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Firearm Transportation

H.R. 131: Protecting Lawful Transportation of Firearms

The Firearm Owners Protection Act (FOPA) is an important provision of federal law intended to protect the right of law-abiding gun owners to transport firearms throughout our nation. Yet in the years since its enactment, it has been ignored by anti-gun local officials and effectively gutted by the courts. H.R. 131, introduced by U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.), would rewrite the law to restore the effect Congress intended when it was passed more than 25 years ago.

FOPA (codified at 18 U.S.C. § 926A) guarantees the right of a law-abiding person to transport an unloaded firearm between a location where he or she may legally carry it and a destination where he or she may also legally carry it, regardless of state or local laws along the route of travel that would otherwise apply. Under the current law, the gun must be cased or otherwise not readily accessible.

Most states have never had a problem with this law.  However, both before and after enactment of FOPA, gun owners have had serious problems lawfully traveling in two states in particular: New York (especially New York City) and New Jersey. Rather than recognize the intention of Congress to protect the rights of Americans traveling with legally owned firearms, these jurisdictions have used overly restrictive state licensing laws to harass and persecute travelers. Read more for the full fact sheet...

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The clear intent of the law was to ensure that law-abiding persons could transport firearms between two locations where they have a legal right to possess and carry them.


Examples of Reckless Prosecutions:

  • In 2004, the Port Authority Police Department (PAPD) arrested John Torraco at LaGuardia Airport for illegal possession of a firearm.  Torraco, an attorney and law professor from Florida, had properly stored his legally owned, unloaded handgun in his checked luggage.  However, when he declared the firearm to the counter agent (as required by federal law) he was arrested and charged for possessing the handgun without a New York handgun license.
      
  • In 2005, William Winstanley, a New York state resident, was detained at John F. Kennedy International Airport when he attempted to check a handgun in his luggage, again in compliance with the requirements of § 926A.  Winstanley was not arrested, but his travel was delayed for several days while he proved that he was in compliance with federal law.
  • In 2005, Greg Revell, a Utah resident, was flying through Newark Liberty International Airport to his final destination in Pennsylvania. However, his flight into New Jersey was late, which caused him to miss his connecting flight. Revell was forced to collect his baggage and spend the night in a Newark hotel. When he attempted to recheck his baggage the following morning, he declared the unloaded handgun to the counter agent. PAPD officers arrested Revell for illegal possession of a handgun and ammunition under New Jersey law.  Revell spent three days in jail before he was able to make bail.

Each of these gun owners filed a civil rights suit in federal court.  In each case, however, the courts interpreted the law to deprive travelers who comply with its provisions of any effective remedy after they’ve been arrested or detained by police for violation of state or local law. Many other cases have resulted in guilty pleas to reduced charges, civil penalties, and delayed travel in situations where FOPA should have provided protection.

While cases of inappropriate arrest or detention are most common at the New York City airports, they are not limited to those locations. In Albany, N.Y., detention of gun owners and confiscation of firearms have been reported by persons traveling in full compliance with § 926A.  The NRA has been forced to repeatedly warn gun owners that they should avoid using New York or New Jersey airports when traveling with firearms.

The clear intent of the law was to ensure that law-abiding persons could transport firearms between two locations where they have a legal right to possess and carry them.  However, the refusal of the authorities in some jurisdictions to recognize § 926A, and the limitations placed on its protections by the courts, makes reform of this section necessary.

The new bill would:

  • Expand the protections afforded travelers to include “staying in temporary lodging overnight, stopping for food, fuel, vehicle maintenance, an emergency, medical treatment; and any other activity incidental” to the trip.
     
  • Put the burden of proof clearly on the state to show that a traveler did not meet the requirements of § 926A, rather than allow travelers to be arrested on local charges and forced to raise § 926A before a judge as an “affirmative defense.”
     
  • Make clear that transportation of both firearms and ammunition is federally protected.
     
  • Make clear that violation of the right to transport firearms is judicially enforceable as a federal civil right, with attorney’s fees available to victorious plaintiffs in civil suits, as well as to defendants who prevail in criminal cases after raising a FOPA defense.

 

Finally, it's important to understand that this bill is not a national right-to-carry bill intended to protect carrying of guns for self-protection. This is a much more limited reform, intended only to provide real legal protection for people transporting unloaded guns that are cased or otherwise secured against immediate access.

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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.