If you ever read Internet gun forums or overhear conversations at a gun store you will often hear many people asking for firearm recommendations for a variety of reasons. The reasons range from everyday practical ones, such as concealed carry protection to more esoteric ones…like bear protection. On the more esoteric side of the equation you will often hear of people desiring to have a “trunk or truck gun.”
The term can be applied to handguns or long guns, but in general, the term is more commonly applied to long guns. The general concept behind the “trunk gun” is that if someone spots game while out in a rural area they would be able to hunt it. The other is the potential use of the firearm in some type of self defense situation (possibly an ambush) where having a long gun at their disposal would be helpful.
This is all fine and well, but for residents of Pennsylvania there are several legal issues that they should be aware of before they embark on their “Battle Van.”
The first and perhaps most important consideration is that it is illegal in the state of Pennsylvania to have a loaded long gun in one’s vehicle. This is not purely out of a gun control related issue, but also out of game law and concerns about poaching (it is also illegal under the Uniform Firearm Act). Since one is generally not allowed to hunt from a car (without special permission from the Pennsylvania Game Commission), the presumption (rightly or wrongly) is that a person with a loaded long gun in their vehicle is going to attempt to take game from their car. The text of Chapter 25, Section 2503, of the Game and Wildlife Code is in fact titled Loaded firearms in vehicles and states:
Except as otherwise provided in this title, it is unlawful for any person to have a firearm of any kind in or on or against any conveyance propelled by mechanical power or its attachments at any time whether or not the vehicle or its attachment is in motion unless the firearm is unloaded.
Now at first glance that would ban people from carrying loaded handguns in the cars too (when in possession of a valid License to Carry Firearms). However, one of the exceptions is:
A person carrying a loaded pistol or revolver when in possession of a valid firearms license.
It should be noted that it is illegal to transport a loaded long gun in your carry, regardless of whether you have a Pennsylvania Licence to Carry Firearms (as discussed further below). The penalty for having a loaded long gun in your car is a summary offense of the 4th degree, if the vehicle is in motion. It is a summary offense of the 5th degree in all other circumstances.
It should also be noted that carrying a loaded rifle is also illegal per section 6106.1 of the Uniform Firearm Act under the heading: Carrying loaded weapons other than firearms which states:
Except as provided in Title 34 (relating to game), no person shall carry a loaded pistol, revolver, shotgun or rifle, other than a firearm as defined in section 6102 (relating to definitions), in any vehicle. The provisions of this section shall not apply to persons excepted from the requirement of a license to carry firearms under section 6106(b)(1), (2), (5) or (6) (relating to firearms not to be carried without a license) nor shall the provisions of this section be construed to permit persons to carry firearms in a vehicle where such conduct is prohibited by section 6106.
A violation of this law is considered a summary offense, but unlike the game code violations cited earlier, it is simply a summary offense, not one of a particular degree. It would seem at first that section 6106.1 would allow the carrying of a loaded long arm in ones car, however, one has to look at the definition of a firearm under the Uniform Firearm Act which states:
“Firearm.” Any pistol or revolver with a barrel length less than 15 inches, any shotgun with a barrel length less than 18 inches or any rifle with a barrel length less than 16 inches, or any pistol, revolver, rifle or shotgun with an overall length of less than 26 inches. The barrel length of a firearm shall be determined by measuring from the muzzle of the barrel to the face of the closed action, bolt or cylinder, whichever is applicable.
Hence a normal rifle or shotgun (as opposed to a duly registered National Firearms Act weapon) would not qualify as a firearm, and thus not be exempted by a person holding a Licence to Carry Firearms.
The next question that must be looked at is what a loaded firearm is and is not. Thankfully the Uniform Firearms Act has a definition on both what is loaded and unloaded in regards to a firearm. The bolded language was added a few years ago.
A firearm is loaded if the firing chamber, the nondetachable magazine or, in the case of a revolver, any of the chambers of the cylinder contain ammunition capable of being fired. In the case of a firearm which utilizes a detachable magazine, the term shall mean a magazine suitable for use in said firearm which magazine contains such ammunition and has been inserted in the firearm or is in the same container or, where the container has multiple compartments, the same compartment thereof as the firearm. If the magazine is inserted into a pouch, holder, holster or other protective device that provides for a complete and secure enclosure of the ammunition, then the pouch, holder, holster or other protective device shall be deemed to be a separate compartment.
As can be seen in the language of the Uniform Firearms Act, if a loaded magazine is secured in a separate pouch than the firearm would not be considered loaded. However, it would not be “at the ready” which for some is the desire of the “trunk or truck gun.”
The second major item of concern is the idea that the firearm would be ideal for hunting small game that one may find in their travels. The major issue with this is that Pennsylvania, unlike other states, does not recognize any animal as lawful to hunt that is not a game species (with some limited exceptions regarding wild pigs), and all game species are regulated in when and how they can be hunted. You are not simply allowed to hunt wild squirrel or wild deer whenever you wish, even if it’s on your property (this does not include “wildlife preserves.”) You are however allowed certain protections in killing game or wildlife in protection of one’s property and also in self-defense.
While there may valid reasons or desires for keeping a “trunk or truck gun” there are also several important laws a person must keep in mind to ensure their compliance with the laws of the Commonwealth, many which may render the concept of a ready to use “trunk” gun a moot point, such as requiring that the individual have a license to carry firearms (LTCF), pursuant to 18 Pa.C.S. 6106. Otherwise, if an individual does not have an LTCF, he/she is extremely restricted in his/her transport of firearms. Therefore, it is extremely important that you speak with an attorney knowledgeable about PA’s firearms law regarding your specific situation before you consider a “trunk” gun.