Whether you have a concealed carry license or not, if you’ll be traveling cross-country with your firearms while on vacation this year, you’ll be happy to know that the federal Firearm Owners’ Protection Act, or FOPA, allows you to legally transport your firearms in your vehicle while you drive, so long as you comply with a short list of requirements found in what is known as the “Safe Passage” provision, or 18 U.S.C. § 926A.
What is Reciprocity?
Reciprocity is when one state enters into an agreement with another state or chooses to honor another state’s laws or set of laws. As it pertains to handgun license and permit holders, there are several states which have reciprocity agreements that recognize out-of-state carry licenses and permits.
In general, if the state you are traveling to shares reciprocity with the state that issued your license or permit, you can carry there as if it were a license or permit issued by the destination state. States are not required to have reciprocity with one another, and there is no requirement to recognize another state’s carry license. Many states issue their own licenses but refuse to acknowledge licenses and permits from other states. Conversely, some states choose to recognize all other states’ carry licenses.
A Word of Caution
While you may be permitted to carry in the reciprocating state, the rules you are accustomed to in your issuing state may not apply. In some instances, the laws may be completely different. Signage is particularly troubling since it varies widely by jurisdiction, so be highly aware when entering any building while carrying. This is especially true when entering an area that serves a specific purpose, such as government buildings, schools, establishments that serve alcohol, or places that cater to children and families.
Additionally, the way you can carry may change depending on the state. For example, Texas license holders may openly carry their handgun in a belt or shoulder holster, but may not do so in Florida, which prohibits open carry. Some states also restrict the type of firearms you can carry or magazine capacity. Oklahoma does not allow the carry of handguns with a caliber larger than .45, and Colorado does not allow magazines with a capacity greater than 15 rounds.
What Happens if a State Doesn’t Recognize a Person’s License or Permit to Carry?
If you find yourself in a state that does not recognize your home state’s license or permit to carry a handgun, use extreme caution. In fact, there may even be restrictions on carrying in your vehicle. So, until you learn the law, keep your firearm in your vehicle unloaded, locked, and inaccessible. But the best practice is to check ahead of time before your journey. U.S. LawShield® members can call the non-emergency helpline to make sure they understand how to comply with the firearm laws of the state to which they’re traveling.
There Are Three Conditions You Must Meet When Crossing State Lines With Your Firearms:
- The first condition is that any firearms or guns you are transporting must be unloaded and locked in the trunk of the vehicle or in another container that is out of reach or not immediately accessible. Any ammunition must also be locked in the trunk or another container. This does not include the glove box or center console.
- Second, your journey must begin and end in states where your possession of firearms is legal. So, for example, if you begin your journey in your home state of Texas and are looking to drive to Grandma’s house in Kansas, where permitless concealed carry is legal, you will be protected as long as you meet the other two conditions. However, if you begin your journey in Texas and are driving to New Jersey for vacation, where a state-issued license is required to even own a firearm, you will not be protected under the Safe Passage provision.
- Lastly, you must be “traveling.” This applies especially while going through a state that is not firearm-friendly. Unfortunately, the term “traveling” is not defined in federal law. Courts have interpreted it narrowly to indicate that a person must not stop in one place for “too long.” Unfortunately, how long is “too long” is not entirely clear. In an actual case decided in 2013, a man was convicted for illegal possession of his shotguns and rifles secured in zippered cases after he stopped for a brief nap in New Jersey while moving from Maine to Texas.
But what is the general rule if a state recognizes your state’s license or permit to carry?
If the issuing state for your license or permit shares reciprocity with another state, you can carry in the reciprocating state under that state’s laws.
Safe Passage Protection May Not Always Prevent an Arrest!
A word of warning: Even if you qualify for Safe Passage protection, some states—such as New York and New Jersey—treat Safe Passage protection as a mere affirmative defense instead of a protection from arrest and prosecution. This means police in these states may still arrest you if you are pulled over with firearms in your vehicle, despite meeting all of the conditions of the federal statute. To beat potential charges of illegal possession of firearms and/or assault weapons, you would then need to assert your Safe Passage protection as a defense in court. This could involve substantial court costs and inconvenience, not to mention putting a halt to your vacation plans.
The information provided in this presentation is intended to provide general information to individuals and is not legal advice. The information included in this publication may not be quoted or referred to in any other publication without the prior written consent of U.S. LawShield, to be given or withheld at our discretion. The information is not a substitute for, and does not replace the advice or representation of a licensed attorney. We strive to ensure the information included in this publication is accurate and current, however, no claim is made to the accuracy of the information and we are not responsible for any consequences that may result from the use of information in this publication. The use of this publication does not create an attorney-client relationship between U.S. LawShield, any independent program attorney, and any individual.