Pulled Over With a Handgun In Your Car? You Better Have a Permit – and Be Sober.

According to a 2022 report by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, 395,626 Minnesotans had valid permits to carry handguns. It’s safe to say that many, if not most, of these individuals also own vehicles and keep a handgun in their car either from time to time or at all times. For these individuals, having a pistol or handgun on their person or in their vehicle is perfectly legal – so long as they are perfectly sober. But if police pull you over for suspicion of driving under the influence while you have a gun within arm’s reach, your Minnesota Permit to Carry won’t protect you from serious criminal charges. And if you don’t have a valid permit, driving with a handgun in your vehicle will also land you in trouble, even if you are stone-cold sober. 

Minnesota Law Regarding Handguns In Cars

If you legally possess a firearm in Minnesota but do not have a Permit to Carry, you can drive with a firearm in your vehicle only if the gun is unloaded and is either:

  • in a gun case expressly made to contain a firearm, and the case fully encloses the firearm by being zipped, snapped, buckled, tied, or otherwise fastened, and without any portion of the firearm exposed; OR 
  • in the closed trunk of the vehicle.

Minn. Stat. § 97B.045

It is a gross misdemeanor in Minnesota to “carry, hold, or possess” a pistol in a motor vehicle, snowmobile, or boat, or “on or about the person’s clothes or the person.” or otherwise possess or control the pistol in a public place without a valid permit. (Minn. Stat. §624.714). The penalties upon conviction include up to a year in jail and up to $3,000 in fines. A second or subsequent conviction constitutes a felony which comes with significantly harsher potential consequences. 

If you possess a valid Permit to Carry and keep a handgun in your vehicle, you must also have in your possession the permit card and a driver’s license, state identification card, or other government-issued photo identification. If an officer pulls you over, you must display the permit card and identification document upon demand.

While you are under no legal obligation to advise the officer that you have a gun in your vehicle and that you hold a valid permit, it is often advisable to do so to avoid a potential misunderstanding. For example, if you keep your proof of insurance in your glove compartment or console along with your handgun and need to give it to the officer during the stop, it would be in your interest to let the officer know that there is a weapon where you are about to reach so they do not see the gun unexpectedly and react impulsively. 

Guns and Alcohol 

Just as your driver’s license does not give you the right to drive drunk, your Permit to Carry does not allow you to carry your handgun in public or on your person while you are intoxicated. Minn. Stat. § 624.7142 makes it illegal to “carry a pistol on or about the person’s clothes or person in a public place” when:

  • the person is under the influence of a controlled or intoxicating substance and the person knows or has reason to know that the substance has the capacity to cause impairment;
  • the person is under the influence of alcohol;
  • when the person’s alcohol concentration is 0.10 or more; or
  • when the person’s alcohol concentration is less than 0.10, but more than 0.04.

This prohibition on drinking and carrying applies to any public place – a tavern, a city park, an office building. If you are drunk and have a handgun “on or about your clothes and person” while out in public, you could be charged and convicted of a misdemeanor. You also put your Permit To Carry at risk. A second or subsequent violation is a gross misdemeanor.

If you are behind the wheel while intoxicated and a handgun, validly permitted or not, is within arm’s reach, that counts as carrying a pistol “on or about the person’s clothes of person” for purposes of the law. This means having a gun in the center console, on the passenger seat, or on the dashboard would put you on the wrong side of the law.  

Can Police Search Your Car For a Handgun?

As we discussed in this recent post, police cannot generally search your vehicle during a traffic stop without a warrant unless they have probable cause to believe there are illegal goods or evidence of a crime in the vehicle, such as illicit drugs or a weapon, or see such evidence in plain sight. 

Typically, a traffic violation will not constitute probable cause sufficient to justify a search of your vehicle without your consent. But once police arrest you and impound your vehicle, they are entitled to conduct a full search, including of the trunk and any unopened compartments. And if they find a handgun in the vehicle and you lack a valid permit, or you were arrested for DUI and a handgun was within arm’s reach, they can add firearms charges to the original charges for which you were arrested.  

If you have questions or concerns about keeping a handgun in your vehicle or are currently facing handgun or weapons-related charges, you should speak with an experienced Minneapolis criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. 

At F. Clayton Tyler, P.A., our proven track record, personal attention, and straightforward approach will ensure the best possible outcome for your case. Please contact us today to arrange for your free, confidential initial consultation