Where can you legally carry a pistol/handgun, loaded or unloaded, concealed or not while in Washington State? Even though the title of the following RCW (Revised Code of Washington) is “Carrying Firearms”, it only deals with handguns not all firearms and primarily with respect to conceal carry on the person and handguns in vehicles.
(1)(a) Except in the person’s place of abode or fixed place of business, a person shall not carry a pistol concealed on his or her person without a license to carry a concealed pistol (CPL).
Of the 3 rules in this section this one probably needs no explanation. Stated simply, you cannot conceal a weapon on your person unless you have a conceal carry license or you are at your ‘abode or fixed place of business.’ Only thing I have not seen spelled out is if a motorhome or camping trailer would be considered an ‘abode’ either while parked or moving but since I have my conceal pistol license, I don’t have to worry about that question.
The other thing of note is that it does not specify that it is dealing with the concealment of loaded pistols and therefore having an unloaded pistol concealed on your person would be just as illegal. The exception to this is noted below, without a license you can ‘conceal’ a handgun in an ‘opaque container’ or ‘secure wrapper’.
(2)(a) A person shall not carry or place a loaded pistol in any vehicle unless the person has a license to carry a concealed pistol and:
(i) The pistol is on the licensee’s person,
(ii) the licensee is within the vehicle at all times that the pistol is there, or
(iii) the licensee is away from the vehicle and the pistol is locked within the vehicle and concealed from view from outside the vehicle.
I have seen quite a bit of discussion on this rule. Most of the confusion is because people don’t read it correctly, thinking there is an ‘and’ between (i) and (ii) instead of the implied ‘or’. First off, the only hassle-free way you may possess a loaded firearm in a vehicle is if you have a concealed pistol license. An exception to this, noted below, is if you are engaging in or on your way to an ‘outdoor activity’. Rule 3 below will deal with persons without a conceal carry permit. So, with a conceal permit, part (i) says that if the loaded handgun is on your person then you are fine. Part (ii) says the loaded handgun can be anywhere in the car as long as the licensee is also be in the car. This means the pistol does not have to be out of sight or concealed. It can be on the seat, in the glove box, or anywhere you choose to place it as long as you are in the vehicle. Part (iii) is the only other possible situation, if the licensee leaves the vehicle, the loaded pistol can be left in the vehicle as long as the vehicle is locked and the pistol is not visible from outside the vehicle.
(3)(a) A person at least eighteen years of age who is in possession of an unloaded pistol shall not leave the unloaded pistol in a vehicle unless the unloaded pistol is locked within the vehicle and concealed from view from outside the vehicle.
Finally, if you don’t have a concealed pistol license, then to have a handgun in the vehicle it must be unloaded and you must be at least 18 years old. If you are going to leave the handgun in an unattended vehicle, the vehicle must be locked and the unloaded handgun must be concealed from view.
So, Washington may be an ‘open carry’ state, but when you get in your car, the handgun can no longer be loaded if you do not have a concealed pistol license. I find it interesting that the definition of ‘loaded’ (RCW 9.41.010 does not specify any significant physical separation of the ammo from the handgun. If the magazine has been removed and the handgun does not have a round in the chamber the handgun is considered unloaded even if both the handgun and the ammo are in the same carrying case or glove box.
The next RCW lists exceptions to the above laws, two of which apply to us regular citizens.
The provisions of RCW 9.41.050 shall not apply to:
(8) Any person engaging in a lawful outdoor recreational activity such as hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, or horseback riding, only if, considering all of the attendant circumstances, including but not limited to whether the person has a valid hunting or fishing license, it is reasonable to conclude that the person is participating in lawful outdoor activities or is traveling to or from a legitimate outdoor recreation area;
This odd exception seems to be saying that a loaded pistol may be carried on the person or in the vehicle by anyone either engaging in any outdoor activity or on their way to or from such activity. In all the reading I have done I have not figured out how such a broad exception got written into the law.
(9) Any person while carrying a pistol unloaded and in a closed opaque case or secure wrapper;
It must be remembered that this is an exception and not a ‘rule’. A pistol is not considered ‘concealed’ if it is in an opaque case such as a plastic box like you get when you buy your gun or in a secure wrapper which I have seen described as a backpack. In other words, you are allowed to carry a ‘concealed’ unloaded pistol using either of these two methods, since without this rule you could not carry a pistol out of a store without breaking law unless you carried it in plain sight. This rule has nothing to do with how the handgun must be stored in the car, otherwise it would have been put it RCW 9.41.050 and not here in the exceptions to that section.
In a future post we will look at specific places that you can and cannot carry a handgun in Washington State.
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