This holiday season many of our Members will be traveling to their local post office to send packages across the country to friends and loved ones, and it is important to know what the law says about carrying a firearm in your vehicle while visiting the post office.
Gun owners are prohibited by federal regulation from carrying a firearm onto U.S. Post Office property. What about the parking lot at the post office? The short answer is that it is still a violation of the law to have a firearm in the parking lot of a post office when the parking lot is part of the “postal property.”
A Colorado case generated quite a bit of confusion concerning whether the postal regulation violates a person’s Second Amendment rights when it comes to guns in cars on U.S. postal property. In July of 2013, major news outlets released stories with titles like: “Guns OK in post office parking lots,” and “You Can Now Bear Arms in a Post Office Parking Lot” based on the holding of Bonidy, et al. v. USPS.
A Colorado man, Tab Bonidy, and the National Association for Gun Rights were the plaintiffs suing the U.S. Post Office.
Bonidy, who is licensed to carry a handgun in Colorado and regularly carries a handgun for self-defense, must drive to Avon, Colorado to collect his mail, but he is barred by federal regulation from carrying a firearm, or parking his vehicle if it contains a firearm, in the USPS lot.
In mid-2010, Bonidy had asked that the regulation be withdrawn, and USPS refused. Bonidy and the National Association for Gun Rights filed their lawsuit in October 2010. The defendants were the United States Postal Service; John Potter, Postmaster General; and Steve Ruehle, postmaster in Avon, Colorado.
In a Colorado federal district court in mid-2013, Judge Richard Matsch upheld the postal ban for the post office lobby (where patrons access their mail boxes), ruling it to be among Heller’s “sensitive places.” But he struck the rule that bars firearms in Postal Service parking lots as unconstitutional.
Unfortunately, this holding has been misinterpreted to mean that federal law now allows all gun owners across the country to have firearms in their vehicles while in post office parking lots, when in fact, except for (arguably) gun owners in the small town of Avon, Colorado, nothing has changed. 39 C.F.R. 232.1(l) is the federal regulation issued by the U.S. Postal Service that prohibits all firearms on postal property.
The regulation reads as follows: “Weapons and explosives. No person while on postal property may carry firearms, other dangerous or deadly weapons, or explosives, either openly or concealed, or store the same on postal property, except for official purposes.” Note that the regulation specifically states that no one may carry firearms while on “postal property.” Parking lots are considered to be part of postal property. This regulation in effect prohibits all firearms in all areas of postal property — the parking lot, the lobby and all buildings of the post office, and even the sidewalks along the street in front of the post office, when they are within postal property lines. Bonidy argued that the postal regulation was a violation of his Second Amendment rights. He further argued that he was adversely impacted because he was forced to have his employees pick up and drop off his mail due to the firearm restriction.
The U.S. District Court ruled that Mr. Bonidy could not take his handgun into the building, but that due to the peculiar circumstances of Avon, he was not bound by the regulation with regard to keeping a firearm secured in his vehicle while in the post office parking lot. The circumstances in Avon are that: 1) The post office does not provide delivery to the public, 2) they provide free post office boxes to Avon residents, and 3) these post office boxes are the only method of delivering mail to Avon residents. The court reasoned that due to these circumstances, unlike the building, the Avon Post Office parking lot is not a “sensitive place,” and that as a result, the USPS regulation could not be a valid restriction on Bonidy’s Second Amendment rights and his right to self-defense.
Then the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals took up the Bonidy v. United States Postal Service case.
In Bonidy, the 10th Circuit held, effectively, that the Second Amendment does not (yet) protect gun rights outside the home because the right to bear arms has not been extended to “government buildings,” such as in this case, the government-owned parking lot connected to the U.S. Post Office.
Both parties appealed to the 10th Circuit: USPS on the parking lot decision and Bonidy on the Post Office building section. Circuit Judges David M. Ebel and Gregory A. Phillips of the 10th Circuit ruled for USPS in both cases:
We… conclude that the regulation is constitutional as to all USPS property at issue in this case, including the Avon Post Office parking lot, Alternatively, even if we were to conclude that the parking lot did not qualify as a “government building,” we would uphold this regulation as constitutional as applied to the parking lot under independent intermediate scrutiny.
So be careful where you go this holiday season. — Texas & U.S. Law Shield Staff