Police, The Fourth Amendment, Qualified Immunity

Interesting case for gun rights enthusiasts (sometimes also known as gun-nuts)

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Case:  MCDANIEL v. ARNOLD (D.Md. 8-21-2012)

What happened: An African American was stopped on a freeway in Baltimore, ostensibly for speeding and following too closely. It is disputed whether he really was speeding, or following too closely, and the police dashcam video, coupled with a lack of radar / LIDAR type evidence seem to indicate that he was not speeding or following to closely. During the stop, the driver informed the policemen of his handgun, which was located in his trunk. It is disputed whether he told them the gun was unloaded. This is important because it would have been illegal for him to transport a loaded gun, but legal (under a federal statute) for him to be transporting an unloaded gun. Without consent, the policemen retrieved the gun from the trunk. It was “locked but not loaded” (at least according to the driver) because there was no round in the chamber. The police felt that the gun was “loaded” and had the driver arrested (he spent the night in jail) and prosecuted for handgun charges, but not speeding or following too closely. After a year or so, the prosecutor dropped the handgun charges.

Decision: No qi for the traffic stop because the video and some of the policemen’s comments might be taken to indicate that the driver was not speeding or following too closely. Also, no qi for the policemen on the claim that they violated 4a by going into the driver’s trunk without consent. This depends upon whether the driver told them the gun was unloaded or not. Interestingly, the judge decided that the gun was considered to be “loaded” such that it was actually illegal to be transporting it in the way the driver was.


Plaintiff has consistently argued, from the time of the traffic stop through the filing of his Opposition, that the handgun in his trunk was “unloaded.” He acknowledges that there was a magazine of ammunition seated in the handgun. However, because there was not a “round actually loaded into the chamber such as to render the gun instantly operable,” he contends that the gun was “locked but not loaded.” . . . In plaintiff’s view, he was transporting the weapon in compliance with § 926A. But, he has not offered any case law, expert testimony, or other supporting authority for his interpretation of the term “unloaded.” As I see it, under either Maryland law or the Firearm Owners Protection Act, it would be difficult to conclude that a weapon in the condition of plaintiff’s handgun was “unloaded.” Although neither “loaded” nor “unloaded” is defined in either statute, the common-sense, plain meaning of the term “loaded” includes any weapon that has ammunition inside of it, without regard to whether a round is actually in the chamber. Moreover, the safety concerns animating both statutes seriously undercut plaintiff’s strained interpretation.

It is also noteworthy that, although the regulations interpreting the Firearm Owners Protection Act do not define the term “unloaded,” federal regulations in several other contexts distinguish between loaded and unloaded weapons. Under any of these regulations, plaintiff’s handgun would be considered loaded. . . . Finally, when plaintiff was arrested by the Officers, he insisted that his firearm was not loaded by Pennsylvania standards because, as plaintiff put it, “in Philadelphia, unloaded means not in the chamber.” Plaintiff’s understanding of Pennsylvania law is incorrect. Unlike Maryland law and the Firearm Owners Protection Act, the Pennsylvania Uniform Firearms Act defines the term “loaded,” and Pennsylvania’s definition of “loaded,” codified in 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6102, is even broader than the common-sense meaning of the term or the federal regulations quoted above: 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. . . .

Accordingly, I am fully satisfied that plaintiff’s handgun was loaded under any applicable definition. Thus, plaintiff was not in compliance with Maryland or federal law when transporting his weapon.

Written by Burgers Allday

August 25, 2012 at 8:30 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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