Over the years of defending “criminals” I have encountered many honest citizens who have made a simple mistake and now find themselves facing felony charges, prison time, the loss of career, and the loss of their 2nd Amendment rights, simply by making a mistake in understanding how they should transport a firearm. Unfortunately, ignorance of the law is not a defense. The price of education once in the legal system can be steep. To avoid this fate, this article seeks to clarify the frustrating and contradicting laws regarding how to transport firearms.
Oftentimes, my clients are pulled over for a simple speeding ticket. After the cop gets their license, registration, and proof of insurance, they are on their way to a warning or simple fine. However, as a throw away question, the officer asks if they have any drugs or guns in the car. Honest and law-abiding citizens are more than happy to tell the cop that they have a pistol unloaded in the case on the back seat or separated from the ammunition and placed in the glovebox.
The simple traffic stop instantly becomes a full-on investigation as the officers then begin asking questions designed to elicit admissions. Since people with Concealed Pistol Licenses (CPL) have an affirmative duty to report the CPL and that they are carrying, the lack of that initial statement from an honest person tells the cop that there is no CPL. This makes the act a felony and soon an arrest and a night or more in jail await someone who thought they were transporting a pistol safely.
While Michigan is an “Open Carry” state, which allows the carrying of firearms that are visible, there is no “Open Carry” in a vehicle. Instead, multiple laws describe how firearms are to be carried in a motor vehicle. For a rifle or shotgun, the weapon must first be unloaded, otherwise it’s a two-year felony. Then, you must do one of the following: take the weapon down, enclose it in a case, carry it in the trunk, or make it inaccessible from the interior of the vehicle. So simply unloading your shot gun and putting it in a case would allow you to place it in the back seat of your car. However, this same action with a pistol would represent a five-year felony.
Michigan has carved out additional requirements for the transport of pistols. The easiest way to think about it is that unlike a rifle/shotgun, you must do more. First, you must unload that pistol. Many people think you must separate the ammunition from the pistol, but you just need to unload the pistol completely. Then you must put the pistol in a case designed to for firearms. After that, you must either put that case in the trunk, or if you don’t have one, somewhere not readily accessible to the occupants of the vehicle. That means that it should not be within arms reach of the driver or passengers. If you have a truck, the bed is the best place to carry. If carrying in an SUV, you should put it in the back storage area. This will prevent you from facing a five-year felony.
Additionally, you could apply for a Michigan CPL. If you possess a CPL, you can carry a loaded pistol anywhere in your vehicle. However, you can only carry a pistol this way. You cannot ever have a loaded rifle/shotgun during transport. One other issue is whether you have been drinking or under the influence of drugs or medications. If you are under the influence of substances, you treat the situation as though you don’t possess the CPL and follow the regular law for the transport of pistols. As you can see, there are many dire consequences for misunderstanding the laws regarding the transport of firearms. If you have made such a mistake, you are not alone. However, you will need to someone to defend you and prevent the severe consequences from permanently depriving you of your rights.