If you decide to carry a firearm, know Alaska’s gun laws

Recently, an ADN reader who witnessed a daytime assault and robbery emailed me that she was considering carrying a firearm for protection for the first time in her life. She asked if I could direct her to the applicable laws. Reading the ADN, I'd say she's not the only one. Concern about crime in Anchorage is running high.

Let me offer some direction — after first disclaiming that what I write is not intended, nor should it be taken, as legal advice. Nor is it an exhaustive treatment of gun-carry laws.

The Alaska Constitution's Right to Keep and Bear Arms is in Article I, Section 19.

"A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. The individual right to keep and bear arms shall not be denied or infringed by the State or a political subdivision of the State."

[Armed man who helped stop Anchorage mall robbery: "I carry so I'm ready."]

The second sentence was added in 1994. It makes explicit that the first sentence, which comes directly from the U.S. Constitution, creates a personal right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in an official militia.

The U.S. Supreme Court didn't come around to our Constitution's express view until 2008, when it held in District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment "protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home."

Federal and state courts have consistently ruled these constitutional guarantees do not prevent states from reasonably regulating firearms — such as requiring handgun registration, prohibiting convicted felons from possessing firearms, prohibiting certain kinds of weapons, and prohibiting concealed weapons.

That's right – carrying concealed is not constitutionally protected. For those who think it should be, don't shoot the messenger. If you have a bone to pick, it's with Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which held in Peruta v. San Diego (2014),

"The Second Amendment does not protect in any degree the right to carry concealed firearms in public."

Alaska is in the Ninth Circuit so the decision sets precedent here unless the U.S. Supreme Court says otherwise. In June of this year, the Supreme Court voted not to hear the Peruta case, leaving the Ninth Circuit's ruling in place. Also, the Alaska Legislature has placed more restrictions on carrying concealed than carrying open.

A great source of information on legally carrying open and concealed in Alaska is the Department of Public Safety website. Because we're talking about carrying for personal protection, this article will only address legal handguns. The laws differ somewhat for long guns and shotguns.

This article will also not tackle federal laws, which can be more restrictive. General information can be found at the website of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

[ADN poll: Gun laws]

Alaska prohibits any unemancipated minor under 16 from possessing a firearm without the consent of their parent or guardian. There's no waiting period to purchase a handgun nor any requirement to register it. You don't need a permit to carry open or concealed, although you can obtain one, which might let you legally carry in another state that has reciprocity with Alaska.

It is illegal to possess a gun in a courthouse, on any school grounds (unless a person has obtained the permission of the chief administrative officer of the school or district ahead of time), at a domestic violence or sexual assault shelter, or a licensed child care facility (other than a private residence).

Bar patrons can't possess a firearm and you can't possess one in a restaurant where alcohol is sold, unless you aren't drinking. There are exceptions for establishment owners and authorized employees. It's illegal to possess a firearm while impaired by alcohol or drugs.

While there's no state statute prohibiting firearms in the following places, administrative regulations may apply in:

• Parks

• Hospitals

• Places of worship

• Sports arenas

• Gambling facilities, or

• Polling places.

Additionally, businesses may prohibit the possession of firearms in an area beyond a secure point where visitors are screened that does not include common areas of ingress and egress open to the general public.

In addition to the above restrictions and responsibilities for any handgun possession, if you are carrying concealed,

• You must be at least 21.

• If approached by police, you must immediately notify them you're carrying, and allow them to secure the weapon during the contact, or follow their directions for securing it.

• You may not enter another person's residence without first getting their permission to carry concealed in the residence.

These laws carry criminal penalties. If you decide to arm yourself, know and abide by your rights and responsibilities. That's what separates us from the criminals.

Val Van Brocklin is a former state and federal prosecutor in Alaska who now trains and writes on criminal justice topics nationwide. She lives in Anchorage — where she carries open and concealed, depending on the circumstances.

The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

Val Van Brocklin

Val Van Brocklin is a former state and federal prosecutor in Alaska who now trains and writes on criminal justice topics nationwide. She lives in Anchorage.