The Great Pennsylvanian Trunk Gun

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 car, regardless of whether you have a Pennsylvania Licence to Carry Firearms (as discussed further below). The penalty, under the Game Code, 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 in your car 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.

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14 Comments

Filed under Firearms Law, Pennsylvania Firearms Law

14 responses to “The Great Pennsylvanian Trunk Gun

  1. Justin Byers

    Thanks for the good information Ian.

    Am I correct that a “rifle caliber pistol” such as the Sig P556 would be legal when loaded and concealed in a vehicle provided that you have a license to carry?

    Thanks

    Like

    • Ian K Friedman, Esq.

      Sure thing.

      If the Sig P556 is the pistol version, than yes it would be legal to have loaded and concealed in your vehicle, as long as you have a valid PA Licence to Carry Firearms. The key factor is whether the gun is a handgun/pistol or a long gun. Keep in mind some law enforcement may not understand the distinction (and think “if it looks like a rifle, than it’s a rifle”), so retaining documents that show it was transferred in as handgun, is always a good idea.

      Like

      • Glenn Guest

        Is it illegal to have a loaded firearm in your vehicle parked in your driveway, on your property with the doors locked and unoccupied and no keys in the ignition, meaning they are not being transported, without a license to carry?

        Like

  2. Terry N.

    This topic will be getting more interesting once the SiG Arm brace catches up in the demand for it. It almost doubles as a short ‘stock’ thus making a (AR type) pistol into (in essence) a Short Barreled rifle.

    Like

  3. Matthew Thomas Duda

    The definition of loaded from the ufa is for “firearms” as defined by the ufa not long guns / shotguns. Do we have a legal definition for a loaded long gun?

    Like

    • Matt, while the definition of loaded in 6102 uses the term “firearm” in it, I highly doubt any court would hold that the definition for loaded was limited to the definition of a firearm in 6102. Firearm has a general use/understanding, which is what the Legislature intended in defining loaded. Given the case law that existed prior to this change, I don’t think it wise to argue that the definition was intended to be limited to the definition of firearm as provided in 6102. Further, I don’t think there is a single DA in the state that would pick up on this issue and press that it doesn’t apply to long guns/shotguns.

      Like

  4. BHirsh

    Thus proving that most gun laws, no matter how “reasonable” are bullshit.

    The presumption of guilt before any malum in se criminal act smacks of prior restraint, which is a constitutional no-no.

    Not discussed in this article is the fact that a carry permit will not exculpate a person from carrying a defensive firearm while spotlighting game. If you’re going out to spotlight deer, you’d better not have your sidearm with you – the permit won’t protect you from the game wardens. You will be cited, and they will take your gun. You won’t get it back.

    Like

  5. More about NFA please....

    So is a NFA registered silencer a rifle or pistol? If it was in a vessel by itself, with or out without ammo(does not matter I suppose), because it is considered a “firearm”, would it be a illegal concealed firearm in a vessel even though it does not really meet either definition in the UFA?

    Wouldent this also mean that if you had a silencer by itself in your pocket without a concealed carry permit it would be an illegal concealed carry weapon anyway?

    Not likley anyone would fall into this scenario, but going back and forth to a range, or whatever non-nefarious activity would certainly make it possible to occur.

    I really would like to know more about where NFA SBR’s, AOW’s, and MG’s fit into all of this. It might be slightly irresponsible to have a NFA “trunk gun”, but does it hold up in court or not in PA?

    To note all that further, can a NFA item be used for conceal carry and or self defense at all in PA? (IE, suppressed weapons or SBR/SBS/AOW/MG in or out of home.)

    Thanks for the thought provoking post.

    Like

  6. Jared B.

    To make it 100% clear for everyone that has a hard time reading laws.

    An SBR, SBS, MG, AOW, suppressor IS legal to have loaded in your vehicle?

    Since an SBR is classified as a “firearm” (I.e 9-11″ inch AR upper in a registered NFA lower) It is legal to have loaded in your vehicle according 6102?

    Or does the Game commission 2503 supercede that? Or does that just require a LTCF to carry a loaded SBR like you are required for a pistol?

    Thank you!

    Like

  7. Ned Beatty

    Ok, so, lets look at one more scenario, the “Non Shotgun” pistol grip only device, that is “NOT” a shotgun under federal law, because it was never intended to fired from the shoulder.

    I can take a PGO, 870, attach a shockwave birds head grip, cut the barrels down to 14″ and the overall legth of 26.5 inches makes it only a “Firearm” under federal law, and since its over 26″ in length, it does not fall under the purview of the NFA, its completely legal to own, unless it falls below the magical 26″ overall lenght.

    SO, Federally, this is classified as a firearm, not as a SHOTGUN, so, my license to carry firearms should be kosher, as this is a clearly defined by Federal law as a “Firearm” correct?

    Now, I know I can AOW weapon it for 5 bucks, but the point being, is it legal to carry in a vehicle in PA, as a “Firearm”?

    Like

    • Terry N.

      Ned, you cannot AOW a weapon for $5.00, The “Transfer TAX” is $5.00. To make a AOW the making tax is $200.00. The same as making a Short Barreled Shotgun.

      Like

  8. Me. Jay.

    Here’s a scenario I don’t believe was covered. I have a pistol I purchased with a 7,72″ barrel and overall length about 16″. If I SBR it with the stock I have in mind, OAL will be about 26.3″ long. I’m reading the definition of Firearm which designates in part, “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.”

    Now, I opine that because they choose the word “or” instead of “and”, when defining the firearm, then it only needs to meet one of the criteria to be classified as such. Am I reading this correctly? I am not a lawyer, so I wouldn’t even know where to research case law on this. I would love to hear your opinions, though, if you have a moment to respond.

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  9. Matthew

    I am left wondering if it would be considered loaded if loaded with less-than-lethal ammunition (regarding shotgun). Having moved here from TX and being accustomed to keeping a shotgun; it seems illogical to restrict it to me. Perhaps there is another article on less-than-lethal ammunition. Clearly, I’m not concerned with opportunistic hunting; more worried about driving down the wrong back alley and being surrounded; without going to the extreme of killing.

    Like

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