The System Still Works!

Man arrested for traveling with his gun in the car tackles the system!

Locked & Unloaded: The NRA, ACLU & HPD
(As told to Richard Connelly)

Keith Patton of Katy has become an unlikely hero of both the National Rifle Association and the American Civil Liberties Union, and you’d think that’s not easy to do.

In Patton’s case, though, it actually was easy enough to do, if not to endure. He bought a gun in February and was taking it home when he was pulled over for allegedly speeding and changing lanes without a signal.

Just to be on the safe side, he told the officer he had an unloaded gun in his car. No ammunition anywhere, just an unloaded .357 Magnum.

The result: 27 hours in jail and about $2,100 in fees and attorney’s costs.

“I actually thought it was somewhat comical,” he says of the arrest. “I started laughing and I said, ‘Are you arresting me?’ And he goes, ‘Yeah, you think this is funny?’ And I said, ‘Well, I do, kind of. I just told you where I was coming from. I don’t even have any ammunition in the car — what the hell are you arresting me for?'”

He was being arrested, it turns out, because Texas law on the matter is — after years and years of trying to get it right — still pretty damn murky. A bill passed in 2005 sought to make it okay to carry a gun in the car while traveling as long as it’s hidden and not being used in a criminal activity.

Prosecutors around the state, however, believed the law was unclear. The policy in many areas became to arrest someone for carrying a gun in the car and let prosecutors decide whether to charge them or not.

Patton testified about his experience to the Legislature, and bloggers and The New York Times picked up on it. There’s a new bill now that clearly states carrying a gun in your car is not an offense and you can’t be arrested for it.

“This isn’t the first time, the second time, the third time, the fifth time — I found records from the 1880s that urged the Legislature to clarify this, when there were no cars, when people were traveling on horseback and on foot,” says Alice Tripp, legislative director for the Texas State Rifle Association.

Patton eventually had the charges dropped, but HPD wouldn’t let him have the gun for six weeks.

Last week he finally got it back. On April 12 he showed the Homicide Division a letter from the District Clerk saying charges had been dropped, and two and a half hours later they handed him the gun.

How he was supposed to get it home from HPD headquarters, they didn’t say. Luckily he broke no traffic laws on the way.

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