Guns, Bathrooms, and Legal Consequences

By Dean Weingarten

Guns, Bathrooms, Legal Consequences
Guns, Bathrooms, Legal Consequences
Dean Weingarten
Dean Weingarten

Arizona - -(Ammoland.com)- One of the most legally dangerous places to carry a handgun is in the bathroom.   It may not be as legally dangerous as an airport, but it ranks high on the list for the same reason: it creates an environment where it is easy to make a legally dangerous mistake.

A church going lady in Wisconsin found this out in March.   She will recover from the error, but it has already cost her significant time, money, and stress.   From jsonline.com:

Susan Hitchler, 66, was charged in April with negligent handling of a weapon, a misdemeanor. The complaint indicated that on March 19 she had left her handgun in a stall of the women’s restroom at Elmbrook Church. A church employee found the gun within a few minutes and turned it over to security.

At a hearing late last week, Circuit Judge Lloyd V. Carter ruled on a defense motion to dismiss the case based on a lack of evidence that a crime had been committed. The motion had been argued in May.

The most common way for people to carry concealed handguns is attached to the belt or waist band in some way.    When people use a stall in a bathroom, the handgun becomes an impediment.   I can imagine the nodding of heads of those who have carried.   Nearly everyone has encountered this problem in one way or another.   Undo the belt, and the handgun is no longer supported.  If you place the handgun on the floor, even if it is still in the holster, it may be seen from outside the stall.   Some solve this dilemma by discreetly covering the holster and handgun inside the clothes at their feet.  Others detach the holstered gun and place it out of sight behind the toilet or on top the toilet paper dispenser.

Worse, some unholster the handgun and place it in a “convenient” spot. That is not a good idea.   From tampabay.com, a detective left his firearm:

There, perched atop a toilet paper dispenser inside a busy bathroom inside a busy movie theater, he discovered the loaded Glock 26, a small semiautomatic weapon.

One from the Missouri Capitol:

Dave Evans, legislative assistant to Republican House Speaker Tim Jones, left a loaded 9mm pistol in a stall at Capitol in Jefferson City, Missouri

One that involves an airport bathroom :

The weapon, a .380-caliber pistol in a black case, was found by a custodian in the restroom near the security checkpoint about 6:45 p.m. Tuesday, according to a Peoria County Sheriff’s Office report on the incident.

In Michigan, a security guard:

An armed school security officer hired in response to the Newtown shootings forgot to take his gun with him when he left the bathroom. 

The unloaded handgun was unattended in the restroom “for a few moments,” Matt Young, director of The Chatfield School in Lapeer, Mich., told Michigan Live in a statement.

The problem is one of human nature. Humans are fallible. We all make mistakes. If you detach your handgun, distractions can occur at exactly the wrong instance, overriding your awareness of your handgun’s location with something that seems more important. In that critical instant, the handgun is left in the bathroom. That error can come with considerable legal consequences. You will survive, but your pocketbook, reputation, and your constitutional right to own and carry guns may not.

Most people discover the error very quickly. I surmise that in the vast majority of cases, the handgun is retrieved without any ill effects. It is those few cases where someone else finds the firearm and reports it to the police, that consequences start spiraling out of control.

Those consequences are considerably less severe than if you manage to fumble the handgun and have a negligent discharge in the process. Here is one from Tampa:

Bliss was sitting on the toilet in a hotel bathroom when a woman in the next stall accidentally let her handgun slip out of her waist holster. The weapon discharged when it hit the ground.

It can happen. There are almost no modern handguns that will discharge when dropped. If someone grabs for them as they are falling, and contacts the trigger… that is another scenario. It is a good reason to have some form of retention device on the holster, and to keep the handgun in the holster when you are in the bathroom. If you keep the holster on your belt or waistband, you are fairly well assured of not leaving the firearm behind.

Alternatives to belt or waistband carry offer other challenges and possibilities. It is possible, if the person is carrying the firearm in a pocket, to have the gun slip out, unnoticed, as the clothes are rearranged. This is not common, but we are talking about rare events. While fannypacks may not be fashionable, they offer a fairly secure and easy way to carry concealed handguns. In the bathroom stall, it is usually necessary to detach the fannypack. The handgun remains concealed, but the possibility of leaving the fannypack is ever present. One retired officer that I know hangs the fannypack on the door coat hook to keep it in sight. It can be placed on top of lowered clothes. The same concerns apply to purses, briefcases, and non-traditional methods such as camera cases or tablet cases. Shoulder holsters offer a different approach that helps keep the firearm secure. If you remember the detective on “Barney Miller” that was always going to the bathroom, there was a reason that he used a shoulder holster. Leaving guns in bathrooms seems to be exclusive to concealed carry.

I have not heard of any handguns that were left in bathrooms where the gun was openly carried. Guns carried openly tend to be better secured to belts, be in retention holsters, and are usually larger and not as easily misplaced.

I have not found any cases of handguns left in bathrooms that were stolen and used in crimes, but it could happen.

To sum up: in the bathroom, be sure to maintain control of the firearm when undoing belts or clothes.

Do not inadvertently display the gun to others who might view it from outside the stall. Do not remove your gun from the holster and set it down; do not remove your holster from your belt or waistband and set it down; if using a fannypack, purse, or other detachable container, keep it in sight. Check the security of your gun when you rearrange your clothes; check the bathroom to make sure you have not left personal possessions when you leave. Consider shoulder holsters, they might work for your needs. Do not be the next person on the national news who left a gun in a public bathroom.

c2014 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included. Link to Gun Watch

About Dean Weingarten;

Dean Weingarten has been a peace officer, a military officer, was on the University of Wisconsin Pistol Team for four years, and was first certified to teach firearms safety in 1973. He taught the Arizona concealed carry course for fifteen years until the goal of constitutional carry was attained. He has degrees in meteorology and mining engineering, and recently retired from the Department of Defense after a 30 year career in Army Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation.

  • 8 thoughts on “Guns, Bathrooms, and Legal Consequences

    1. Some years ago, I had to figure out how to contend with this situation when a dire need arose. My solution was to use the lowered clothing. When releasing the belt, it’s important that one hand support the area near the weapon so you can lower everything comfortably and under control down to the knees.

      At this point you can sit. If the weight of the weapon risks falling, carefully remove if from the holster and place it in the “cradle” formed by the pants (not underwear). Ideally with the muzzle pointed in a safe direction. You won’t forget it there.

      When finished you reverse the process being careful to observe muzzle discipline. If the stall offers a tank lid or toilet seat lid, turn around to face it while you arrange your clothing, then holster the gun before leaving.

      Before leaving the stall, you should check yourself over anyhow. Belt buckle centered, fly closed, pockets adjusted, shirt appropriately tucked (no blousing near the gun), check for keys, phone, wallet, gun, eyeglasses or other items you normally have with you. Make sure you leave nothing behind you of consequence.

      (Discussions of sanitizing are beset left to another time.)

    2. I’ve never left my pistol in a public (or private)restroom yet & hope I never do. I usually hang it on the coat hook on the back of the stall door. The bulk of the weight of the gun is in the grip so it pivots to here the hook is against the forward part of the trigger guard. With the safety on there isn’t much chance of a negligent discharge or forgetting to reholster before leaving the stall.

    3. If you forget your weapon in a bathroom, you probably would not think of it in any situation where you needed it and probably should leave the carrying to people who know what they are doing.

    4. I’ve found that by simply refastening my belt and after dropping trou, and keeping my pants up just below my knees (the belt tension is sufficient to do this even with a double-stack 1911, if you just lean your legs outwards a tad) I can avoid both the issue of losing the pistol, and that of showing it to anyone looking under the stall.

    5. Oldshooter and Barry have good procedures.

      I avoid using the hook on the door because it is too easy for somebody to reach over and grab what is hanging on the hook, very common in ladies restrooms, they hang the handbag and a thief will grab the strap and run off with the handbag.

    6. It’s the only gun in the outhouse — kinda hard to miss. But even if I did leave it by accident, it might help another ‘user’ terminate those pesky raccoons that chew on the toilet seat. It’s all good. lol!

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