One of the most controversial topics that can be raised in any conversation is the subject of handgun ownership and carrying of a concealed weapon. In certain parts of the country (the New York Metro area, Illinois, Wisconsin and Hawaii, for example) the subject probably doesn’t come up much, because private citizens aren’t allowed to carry a concealed weapon. States like Illinois and Wisconsin flat out say “no”, and while New Jersey allows anyone to apply for a concealed carry permit, virtually none are granted. In other parts of the country, a surprising number of people travel, legally or otherwise, with a handgun in their car or truck. This article isn’t about whether or not that’s a good idea; instead, it’s about whether or not you can do it within the boundaries of Federal and State laws. For the sake of discussion, I’m going to assume that you don’t have a concealed carry permit. This article is aimed at Joe Average and not someone who should already be aware of laws pertaining to carrying a handgun.
First, I’m not a lawyer and I don’t play one on TV. Anything you read in this article does not constitute legal advice and should not, under any circumstances, be taken as such. Even if you follow the letter of the law precisely, you can still be stopped, detained and even arrested by the police for carrying a handgun. Laws relating to concealed or open carry of handguns change all the time, and it’s not real likely that every officer you encounter will know them all by heart. Transporting or carrying a handgun brings an element of risk with it, so understand that you take this risk voluntarily. It’s your obligation to make sure you’re compliant with all federal and state laws, and there’s no way I can cover all the minutia involved in the course of a single article.
First, let’s talk about federal statutes on the interstate transportation of firearms, which applies to handguns as well as rifles and shotguns. The United States Code, Title 18, Part 1, Chapter 44, section 926A covers this in detail. I could reprint it here, but it’s pretty dry stuff. Instead, I’ll recap it, and say you’re allowed to transport a firearm from Point A to Point B across state lines if and only if:
- You can legally possess the firearm in the state of origin and the state of destination
- The firearm is unloaded
- Neither the firearm or ammunition is readily accessible in the passenger compartment, or
- If the firearm and ammunition cannot be kept separate from the passenger compartment, the firearm or ammunition is locked in a secure container other than the glove box or center console
- You take the most direct route from your origin to your destination
So what does this mean? Let’s say you live in Florida but want to vacation in Vermont and go handgun target shooting with some buddies. First step is to ask yourself if you can legally possess a handgun in both locations. If the answer is yes, here’s what I recommend: first, bring as little ammunition with you as possible, but no more than 100 rounds. You can always buy it locally when you get to where you’re going, and this way you’re not explaining to a state trooper why you have enough ammo to hold off the zombie apocalypse. Trust me, “I’m going squirrel hunting with my cousin” won’t cut it when you’re trying to explain to a state trooper why you’re traveling with 10,000 rounds of hollowpoint .45 ammunition. Pack the ammo separately from anything else, especially the gun or guns. If you’re concerned about lead contamination, keep it away from clothing and food. I’d suggest you pack it in an ammo can with an external lock, which is also a great place to pack any gun cleaning tools you’re bringing with you.
Next, make the handgun inoperable by removing the slide from the frame or putting a trigger lock on it. When transporting a handgun, I place the inoperable gun into a secure lock box like this one; it can be bolted inside a trunk or secured via a steel cable. It won’t stop a thief with a lot of time on his hands, but it’s a lot more secure than leaving a gun in a piece of luggage.
As long as the firearm is inoperable, out of reach of the driver and passengers and separate from any ammunition, you’ve done all you can to comply with federal law and you should be OK in going from one state to another as described above. When passing though states that strictly regulate handgun ownership (NJ, for example) you’re supposed to transit through the state with the most direct route possible. In other words, don’t plan on spending a week in NJ, with your gun in the car, en route to Vermont.
Keep in mind that this federal statute only applies if you’re legally able to possess the handgun in both the state of origin and the state of destination. Driving to NJ, NY, IL or several other states from another state? It’s illegal to transport a handgun into these states, since you can’t legally possess it once there. In fact, don’t even think about doing this, since a single traffic violation can result in a lengthy jail sentence. National Parks are also off limits for handguns, unless you have a concealed carry permit that’s valid in the state where the park resides. When in doubt, err on the side of caution.
So that covers federal statutes, but what about state laws? Unfortunately, they’re an absolute mess and have little consistency from state to state. What’s required in one state may be blatantly illegal in the next, and it’s the responsibility of the gun owner to know each and every state law in the states visited. To keep it simple, New York, New Jersey, Washington DC, Illinois and Wisconsin will be off limits if you travel with a handgun. Unless you have a concealed carry permit, you can add Arkansas, Alabama, California, Connecticut, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma and Tennessee to the list of “off limits” states.
If you do have a concealed carry permit, remember that it’s only valid for your home state and the states that grant reciprocity. You’re also bound by the laws in each state you visit; for example, some states permit concealed carry in a restaurant, others do not. Some states allow you to take a gun into a rest area bathroom, others do not. It’s you obligation to know all the laws that pertain to carrying a concealed handgun, should you choose to do so.
So where can you go if you want detailed, state by state information? This PDF from Handgunlaw is a great place to start, and their main site is probably the best source of up-to-date information on the internet. If you opt to vacation with a gun in your car, you really need to bookmark this site and familiarize yourself with all federal and state regulations. You won’t have unrestricted internet access in prison, and RideLust needs all the readers we can get.