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Improperly Handling Firearms in a Vehicle

Defending Against Charges of Improper Handling a Firearm in a Vehicle in Ohio

There are many different firearms and weapons offenses set out by Ohio criminal law. One common offense is “improperly handling firearms in a motor vehicle.” Even if you lawfully possess a firearm or even have a concealed carry permit, you can still be accused of failing to handle or transport your firearm in a lawful manner.

Gun rights in Ohio are not without limitation, and the law allows for harsh penalties for both licensed and unlicensed gun owners who violate weapons laws. If you are wrongfully accused of a gun crime, you risk fines, possible jail time, the loss of your concealed carry license, and more. Further, any type of gun crime conviction on your permanent record can cause numerous problems in your life for years to come.

There are only specific situations to which an improper handling of a firearm charge should apply. However, prosecutors in Ohio are notorious for aggressively pursuing gun crime charges, often against innocent people. In addition, even if you plead guilty to this offense, prosecutors may seek overly severe penalties given the circumstances.

In order to prevent a wrongful conviction or unnecessarily serious consequences, you should always have the representation of an experienced and aggressive gun crime defense lawyer in Ohio. At the Joslyn Law Firm, we know how to defend against charges of improper handling of a firearm, and we will identify every possible opportunity for your defense. Call our office at 614-444-1900 or contact us online to discuss how we might help in your firearms case.

Information Center for Improperly Handling Firearms in a Vehicle

The following is some important information about this specific firearms charge in Ohio. For questions about your specific situation and charges, please contact the Joslyn Law Firm directly.

  1. Rights and Restrictions for Gun Ownership and Transportation in Ohio
  2. Criminal Charges for Improperly Handling a Firearm in a Vehicle
  3. Penalties for an Ohio Conviction of Improperly Handling a Firearm in a Vehicle
  4. Collateral Penalties of Firearm Convictions in Ohio
  5. Defenses to Charges of Improperly Handling a Firearm in a Vehicle in Ohio
  6. Commonly Asked Gun Questions about Improperly Handling a Firearm in a Vehicle
  7. Resources in Ohio about Improperly Handling a Firearm in a Vehicle
  8. Ohio Gun News and Articles

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1. Rights and Restrictions for Gun Ownership and Transportation in Ohio 

Ohio legislators have always taken your gun ownership rights extremely seriously. In fact, the Ohio Constitution also reinforces this right on the state level. Ohio wants people to be able to own firearms to defend themselves when needed. Laws are in place to prevent firearms from being used offensively or carelessly. Every person who possesses a firearm in Ohio should be aware of any unlawful activities that could lead to criminal charges.

No Permits Required to Possess Firearms

Ohio has very few restrictions when it comes to purchasing or possessing a firearm. In most cases, you will only have to do the following to purchase a firearm: 

  • Show proof that you are at least 18 years old if you are purchasing a shotgun or rifle, or 21 years old if you are purchasing a handgun
  • Show proof of residency in Ohio for certain types of weapons 

If you are purchasing a firearm from a vendor who is federally-licensed, you will need to undergo a criminal background check and complete Form 4473 provided by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). Unless there is a possible issue with a background check, there is no waiting period for firearm purchases. You can take your new gun home that same day, and there is no need to register it with the state. 

Individuals who may not own firearms under Ohio law include:

  • Those with convictions of a violent felony or felony drug offense
  • People who are dependent on drugs or alcohol
  • Individuals determined to be mentally incompetent or who are involuntarily committed
  • Fugitives of justice
  • People who are subject to certain restraining orders

Additional federal restrictions might also apply, such as being dishonorably discharged, being unlawfully present in the U.S., having convictions for domestic violence, and more.

Open Carry and Vehicle Transport

Lawful gun owners are allowed to openly carry their weapons in permitted places. You can also transport your firearm by motor vehicle if you comply with the following: 

  • The firearm is not loaded
  • The firearm is transported in a closed box, package, or case OR it is in a place in the vehicle that you cannot access without exiting the vehicle (like a trunk or cargo carrier), OR it is secured in a gun rack or holder and is in plain view 

Employees can also keep guns stored in their vehicles while they are inside the workplace. You may not, however, openly carry your weapon into businesses or other private property if there is signage that clearly prohibits firearms.

Concealed Carry Licenses and Vehicle Transport

If you want to engage in concealed carry of a firearm, you must apply for a license in Ohio. Ohio is a “shall issue” state, which means that you will receive a permit so long as you meet the qualifications and complete the application process. When you have a concealed carry license, you are allowed to transport a loaded weapon on your person while you are in a motor vehicle. 

However, if you are stopped by law enforcement officers for any reason at all, you are required to do all of the following:

  • Promptly tell the officer who approaches your vehicle that you have a concealed carry license and are carrying a loaded firearm
  • Comply with any orders by the officer that are lawful
  • Keep your hands in plain sight unless the officer tells you otherwise
  • Remain in your vehicle unless the officer tells you otherwise
  • Do not attempt to touch your firearm in any manner

These are the responsibilities of anyone with a concealed carry license, and if you fail to adhere to the law, you can be arrested and charged with a crime.


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2. Criminal Charges for Improperly Handling a Firearm in a Vehicle

There is a specific criminal offense titled “Improperly Handling Firearms in a Motor Vehicle,” and the law restricts how you can and cannot transport, access, or use a firearm in a car. Specifically, the law prohibits any of the following: 

  • Possessing a firearm when you are not lawfully permitted to do so
  • Discharging a firearm while on or in a motor vehicle
  • Transporting a loaded firearm that is accessible to the driver or passengers from inside the vehicle (without a concealed carry license)
  • Transporting an unloaded firearm that is not in a proper enclosed in a case or box, stowed in an area accessible from outside the vehicle, or in a rack in plain sight
  • Transporting a loaded handgun in a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol or while there is alcohol or drugs detectable in their system that would prohibit them from driving
  • Failing to inform law enforcement that you are a concealed carry permit holder in possession of a loaded gun in the vehicle

There are exceptions to the law, however. For example, it is not unlawful to discharge a firearm from a motor vehicle in the following situations: 

  • You are lawfully discharging your gun at a groundhog or coyote as long as it is not during deer-hunting season
  • The motor vehicle is on agricultural property in an unincorporated area, and the person discharging the weapon is the property owner or their spouse, child, or tenant
  • The person discharging the firearm is not under the influence of alcohol or drugs, they do not have a prior firearms conviction, and they do not discharge the weapon toward property with an occupied structure or used for vehicular traffic 

Unless the above exceptions apply, you should never discharge a firearm within or from your motor vehicle. Doing this or improperly transporting a firearm can result in your immediate arrest and serious criminal charges that have many possible penalties. 


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3. Penalties for an Ohio Conviction of Improperly Handling a Firearm in a Vehicle

The charges and penalties you might face for violating this provision of Ohio law will depend on the nature of the allegations against you. For example:

Improper transport of a firearm in a vehicle = This is generally a fourth-degree misdemeanor charge. Penalties for a conviction can include $250 in fines and up to 30 days in jail. 

Mishandling a firearm in a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs = This violation can be either a fifth-degree felony or fourth-degree felony charge. Fifth-degree felony convictions can mean $2,500 in fines and six to 12 months in jail. A fourth-degree felony conviction can mean $$5,000 in fines and six to 18 months of imprisonment. 

Discharging a firearm from a vehicle = This is often considered to be the most serious violation of this weapons law, and is generally charged as a fourth-degree felony, which means a possible 18 months in prison and $5,000 fine.

In many cases, the right gun crime defense attorney can seek a reduced sentence, such as probation instead of time in jail. We can also determine when charges were wrongful and fight to get a dismissal or acquittal. If you have been arrested, you should not wait to call the Joslyn Law Firm so that we can get started on your defense.


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4. Collateral Penalties of Firearm Convictions in Ohio

If you are convicted of improper handling of firearms in a motor vehicle, your court-imposed sentence may include paying fines, serving probation, or serving a jail sentence. Once your sentence is complete, you may want to leave your criminal case behind you and move on with your life. Unfortunately, having a conviction on your criminal record can cause problems in your life for many years after your case is closed.

Criminal convictions have many possible collateral consequences in addition to penalties imposed by the criminal court. While felony convictions have the most serious collateral consequences, you can also feel the effects of a misdemeanor conviction. Some ways that having a criminal record with a firearm conviction can impact your life might include:

  • Prohibitions from purchasing, possessing, or carrying firearms in the future
  • Loss of your concealed carry license
  • Loss of your voting rights during your sentence for a felony conviction
  • Losing your job
  • Trouble getting hired for a new job
  • Suspension or expulsion from educational programs
  • Disqualification from certain educational programs
  • The suspension, revocation, or denial of a professional license
  • Ineligibility to receive public benefits or federal financial aid
  • Disqualification from public office
  • Challenges being approved to rent housing
  • Losing your rights to child custody or visitation
  • Change in your immigration status, including possible removal and deportation proceedings 

Each person will experience different collateral consequences that can be harmful and cause difficulty in the future. This is why it is imperative to always prevent a conviction whenever you can. It is important to fight against your charges with a skilled criminal defense lawyer by your side. At the Joslyn Law Firm, our goal is always to minimize or eliminate the effects of a criminal case on the lives of our clients. 


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5. Defenses to Charges of Improperly Handling a Firearm in a Vehicle in Ohio

Each gun crime case is unique, so a defense strategy will need to be developed based on the circumstances of your specific case. It is important to have one of our gun crime defense lawyers evaluate the allegations against you and facts set forth by law enforcement officers. We can then determine any and all possible ways to defend against your charges of improper handling of firearms in a motor vehicle. Some possible defenses to this charge might include the following.

You did not know about the firearm.

The law makes it illegal to “knowingly” discharge a firearm from a vehicle or to “knowingly” improperly transport a firearm or possess a firearm in a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. As with many criminal offenses, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you knew of your actions in order to get a conviction. For this reason, it can be a successful defense to sufficiently challenge the knowledge requirement.

This might apply if you were a passenger in a vehicle and did not know about the presence of a firearm that was being improperly transported. This is especially true if you are a passenger in a car while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. It is not a crime to ride in a vehicle while you are drunk, though it would be if you were in a car with a loaded handgun. Not knowing about the handgun in the car can be a defense in this type of situation.

The firearm is not operable.

Courts in Ohio have ruled that when a firearm is not in operable condition, it is not a “deadly weapon” for the purposes of the law. This means that gun restrictions under Ohio laws do not apply to inoperable firearms. As long as a firearm may not be made operable, you can transport it in your vehicle.

Law enforcement violated your Fourth Amendment rights.

Often, in order to find firearms in a vehicle, police officers must conduct a search of the vehicle. The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution gives you the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, and this applies to vehicle searches. There are limited circumstances in which an officer can search your car without a warrant or your consent. If the officer searches your car without legal justification, it can be critical to your defense. 

Any evidence resulting from an illegal search is considered to be “fruit of the poisonous tree,” and it should not be used against you in a criminal case. The right defense attorney can identify when your rights were violated and can petition the court to suppress evidence found in the illegal search. If that evidence includes the firearm in question, the prosecutor will no longer be able to present evidence that you had a firearm in the vehicle. This can result in a dismissal of your firearm charges. 

You discharged your weapon in self-defense.

If your charges stem from the discharge of your firearm from a motor vehicle, you might be able to assert self-defense to fight against your charges. Self-defense only applies in certain situations, and it can be difficult to prove. If you were acting in self-defense, you should immediately contact a highly experienced gun crime defense attorney.  

You are authorized by law to use force to protect yourself or others from imminent harm. However, in order to use deadly force - such as by firing a gun - you must be in reasonable fear of serious bodily injury or fatal harm. If someone is only trying to hit you with their fist, you generally may not use a firearm in self-defense.

There is an exception to the deadly force rule when it involves your home or motor vehicle, however. Ohio adheres to the Castle Doctrine, which is a law that presumes self-defense if you act with deadly force against someone who was unlawfully trying to enter your home or vehicle. Therefore, if you were in your car and someone tried to get in without your permission, you may likely claim self-defense if you discharged a firearm to try to stop them. 

The above are only some examples of possible defenses in cases involving improper handling of firearms in a motor vehicle charges. To best determine the appropriate defense strategy in your case, you should speak with one of our criminal defense attorneys at the Joslyn Law Firm as soon as possible.


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6. Commonly Asked Gun Questions about Improperly Handling a Firearm in a Vehicle

What firearms are governed under the law?

Under Ohio law, firearms can include handguns, rifles, and shotguns. The law also regulates deadly weapons, which is an instrument that can be used to inflict death, or something that can be adapted and carried to be used as a weapon that can inflict death. This not only includes firearms, but also knives, explosives, and other objects if they are used in a violent manner to inflict serious harm. 

When can you possess a firearm in Ohio?

You can face improper use of a firearm in a motor vehicle charges if you are not allowed to possess a firearm, to begin with. While there are few restrictions on firearm possession and purchase in Ohio, you may not lawfully possess a firearm if any of the following are true: 

  • You have a conviction of a violent felony or felony drug crime
  • You are a fugitive of justice
  • You have certain restraining orders against you
  • You are dependent on drugs or alcohol
  • You were deemed mentally incompetent by a court or were involuntarily committed
  • Additional federal restrictions apply to your situation, including dishonorable discharge from the military, unlawful presence in the U.S., domestic violence convictions, and more

Can I transport an unloaded firearm in my vehicle?

You are allowed to transport an unloaded firearm in your vehicle so long as it is properly enclosed in a box or case, stowed in a place that drivers and passengers cannot immediately access, or stored in a gun rack in plain sight.

Can I transport a loaded firearm in my vehicle?

If you open carry, a loaded firearm must be locked away in a compartment that people inside the vehicle cannot access without exiting the vehicle. For example, you could transport a loaded firearm in a locked truck. If you have a concealed carry license, you may transport the loaded firearm on your person, as long as you follow proper rules when approached by law enforcement. You may never, however, transport a loaded firearm while you are under the influence of alcohol. 

What acts are unlawful regarding firearms and vehicles?

There are numerous acts that can get you in trouble with the law when it comes to firearms and vehicles. These can include improper transportation of a firearm, possessing a firearm when you are not permitted to do so, discharging a firearm from a motor vehicle, and more.

Can I ever discharge a firearm in a motor vehicle?

While you generally may not discharge a firearm from a motor vehicle, Ohio law does give you the right to defend yourself in your vehicle. The Castle Doctrine law allows you to use deadly force to protect yourself or others from someone who is intruding on your vehicle and presents the imminent fear of harm.

In addition to self-defense, you may discharge a firearm from a motor vehicle in the following situations:

  • The motor vehicle is on agricultural property in an unincorporated area, and the person discharging the weapon is the property owner or their spouse, child, or tenant
  • You are lawfully discharging your gun at a groundhog or coyote as long as it is not during deer-hunting season
  • The person discharging the firearm is not under the influence of alcohol or drugs, they do not have a prior firearms conviction, and they do not discharge the weapon toward property with an occupied structure or used for vehicular traffic

What happens if I am charged with improper handling of firearms in a motor vehicle?

If law enforcement officers believe you violated this provision of Ohio law, you can be arrested, and law enforcement can seize your firearm. You might then face criminal charges, which might range from fourth-degree misdemeanor charges to fourth-degree felony charges, depending on the specific allegations against you. You will need to go through the criminal process, and you will have the opportunity to defend yourself. It is critical to have the right defense representation to prevent wrongful convictions or to reduce the consequences you face.

What are the penalties for a conviction of improper handling of firearms in a motor vehicle?

The possible penalties for this type of conviction will depend on the degree of charges against you. Penalties can range as follows: 

  • Fines from $250 to $5,000
  • 30 days to 18 months of imprisonment

As you can see, the penalties can be very different depending on which provision of this law you are accused of violating.

Can I get a weapon back after it is seized by law enforcement?

If the police seize your weapon upon an arrest, it can be very difficult to get it back. The prosecutor will likely use the firearm as evidence in your case to seek a conviction. Even if you are not convicted or were never even charged due to a Castle Doctrine justification, you will likely still find it difficult to regain your rightfully owned firearm unless you have the help of a criminal defense attorney.

How do I learn more about firearm dos and don’ts in Ohio?

To avoid criminal charges, you should always understand exactly what is allowed under the law and what your gun rights are. There are informational sites online where you can read more about your firearm rights, and you can always seek the counsel of an experienced firearms defense attorney, especially if you have been arrested or charged with a crime. 

What can an Ohio gun crime defense lawyer do in my case?

If you are charged with improper use of a firearm in a motor vehicle, a skilled gun crime defense lawyer can help in many ways, including: 

  • Evaluate the circumstances of your arrest
  • Examine the specific allegations against you
  • Determine whether your actions were justified under the law
  • Challenge the evidence and assertions of the prosecution
  • Present applicable defenses to the court
  • Negotiate to have your charges dropped or reduced
  • Represent you at trial when necessary

Each case is different, and you should always contact the Joslyn Law Firm directly to discuss your particular charges with an experienced firearms defense lawyer.


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7. Resources in Ohio about Improperly Handling a Firearm in a Vehicle

Knowing the proper resources regarding improper handling of a firearm in a motor vehicle can help you stay in full compliance with the law, as well as understand what to do if you are arrested. This includes understanding your rights and obligations regarding firearm transportation with a concealed carry license. 

The following are only some examples of available resources and, if you have questions or concerns about your own specific situation, contact the Joslyn Law Firm directly right away. 

Furthermore, the firearm defense lawyers at the Joslyn Law Firm are here to be an additional resource for those who are arrested and facing firearms charges, or who simply have questions about offenses and their rights. Contact our office today for a consultation about any charges you might be facing.


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8. Ohio Gun News and Articles

The following are some news stories and more information relating to improper handling of a firearm in a motor vehicle in Ohio.

Ohio passed a new law in 2018 that shifted the burden of proving self-defense from the defendant to the prosecution. This means that in Castle Doctrine cases involving the discharge of a firearm from a vehicle, the prosecution would need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was not acting in self-defense in line with the Castle Doctrine to secure a conviction.

A postal worker in Ohio told police that a gunman attacked him in his postal truck when, in reality, police allege that he discharged a firearm in his own truck. The man was arrested and faced multiple criminal charges, including improper handling of a firearm inside a vehicle. 

A man was arrested in an Ohio hotel parking lot when police found him in the car at 3:40 a.m. Reports indicate he had a concealed firearm without a license inside the car  and was intoxicated. He was arrested and charged with improper handling of a firearm, among other charges.

An Ohio man was sentenced to 70 months in state prison after law enforcement officers found him with a loaded firearm in his vehicle. The man was prohibited from possessing firearms due to previous felony convictions.

Two men were arrested by Ohio police after they fled a crime scene in a vehicle with loaded firearms, and witnesses heard multiple shots fired from the vehicle. Both suspects were charged with improper handling of a firearm in a motor vehicle, among other charges. 

These are only some of the stories we read in the news that involve this particular firearms charge. If you were arrested, you should immediately contact the Joslyn Law Firm to ensure you put forth an effective and aggressive defense against your charges.


This article was updated on October 4, 2019.

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