Unless you are otherwise prohibited, in the U.S., you have a constitutional right to bear arms. But that right comes with several responsibilities. Guidelines are imposed to ensure that, if you possess a gun, you do so safely. One such rule involves how you transport your weapon.
In Ohio, if you are legally allowed to have a gun, you can transport it in your vehicle as long as it's unloaded and:
- In a closed container;
- In an area you can reach only by exiting your car;
- On a rack in plain sight; or
- In plain sight with the action open (if the firearm is a certain length)
The requirements listed above don't apply if you have a handgun in your car and you have a concealed carry license or you are an active member of the Armed Forces and you're not in an area where guns are prohibited.
If you fail to adhere to the rules or engage in certain conduct while you have a gun in your car, you could be charged with a crime called improperly handling firearms in a motor vehicle.
Conduct Considered Improperly Handling Firearms in a Motor Vehicle
Ohio Revised Code 2923.16 identifies several ways you may be criminally charged when you have a handgun in your car.
The offenses include:
- Firing a gun from your car – whether you're in the vehicle or on it;
- Transporting a loaded firearm that you or a passenger can access without leaving the vehicle;
- Transporting a loaded gun that's not in a closed container, in an inaccessible compartment, or in plain sight (depending on the type of firearm);
- Having a gun in your car when you're under the influence of drugs and or alcohol, or you have an unlawful alcohol concentration level; and
- For concealed carry handgun license holders and active members of the Armed Forces: Failing to inform the officer that you have a license or military identification card allowing you to carry a firearm, failing to stay in the car and keep your hands in plain sight after being stopped, touching the gun in any way during a stop, or failing to obey orders the officer has given
Several exceptions to the law exist, and it's best to speak with a skilled lawyer about your case to determine whether any applied to your situation and what your legal options are.
The Penalties for Improperly Handling a Gun in Your Car
Depending on your particular circumstances, improper handling of a firearm in your vehicle can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony.
The potential conviction penalties for the offense include:
- Fourth-degree misdemeanor:
- Up to 30 days in jail, and/or
- Up to $250 in fines
- First-degree misdemeanor:
- Up to 180 days in jail, and/or
- Up to $1,000 in fines
- Fifth-degree felony:
- Up to 12 months in prison, and/or
- Up to $2,500 in fines
- Fourth-degree felony:
- Up to 18 months in prison, and/or
- Up to $5,000 in fines
If you have a concealed handgun license, in addition to incarceration and/or fines, a conviction may result in a suspension of your concealed handgun license.