With warm weather and the kids out of school, many people will be looking to travel this summer, driving across state lines to visit family and friends in other states. Whether you have a concealed carry license or not, if you will be traveling cross-country with your firearms while on vacation this summer, particularly through states that may not be as “firearms friendly” as your home state, 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.
There Are Three Conditions You Must Meet to Take Your Firearms With You
- The first condition is that any firearms 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 the 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 firearms-hostile state. 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. The best course of action is to get through firearms-hostile states as quickly as possible.
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, meaning that 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.