Post Office Parking Lots - How not to end up in jail this holiday season . . .
This holiday season many people 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 in Texas 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." Last year, a Colorado case generated quite a bit of confusion concerning whether the postal regulation violates a persons 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 case decided in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado. In a heavily fact-dependent case, the court held that despite the existing regulation that generally prohibits firearms anywhere on postal property, one specific individual with a concealed carry license could carry a firearm secured in his vehicle in a local post office parking lot in Avon, Colorado. 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, even for Texas gun owners. 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 Bonidys Second Amendment rights and his right to self-defense. There are two main reasons why the holding does not apply to Texas gun owners. First, the holding is very narrow in that it applies to only one man, allowing him to have a firearm in his automobile in one specific parking lot (the Avon Post Office parking lot in Avon, Colorado). The holding does not specifically extend the ability to carry a firearm in a vehicle to anyone else, even residents of Avon; nor does the holding give Tab Bonidy or anyone else the right to carry a firearm in their vehicle in any post office parking lot other than the one in Avon, Colorado. At most, it may be argued that a person similarly-situated to Tab Bonidy (living in Avon, CO who can only pick up their mail at the Avon Post Office) may carry a firearm in their vehicle pursuant to their Colorado concealed carry permit in the Avon Post Office parking lot only. Second, and more importantly, a decision issued by a federal trial-level court in Colorado is not binding on any federal or state court in Texas, nor does it have any binding authority in any other district court across the country. The decision may be persuasive to a court in Texas that is, a court may consider the reasoning and decision of the court in Colorado but a Texas court is not bound to make any ruling based on what the Colorado court said.
On October 1st of this year, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments from both parties in Bonidy appealing the decision of the trial court. While no decision has been made yet, a decision by the 10th Circuit may be more persuasive to courts in Texas than the holding of the district court. However, whatever is decided, while the courts opinion will still be a persuasive argument, it will not apply to Texas U.S. Post Offices until a decision is made in a federal court with jurisdiction over Texas. Stay safe this holiday season and help protect all of our rights by knowing the law.