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Atty. Ralph D. Sherman

130 West Main Street • New Britain, Connecticut 06052

tel. (860) 229-0213 • fax (860) 229-0235 • e-mail


Legal Opinion

August 1997

Do you have a weapon in the vehicle?

So you have a pistol permit, you’re carrying a concealed, loaded handgun, and you’re driving on a Connecticut road. A police officer pulls you over for a broken tail light. Should you tell him you’re carrying? What if he happens to ask—for no apparent reason—"Do you have any weapons in the vehicle?"

The situation presents a difficult problem with no clear answer.

Some attorneys would advise that you should tell the officer you have a permit and a handgun, especially if the officer asks the question. That’s good advice in theory, but I’ve seen it bring two bad results.

The first bad result is that some officers will take your announcement as a threat, even if you keep your hands on the steering wheel. Their response will be to draw their own gun and point it at your head at close range. (Unfortunately I am able to make this prediction based on actual cases.)

The second bad result is that you may cause the officer to believe he has the right to search you and your vehicle. Some attorneys may disagree as to whether the officer is correct, but what counts at the moment is that the officer is going to conduct a search. If he finds, say, an eight-inch butcher knife, he may charge you with carrying a dangerous weapon. (This prediction also is based on actual cases.)

Some police officers and attorneys have suggested to me that when a permit-holder is pulled over, he should hand the officer the pistol permit with the driver’s license. That’s probably a better option than the bold announcement that you have a gun, but even this method may produce the same undesirable results.

If you tell the officer you have a gun, or you hand him your permit, you're trying to be honest with him. It’s ironic that you figure you’re legal and have nothing to hide, but your honesty may put you in a bad predicament.

To be complete in our analysis, let’s consider what criminals do when they carry: Don’t volunteer any information, and if the officer asks the big question, lie to him. If you’re a good poker player, nothing will happen. If you start to shake and sweat while the officer is studying your driver’s license, you may have a problem.

I’m not advising that law-abiding people should lie to the police. Unfortunately, however, with no clear law or police policy in this area, some people have concluded that lying is the best option for themselves.

The legal issues raised in this situation will only become more difficult when the police start using new electronic equipment that allows them to "see" a concealed handgun on a person at a distance of 10 feet or more. What the equipment doesn’t let police see is the permit in the person's wallet. The result will be that the permit-holder will be subjected to the same search as the criminal. When it happens, you can bet there will be a court challenge to the use of the new equipment.

Copyright 1997 by Ralph D. Sherman

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