02 April 2008

terms of art

When a lawyer deals with a layman, the layman sometimes doesn't realise that words in law can take different meanings from what the words normally mean. These new meanings are called terms of art. So, that's why the term "people" in the Second Amendment has a different meaning for lawyers and the "people".

Anyway, I was on the phone today with another lawyer who is an expert on gun laws when I learned something I never knew. I mean this guy eats, sleeps, and shits gun laws (and knows about DC v Heller). So, it came out that the term "firearm" in Chapter 61 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes basically means only handguns. Actually from section 6102:

Any pistol or revolver with a barrel length less than 15 inches, any shotgun with a barrel length less than 18 inches or any rifle with a barrel length less than 16 inches, or any pistol, revolver, rifle or shotgun with an overall length of less than 26 inches. The barrel length of a firearm shall be determined by measuring from the muzzle of the barrel to the face of the closed action, bolt or cylinder, whichever is applicable.

Now, 26 inches is pretty dinky for a rifle. Think H&K MP5A3 with the stock closed and you're getting the idea. A Remington 870 has a barrel length of 28 inches.

Where this comes into play is § 6106.1. Carrying loaded weapons other than firearms.

(a) General rule.--Except as provided in Title 34 (relating to game), no person shall carry a loaded pistol, revolver, shotgun or rifle, other than a firearm as defined in section 6102 (relating to definitions), in any vehicle. The provisions of this section shall not apply to persons excepted from the requirement of a license to carry firearms under section 6106(b)(1), (2), (5) or (6) (relating to firearms not to be carried without a license) nor shall the provisions of this section be construed to permit persons to carry firearms in a vehicle where such conduct is prohibited by section 6106.


So, technically, an AK-47 isn't a firearm under this law which means a permit to carry a firearm isn't valid for a loaded one. On the other hand, I could carry an MP5K since it is less than the lengths mentioned.

Got that?

I've been doing firearms law for 15 years now and this was new to me, but I would keep my rifle unloaded, in a case, and in the car boot. So, I wouldn't have had to worry too much. Unlike my client who had a loaded AK-47 in the backseat of his car near an airport who is in trouble.

Anyway, Some words mean different things to Lawyers from what they mean to the masses. I am a bit disappointed in a lot of commentary on legal topics by people who aren't legally trained as most miss the point. Some words have different meanings in law and you need to be aware of this.

Law is like a game and one needs to know the rules and terminology to properly play the game. You can't go in with notions that are not backed in the law and try to play the game.

So, don't come to me and try to argue when you haven't a background in law and you are saying things which are without basis in the law. It takes a long time to properly learn the law and how to practise it.