As gun lawyers, Arsenal Attorneys™ advise clients in the implications of keeping and bearing arms. We draw (no pun intended) on our collective in-house experience as lawyers, firearms instructors, range safety officers, and firearms dealers—a holistic approach, if you will. Regardless of how we look at it, backpacks and guns just don’t mix. From a legal standpoint, or tactically speaking, once you separate a gun from your person, you run the risk of making it inaccessible or worse, forgetting it altogether. Thus, your gun might not be where you need it, or you might take it where it is forbidden.
In self-defense law classes, we stress to students the need to carry their guns. Venable firearms instructor Tom Givens has taught many thousands of students over his 35 plus years as an instructor. Givens reports that 66 of his students have been involved in gun fights. Sixty survived with no injuries. Three were injured. Three were killed. Of this sample population, Givens confirmed the fatalities occurred when those three of his students found themselves unarmed in the face of danger.
When left without a practical method to carry a firearm on their person, many people choose to carry off their bodies. This is especially common with women who tend to wear clothes that are form-fitting and lack layers to conceal a sidearm. A purse becomes the most readily available option. Some people find a firearm too uncomfortable to carry and opt for off body carry in a fanny pack or backpack. Still others need to transport a firearm, and rather than going ‘strapped’, they carry their gun in a bag.
Off body carry, particularly with a backpack, however, carries both tactical and legal risks.
Lack of quick access to the firearm poses practical and liability problems. The need for a firearm is likely to arise rapidly. If a concealed carrier has the time to take the backpack off, open it up, find the gun amid everything else in the backpack, and pull out the gun, there is a good chance he has the opportunity to retreat and avoid using deadly force altogether. A safe retreat, if available, is almost always going to be a person’s best option both tactically and legally. After all, avoiding the gun fight could mean you don’t get shot, don’t get sued by the person you shot or his family, and don’t get arrested. Alternatively, if there is no time to draw the gun from a bag, then it is like having no gun at all.
We always emphasize situational awareness, and a frequent legal problem involving guns and bags reflects the total opposite mindset: forgetfulness. In numerous cases, we have represented well-intentioned clients whose guns forgotten in bags or briefcases are discovered by security guards at the entrances of ‘gun-free zones’, especially during x-ray screening at government facilities and airports. Incidentally, the number of arrests at the airport for unlawful possession of guns or ammunition has dramatically increased, not necessarily because of an increased number of guns discovered, but because of more aggressive prosecution of these cases.
Every case in which we have been contacted by a potential client arrested for gun possession in a security checkpoint had forgotten that gun in a backpack. There are obviously serious consequences even to inadvertently entering a secured area with a firearm. In the District of Columbia, the government can charge the felony of carrying a handgun without a license, possession of an unregistered firearm, and possession of unregistered ammunition, the latter two charges being misdemeanors having potential jail terms of one year. Assuming the individual has a license to carry in the District of Columbia, that license very well could end up revoked and the carrier charged with a misdemeanor for violating carry restrictions. That offense comes with a potential jail term of 180 days.
At Virginia airports, the charge could be carrying a dangerous weapon into an air terminal, a Class One misdemeanor, carrying a potential jail term of one year and/or a fine of up to $2,500. On top of that, TSA is likely to impose an administrative fine on the offender.
There are similar statutes covering courthouses and schools in Virginia.
In almost all cases involving persons with a clean record and no aggravating circumstances, it could be possible to negotiate a disposition that avoids jail time. However, if a person convicted of a crime could have been subject to imprisonment of more than a year, whether a misdemeanor or a felony, and regardless of whether they had been imprisoned at all, such a person would become a ‘prohibited person’ and therefore lose the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.
Our best advice, to ensure your personal safety and to reduce your legal risks, don’t carry a gun in a backpack.