Everyday innocent legal gun owners are questioned by police in public. Understand the three types of contact you will have with police, what your rights are during the contacts, and if you have to tell the officers you are carrying a firearm.
Here at U.S. LawShield, whether it is a question to our phone line or a question at one of our Gun Law Seminars, the constant theme is interaction between law enforcement and a legally armed citizen.
The first step in solving any problem is accurate diagnosis of the problem. That’s what this little training video is about. The three types of contact you can have with law enforcement, especially if you’re armed.
- Voluntary Contact
- Involuntary Detention
With that, let’s take a look at all three of these types of contact in detail.
So, I’m a legal gun owner and I am carrying in a public place. As I’m walking along, for some reason a police officer says he wants to have a chat. I’m a little confused about what my rights and responsibilities are. I’m not even sure what kind of contact this is. During this situation, I wish I had an Independent Program Attorney to advise me.
Thanks to Independent Program Attorney Richard Hayes walking by, I know I am involved in what’s called a voluntary contact. It’s based on the idea of consent, and a police officer just like any other regular person can walk up to you and ask you questions. It’s up to you to decide whether or not you want to stay and chat or just move on.
The question then becomes—in a voluntary contact do I have to tell the officer I’ve got a gun?
In Pennsylvania, during a mere encounter with law enforcement, you have the right to walk away. They’re not holding you against your will. You’re not in custody. You’re in investigative detention. In this situation, you can walk away.
So, the bottom line on the voluntary contact is you can either talk or walk.
This contact is very confusing. I’m a legal gun owner. I’m carrying legally in public, but a police officer stops me and asks for ID. He tells me stay right here and don’t go anywhere while he checks my ID and background. It sort of feels like an arrest but I don’t think it is. What does that law say about this?
This type of contact is called an involuntary detention. It seems like an arrest, but it’s not an arrest. It’s just temporary, and it’s based on the legal standard of reasonable suspicion or a reasonable, articulable suspicion. That is, could an ordinary person can articulate or explain what they believe and why they believe it? They have to suspect that you have committed, are, or are about to commit a crime. So that’s what you’re being held for. It’s not an arrest; it’s an involuntary detention.
This raises the question—do I have to tell the officer about my gun?
In Pennsylvania, if it’s confrontational or adversarial where you’re being investigatively detained because you match a description or you’re in custody because someone lied, compliance and saying you have a license to carry a firearm and alerting them where the firearm is is always the best policy.
I don’t need a lawyer to tell me when a police contact is called an arrest. An arrest is based on probable cause. That’s when the police can articulate that you probably committed a crime. You’re going to be restrained and you’re gonna be disarmed. If you’re being arrested, and you’re carrying your firearm, move at the officer’s speed. You’re going to be disarmed. Don’t reach for your firearm, and if you don’t understand any of their instructions, the only thing that should move is your mouth for clarification.
You should invoke your right to have an attorney advise you prior to questioning and invoke your right to remain silent. Actually say “I’m invoking my right to remain silent.” If you don’t invoke your rights, they can use your post-arrest silence against you.
When you’re a responsible legal gun owner carrying legally in public, you have far more concerns than an unarmed person does. Hopefully, this video helped you identify the type of police contacts that you might encounter, gave you some ideas on how to manage that contact, and hopefully gave you some tips on how you and that officer can separate safer and more effectively.