DRIVING ARMED – Facing The Law


Part of driving armed is preparing for the eventuality that you will have a run in with law enforcement. Even if you are driving the speed limit, and following all the traffic safety laws, there’s still a possibility you will get stopped. You never know when you and/or your vehicle might match the description of someone who just committed a violent crime. It happens to the best of us.

A Foundation for Success

First and foremost, it’s critical that you research, understand, and comply with all state and local laws regarding traveling with a firearm.  Every state has different laws on this matter. I frequently travel through Oregon and Washington, and even though these states touch each other, they do not share firearm laws or concealed carry licenses. For that reason, pulling over and re-evaluating how I’m packing my gear is just part of my routine as I enter a new state. It is each individual’s responsibility to learn and comply with the laws of each state, county, and municipality they pass through. The term “But, I didn’t know, officer” is not a get out of jail free card.

Here are a few examples of how vastly law can differ depending on where you are:

  • In some states, you are obligated by law to inform an officer that you have a weapon in the vehicle if you are pulled over. In other states, this obligation only extends to the circumstance in which the officer asks you if you have any weapons in the vehicle.
  • Depending on whether or not you have a concealed carry license, some states require that your firearms be unloaded, locked up and out of reach of the driver. Some states say that the firearm must remain in plain sight, or remain hidden from public view.

And since we can often be our own worst enemy when it comes to the law, do yourself a favor and print off copies of local and state statutes of places you will be driving through. This will make a reference for your travels.  Oh, and I do not mean to go to someone’s blog, or a forum and print off their interpretation of the law: this will do nothing but get you into trouble.

A great way to help keep things organized is to develop a “flight plan” if you will. If you are traveling through several sates this can really help simplify the processes of the complying with the laws.  Use a three ring binder and dividers to keep information divided by state.  A color code system, maps, and overview sheets for quick reference can help as well.


Another important thing to have on hand is your concealed carry licenses and/or permits. Remember, if you don’t have them on you, it’s the same as not having them at all, and you will be treated accordingly by law enforcement.

All that being said, it’s imperative that you keep all your paperwork (registration and proof of insurance included) separate from your guns in your vehicle. The last thing an officer wants to see when he asks you for your driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance is you reaching into your glovebox that contains a firearm. You’ll have a Glock screwed into your ear in seconds.


If You Get Pulled Over

Seeing as how an officer will have already run your plates by the time he approaches the vehicle, he may already know that you are a concealed carry license holder (depending on the state you are in).  Even if he isn’t made aware right off the bat, here are some common courtesy’s you can implement to make the entire process easier on both of you.

  Try to pull off to well-lit area. This is for both your safety and the officer’s safety.  If you can’t pull off to well-lit area, turn on your dome lights in your vehicle.
  Don’t fumble around for your paperwork or your firearm while you are waiting for the officer to approach.  Keep your hands on the steering wheel or up and in plain sight. Wait to retrieve your paperwork until the officer asks you to do so.
  If the state you are in requires you to volunteer disclosure of any weapons in the vehicle, be sure to do this.
  If an officer asks if you have any weapons in the vehicle and you choose to answer him/her, be honest. You are required by law not to lie to an officer. If you have a concealed carry license, offer to show it to the officer.
  If the officer wants to take your firearm: keeping your hands in plain sight, suggest that he or she retrieve it themselves (even if it is off your belt). This keeps you out of a situation where you are handling a firearm while dealing with law enforcement, and could save you being shot.

While you may be up to snuff with all the latest legislature and changes in firearms laws, law enforcement may not be. Believe it or not, police officers are just as guilty of not knowing the firearm transportation laws as us civilians are. This is probably attributed to the fact that not everyone can be an expert in all parts of the law. Police officers, just like you and me, are human.

While I suggest keeping copies of the laws on hand, I don’t suggest you use them as a basis to argue too much with an officer; even if he or she may not be interpreting the local firearms transportation laws correctly, or is asking for your firearm. I have friends who have had their firearms taken at a traffic stop just so the officer could clear the firearm during the stop, and give it back once the ticket is written. This is annoying, and time consuming, and maybe even flat out wrong.  But let’s look at it from the officer’s point of view: traffic stops are dangerous business, and they have been trained from day one to separate firearms and people. Not to mention, if you match the description of someone who was involved in a violent crime, there is valid reason for concern on the officer’s part.

I’m not taking sides here, what I’m saying is, every story has two sides. So, if you feel that what the officer is doing is unlawful, calmly point out the exact statute in question or ask for his supervisor to come down and straighten this whole thing out.  Another option (and probably a better one), is to cooperate with the officer, even if it involves being cuffed and thrown in the back of the cop car. You can always take it up with his supervisor or in court later.


What You Need to Know

Overall, the most important things to remember is that laws change as your enter different states, counties, and municipalities. Plan for these changes, research ahead of time and make a game plan for your travels.

Staying calm, respectful and honest during a traffic stop can make all the difference for how well it goes for both you and the officer.

Laws change about as often as you blink. For up to date information on firearms laws and reciprocity, set these links in your sights: Handgun Law ,  Gun Laws by State.  and   USA Carry. These websites frequently update their information so that you can keep up with what is current.

This is the second installment in the Driving Armed series of articles. Be sure to check out the first installment  Driving Armed – Safely Stowing Your Firearm


© Packing Pretty, Grace McKee 2012