On the Subject of Private Investigators Carrying Firearms

Are private investigators armed and dangerous?Being a private investigator does not automatically entail the permission to carry a firearm, concealed or otherwise. To carry a firearm as a private investigator, one must go through all relevant state-mandated procedures with regards to the obtaining and maintaining of the respective firearms licenses. This applies both for permits to carry, and for permits to carry concealed; the one does not directly imply the other, and a private investigator who wishes to carry a concealed weapon while on the job has to go through the same procedures that everybody else does.

In addition, there are some other, specific requirements which are present in certain states, prior to a private investigator being permitted to carry a weapon while they are on the job working a case. For instance, in the state of California, a private investigator wishing to carry a gun on the job must take the state-certified course in how to appropriately face and handle situations involving a citizen’s arrest. There are also courses to take in the moral and ethical use of firearms under a variety of situations, as well as all standard applications and fees involved. The procedures involved in gaining the appropriate permissions to carry a gun while on the job as a PI are exhaustive, in California as well as in certain other locations.

Due to the potential liability & ethical concerns involved in a state-approved private investigator discharging their weapon wrongfully – without the oversight of typical law enforcement procedures – and potentially resulting in the death of one or more individuals, most state governments are inclined to scrutinize a private investigator’s wish to conduct their business while armed with a certain intensity. Some states take a slightly different route than the one taken by California, however, such as the state of Florida. Florida does not permit its licensed private investigators to carry firearms openly at any time, or for any reason. Thus, those wishing to carry a firearm while on the job as a private investigator in Florida must pursue a concealed carry license, and may only carry when the performance of their job or the nature of a particular case requires it.

Private investigations fall into a legal gray area in many ways. Here, we have a class of professional investigative personnel who are not affiliated with any law enforcement agency, but who are certified by the state, have access to information not available to most civilians, and who sometimes assist law enforcement with the gathering of evidence. There are some profound concerns in many quarters about the implications of allowing widespread use of firearms among private investigators – such as by standards no more restrictive than those imposed on any other civilians. There are many individuals who feel that this would encourage private investigators to act more like bounty hunters, who are often seen as having regularly taken advantage of the lack of law enforcement regulations imposed upon them. So, while individual states pursue separate guidelines regarding the regulation of firearms on private investigators who are “on duty,” most show no signs of loosening their restrictions at any point in the near future.

Ethical Concerns in Private Investigation

For more than 150 years, private investigation has proven itself to be an upstanding and integral part of of civil and criminal law proceedings in the United States of America. We see its involvement in politics during the heyday of the Pinkerton Detective Agency. We read about Dick Tracy, and other comic-style heroes drawn from the annals of the private investigation industry. Private investigators are the stuff of a great deal of fictional speculation, from the original stories of Sherlock Holmes to more recent dramatizations – such as Murder She Wrote: wherever there is mystery, there is sure to be a keen-eyed and inquisitive individual lurking in the shadows, often someone “tough as nails” and willing to go to any length to see justice done. Which, of course, is all well and good for the movie industry…

…but how does it stack up against real-life expectations?

Changes in Perception

Recent years have seen a change in the focus on private investigative services. Private investigators are no long the primary subjects of mystery and crime TV. The focus is now almost entirely on official law enforcement services; when a private investigator turns up at all, the character is usually presented as something of a bottom-feeder: a male, often someone who failed to qualify for or was dishonorably discharged from law enforcement or military service. He spends his time spying on attractive, wrongfully maligned women, or going through the garbage of low-life targets looking for evidence of small-potatoes embezzlement or infidelity. With concerns about privacy and the security of personal information rife among today’s developed western population, people look at private investigators as unauthorized invaders: people who pursue unimportant or frivolous matters in the name of personal gain, and who often resort to illegal tactics to obtain the information they need to reach their conclusions.

Part of the reason why recent years’ revelations as to the extensive nature of official agencies’ spying efforts on American citizens was so upsetting to so many people lies in exactly this shift in perception. Once upon a time, people saw law enforcement agents as brutes, while “private dicks” were the heroes of the small man looking to get out from underneath the false accusations levied by an uncaring government. Over recent decades, with the growth of the civil rights movement and the increased perception of universal equality, the distant agencies of the government have come to be entrusted more than the man in the car down the street – who has “no more right to dig through my trash than my next door neighbor, or someone from two towns over.” A slight irony, as such tactics are often a resort of recent restrictions in information access, due to these very same fears that private investigators are overreaching their authority.

The Mother of Invention

The tactics in which the modern-day private investigator engages are the product of necessity. We have access to official databases of information, such as motor vehicle records and property ownership records. We can also do things that law enforcement officers cannot do, such as enter private property… and go through the garbage, so long as we aren’t caught. We don’t need warrants to engage in surveillance. We can listen in on casual conversations we happen to overhear. We can do all of this in the name of actually protecting the rights of our clients, by pursuing evidence in a case of wrongdoing made against them – or in assisting law enforcement with their own casework, when evidence is needed or a trail has gone cold. The point is that it must always be in the name of justice and truth, and no action must ever be undertaken for the sake of punishing a suspected wrongdoer ourselves.

Additional information about ethics & private investigation can be found at the website for the Council of International Investigators.