Q. Is it legal to have a handgun or other firearm in the unlocked but secured glove box or console of my car in Virginia without a concealed weapons permit?
The Virginia Court of Appeals addressed this issue in 2013. They answered that it was not illegal. The Virginia Attorney General also issued an opinion (which is merely an official advisory opinion) on May 25, 2012 stating that it was not illegal.
Here is the excerpt from the Court of Appeals in Doulgerakis v. Commonwealth, 61 Va. App. 417, 420-422 (Va. Ct. App. 2013) with highlights added to make it easier to get the highpoints:
The Virginia Supreme Court has long held that “when analyzing a statute, we must assume that ‘the legislature chose, with care, the words it used . . . and we are bound by those words as we interpret the statute.'” City of Virginia Beach v. ESG Enters., 243 Va. 149, 153, 413 S.E.2d 642, 644, 8 Va. Law Rep. 1855 (1992) (quoting Barr v. Town & Country Properties, 240 Va. 292, 295, 396 S.E.2d 672, 674 (1990)). “‘Where the legislature has used words of a plain and definite import the courts cannot put upon them a construction which amounts to holding the legislature did not mean what it has actually expressed.'” Tazewell County Sch. Bd. v. Brown, 267 Va. 150, 162, 591 S.E.2d 671, 676-77 (2004) (citation omitted). However, “[l]anguage is ambiguous if it admits of being understood in more than one way or refers to two or more things simultaneously. An ambiguity exists when the language is difficult to comprehend, is of doubtful import, or lacks clearness and definiteness.” Brown v. Lukhard, 229 Va. 316, 321, 330 S.E.2d 84, 87 (1985) (citations omitted). In addition, “penal statutes are to be construed strictly against the [Commonwealth and] cannot be extended by implication, or be made to include cases which are not within the letter and spirit of the statute.” Wade v. Commonwealth, 202 Va. 117, 122, 116 S.E.2d 99, 103 (1960).
The term “secured” can have several different meanings. The statute does not define the level of security required of the compartment, whether it be locked, fastened, or simply closed. Because “secured” is ambiguous in the context of this particular statute, we are permitted to look to the legislative history of Code § 18.2-308 to determine its meaning.
In 2010, the General Assembly enacted subsection (B)(10) of the amendment exempting the prohibition of concealed handguns from personal vehicles in certain circumstances. History of that amendment indicates that the General Assembly specifically chose to omit the term “locked” from the statute. Initially, the General Assembly adopted the amendment that contained the language that a gun must be “locked in a container or compartment” within the vehicle. However, the Governor’s recommended change to the amendment replaced the word “locked” with “secured.” Journal of the House of Delegates 1658-59, Reg. Sess. (2010). In accepting the Governor’s proposed change, the legislature made it clear that in this amendment, “secured” does not mean “locked.” Had the legislature intended for “secured” and “locked” to be synonymous, they would have disregarded the Governor’s recommendation and adopted the amendment as originally written. Thus, under the facts presented here, we find that having the gun in a locked glove compartment is not a prerequisite for applying the Code § 18.2-308(B)(10) exemption.
The Supreme Court of Virginia, in Schaaf v. Commonwealth, 220 Va. 429, 258 S.E.2d 574 (1979), explained the rationale of the concealed weapon statute:”The purpose of the statute was to interdict the practice of carrying a deadly weapon about the person, concealed, and yet so accessible as to afford prompt and immediate use. ‘About the person’ must mean that it is so connected with the person as to be readily accessible for use or surprise if desired.”Id. at 430, 258 S.E.2d at 574-75 (quoting Sutherland v. Commonwealth, 109 Va. 834, 835-36, 65 S.E. 15, 15 (1909)).
The legislature, by adopting the exception relevant here, determined that a weapon “secured in a container or compartment in the vehicle” was not “readily accessible for use or surprise if desired.” See Uniwest Constr., Inc. v. Amtech Elevator Servs., Inc., 280 Va. 428, 440, 699 S.E.2d 223, 229 (2010) (“The public policy of the Commonwealth is determined by the General Assembly, for ‘it is the responsibility of the legislature, not the judiciary, . . . to strike the appropriate balance between competing interests . . . . Once the legislature has acted, the role of the judiciary is the narrow one of determining what [it] meant by the words it used in the statute.'” (alteration and omissions in original) (quoting Dionne v. Southeast Foam Converting & Packaging, Inc., 240 Va. 297, 304, 397 S.E.2d 110, 114 (1990))).
That being said, our inquiry becomes one of defining “secure” as contemplated by the General Assembly within the meaning of the statute. “Secured” is defined as “in safekeeping or custody,” Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary 1641 (2d ed. 1983), or “well-fastened,” The American Heritage Dictionary 1173 (New College Ed. 1982).
The evidence here shows that appellant’s handgun was in a closed, latched and “well-fastened” glove compartment. Pursuant to the statute, appellant’s gun was “secured in a . . . compartment” in his vehicle, thus reducing his access to the weapon. Because appellant’s handgun was in compliance with the exception to the concealed weapon prohibition, his possession of the gun did not violate Code § 18.2-308.
Doulgerakis v. Commonwealth, 61 Va. App. 417, 420-422 (Va. Ct. App. 2013)
Therefore, if you have been arrested or charged with carrying a concealed weapon in violation of Virginia Code § 18.2-308, you should immediately contact an attorney to defend you in court against the criminal charges and to discuss whether you should file a civil suit for false imprisonment or a violation of your Fourth Amendment rights.
The materials are prepared for information purposes only. The materials are not legal advice. You should not act upon the information without seeking the advice of an attorney. Nothing herein creates an attorney-client relationship.
Thomas H. Roberts, Esq.
Thomas H. Roberts & Associates, P.C.
105 S 1st Street
Richmond, Virginia 23219
(804) 783-2000 x 110
(804) 783-2105 fax