answer questions without an attorney present.
D: Please step out of the vehicle
D: Where are you headed?
M: I will not answer any questions without an attorney present.
D: You need an attorney to tell you if it's ok to say where you were going?
M: Is that a question?
D: Where is your license?
M: In my wallet in my back pocket.
D: Where's your registration?
(this is usually when you say that its in the glove box, and the cop has implied consent to go into the glove box to retrieve the documents)
M: in a small carrier clipped to the visor above my seat.
D: Where's your proof of insurance?
M: in the same visor.
D: Ok, let me get it. (pause)
(the pause was for implied consent, if you do not stop or respond negatively to an officer's statement that he will search or otherwise enter your car, you are giving implied consent. Note how dad made it a semi-question by beginning with "let me")
M: I do not consent to any searches!
D: I know, but you need your information.
D: [reaches for the visor, feigns dropping the wallet from the visor to under my seat] Oops, clumsy me, let me just feel under your seat for your information... [retrieves the wallet, then slips again and drops it behind drivers seat] Oops, there I go again, let me just get that... [Looks in the back seat]
M: [feeling a little uneasy about my real rights being pretend violated] I do not consent to any searches!
D: ...I know... [Finishes, steps out of the car] What's in the case on the passenger seat?
M: I will not answer any questions without an attorney present.
D: [Takes my imaginary keys from the ignition to see if the case has a key on the ring, unlocks my glove compartment and looks inside] What's in your pockets?
M: I do not consent to the search of my pockets.
D: Fair enough. [takes out the imaginary case] Where's the key?
M: It's a combination lock, and I do not consent to the search of my locked container.
D: What's the combination?
M: I forgot.
D: Well, I've got a prybar in the car, I can help you open it since you forgot the combination! [smiles]
M: [crap] Hey, I just remembered the combination, but still don't consent to the search of my locked container.
D: Look, the box is heavy, and clanks when I shake it, it's pretty obvious to me that there's a gun in there. (pause)
(the pause is for implied agreement, I need to reject the idea)
M: Could be full of rocks.
D: But why would you lock rocks in a box, and refuse to tell me about them?
M: Is that a question?
D: It did go up at the end.
M: I will not answer any questions without an attorney present.
D: There's obviously a gun in here, it's obviously well locked, and obviously being transported safely. Now, I DO have the legal right to inspect any firearms being transported to ensure they are being transported securely, I don't need your consent. This is just a officer safety issue. Just open the case, and we'll move on.
M: ...
D: Well?
M: Was that a question?
D: I'm going to put handcuffs on you and you can sit in the back of my car while I call for gunpowder and drug sniffing dogs.
M: Am I being detained?
D: I just need you secure while I get the dogs over here.
M: Then I'm free to go?
(The question of being detained MUST be answered with a clear yes or no, I'm mad at myself for not asking "Am I being detained? I need to go." sooner in the conversation. It's supposed to be a good way to put some pressure on. The question of detainment is an important legal one, make sure it's asked frequently, and answered clearly)
D: ... No. I'm detaining you for suspicious activity.
M: Which law is that?
D: [smiling] Was that a question?
M: I will not answer any questions without an attorney present.
Aaaaaand scene!

At no point in this scenario was my Dad breaking any laws (that he couldn't easily explain around).

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