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Transporting and Possession of Firearms in Vehicles: Current Minnesota Law

MINNESOTA CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY JENNIFER SPEAS

Transporting and possession of firearms in vehicles remains a contentious issue in Minnesota. Current law is that people who are restricted from possession of firearms cannot have control over a firearm in the vehicle. This means the driver, if restricted, can’t have a weapon in the vehicle unless it is in the possession of another person.

Even if unaware that someone stowed a weapon under the seat or in the center console, a driver restricted from firearms possession can be charged with having access to that weapon. Who is restricted from firearms possession, and how can weapons be transported by vehicle?

RESTRICTIONS ON POSSESSION OF FIREARMS

Under Minnesota law, possession of firearms doesn’t mean ownership, but access to the weapon. For many with criminal convictions for violent crimes, no firearms can be possessed until ten years have elapsed from the end of the sentence, including any probation or supervised release.

For some assault convictions, including domestic assault, stalking, and harassment, the usual restriction is against possession of pistols for three years following the end of the sentence. If a firearm was used  in the crime, however, the court may impose longer firearms restrictions, including up to a lifetime ban.

For drug offenders, those with crimes related to controlled substances, and those with substance abuse who have been committed or confined, firearms possession is restricted until a doctor can certify the person has been clean for two years.

For a person with mental illness, including those who are considered incompetent to stand trial and those who are found not guilty by reason of mental illness, that person cannot possess a firearm until a doctor can certify that they are no longer mentally ill. In addition, Minnesota allows a standard called “satisfactory proof” of mental health.

Those who are disabled by mental retardation cannot possess a firearm. There are restrictions for weapons possession for others with disabilities, and Minnesota allows for a special disabled hunter license that eases some of the restrictions of firing a weapon from the vehicle during hunting.

A nonresident alien, here legally, can only possess a firearm for the purpose of hunting under current fish and game laws. Illegal aliens cannot possess firearms. Firearms cannot be possessed by those who have been dishonorably discharged from the US Armed Forces, or for those who renounce citizenship.

Firearms cannot be possessed by those listed in the criminal gang investigation system. Those who have fled the state to avoid being tried or testifying in court are also restricted, as are those in a pretrial diversion program when charged with a violent crime. Those on probation are restricted from firearms possession.

TRANSPORTING WEAPONS IN VEHICLES

Weapons transported in vehicles have to be unloaded and stowed in a closed and secured case, or put into a locked trunk. The exceptions to this law include

  • if the weapon has been purchased or taken possession of, and is being transported to home or place of business
  • if the weapon is being transported from home or place of business to a repair shop
  • if the possessor has a valid permit to carry
  • peace officers and officers at correctional facilities
  • rifles and shotguns can be carried in the vehicle when being transported to a legal hunting area, except within the boundary of a city with a population of more than 2500 or in Anoka, Hennepin and Ramsey counties.
  • rifles, shotguns, pistols and other firearms carried by the general public are specifically restricted from school grounds, and from childcare centers with children present.
  • churches may restrict weapons in vehicles in their parking lots, even for those with a valid permit to carry.
  • firearms are restricted in federal buildings and in federal and state court systems.

Weapons in vehicles are considered one of the most dangerous situations in which peace officers and the public come into contact. Hunters are specifically prohibited from shooting from a vehicles, and drive-by shootings can bring murder or manslaughter charges to all who are in the vehicle, including the driver. With permit to carry laws allowing weapons in vehicles, and the rising number of drive-by shootings, police are trying to walk a line between respecting rights and preventing violent crime. Many of the instances of police shootings that have raised concerns and protests from the public have involved conflicts that originated with weapons being openly carried by people in vehicles.

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