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American Towman Magazine Presents the Week in TowingMay 22 - May 28, 2019

Handling Firearms in Towed Vehicles

glovebox 5418dBy Randall C. Resch

Many towmen want to know what to do if they find a weapon in towed vehicles. Procedures vary per agency and state, so I'll address this topic in generic terms.

Much depends on the state where the vehicle and tow company are located. Sometimes towers who find guns get over-anxious, perhaps frightened, because a weapon wasn't discovered during inventory.

Many states across America have right-to-carry laws different than California's, allowing owners to have guns and rifles in their vehicles. Finding a gun in someone's vehicle doesn't necessarily mean it's illegal.

Say a rollover accident occurs in rural Montana and it's towed. It's extensively damaged and incapable of being secured. As Montana is a hunting state, it's not uncommon for sportsmen to carry rifles. Perhaps a rifle is amongst the debris. The vehicle gets towed as a "private request" and not that of a police impound, or it's towed with no official police inventory report.

Our job is care, custody and control of a vehicle's contents—not to determine the legality of the weapon.

When it comes to department procedures and police impounds, an impounding officer has the responsibility to conduct interior and exterior inventories of the vehicle. Unless the search is specific to arrest, an interior inventory is a cursory observation of contents in plain view.

What to Do?

Illegal weapons bring to mind a bevy of knives, swords and nunchakus, among others. When weapons are seen in towed vehicles it's important to remember we're not police officers and shouldn't be concerned with their presence.

However, if you feel strongly about a weapon you've discovered, call the initiating agency, voice your concern and then wait for instructions.

If a handgun or a rifle is discovered, here are six prudent and rational considerations:

• Don't handle the weapon. Contact the initiating agency immediately and advise what's observed in the vehicle.

• Leave the handgun or rifle where it's found.

• Park the vehicle in a more secure area that's less accessible, even to employees.

• Typically, the initiating agency will dispatch a unit in response to your call. At the end of an officer's evaluation, the handgun or rifle may not be taken, especially if it's not stolen or used in a crime.

• If the discovering tow operator is a convicted felon, don't handle the handgun or rifle as that violates parole restrictions. Report it immediately.

• The motoring public doesn't understand the concept of inventory. They think towers ransack their property looking for items to steal. Our job is to observe and report.

It's Not Yours

I've read complaints where guns and rifles were intentionally held by tow companies as collateral until charges were paid in full. Holding property in this manner and not releasing it could lead to charges of felony theft of a firearm and/or the company could be sued for the item's amount.

Unless the vehicle has cleared a lawful lien sale process, or a signed title is negotiated, the property inside the vehicle doesn't belong to you.

Because the tow service is ultimately responsible for a vehicle's contents, the question arises whether or not we should return the gun not knowing the owner's background.

In most cases, firearms found in vehicles are treated by law enforcement just like other personal belongings. Accordingly, if you're holding a weapon for safekeeping where the police didn't take custody of it, there's nothing wrong with asking for proof of handgun ownership. You decide what satisfies your civic responsibility ... but do so with decorum and calm.

Randall Resch is American Towman's and Tow Industry Week's Operations Editor, a former California police officer, tow business owner and retired civilian off-road instructor for Navy Special Warfare. Randall is an approved instructor for towers serving the California Highway Patrol's rotation contract. His course is approved by the California law enforcement community. He has written over 500 industry-related articles for print and on-line, is a member of the International Towing & Recovery Hall of Fame, and, a recipient of the 2017 Dave Jones Leadership Award.
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