Can I Take my Gun on a Road Trip?

School’s out, the sun is shining, and you’ve got several days of vacation lined up. It’s time for a trip. But before you pack your pistol and leave your Second Amendment sanctuary state, join us as we discuss some common misconceptions about traveling with firearms.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to see nationwide reciprocity passing into law anytime soon. This means that all law-abiding gun owners should be aware of the laws in every state they intend on traveling through—even if it means choosing a different vacation destination. Here are four common misconceptions or mistakes to avoid when traveling with a gun.

Mistake #1: Assuming your license or permit is recognized in the other 49 states

The first mistake is assuming one state’s license or permit to carry a weapon will be recognized and honored in the other 49 states. This simply is not true and can land you in jail if you’re stopped by law enforcement in the wrong place with the wrong weapon.

Mistake #2: Assuming your handgun is legal throughout the United States

The second misconception folks have is that, because their handgun is legal in their state, it must be legal throughout the entire United States. Again, every state has different laws regarding firearms, ammunition types, and even magazine sizes. If your handgun isn’t legal in the state you’re visiting and you’re stopped by law enforcement, you may be arrested.

Mistake #3: Assuming State Laws Don’t Vary

Sometimes people think, “I live in the great State of (X), and if I keep following their laws, I’m in good shape when visiting state (Y).” This is false. If you’re visiting another state, you’re subject to their laws and their prison sentences.

Mistake #4: Thinking The Federal Safe Passage Act will prevent an arrest

The final misconception is that the Federal Safe Passage Act will prevent an arrest if you’re caught in an anti-2A state.

Let’s take a look at 18 U.S.C. § 926A, where this important law is located. The statute reads:

“Notwithstanding any other provision of any law or any rule or regulation of a State or any political subdivision thereof, any person who is not otherwise prohibited by this chapter from transporting, shipping, or receiving a firearm shall be entitled to transport a firearm for any lawful purpose, from any place where he may lawfully possess and carry such firearm to any other place where he may lawfully possess and carry such firearm if, during such transportation the firearm is unloaded, and neither the firearm nor any ammunition being transported is readily accessible or is directly accessible from the passenger compartment of such transporting vehicle: Provided, that in the case of a vehicle without a compartment separate from the driver’s compartment the firearm or ammunition shall be contained in a locked container other than the glove compartment or console.”

Put simply, if you’re traveling through a 2A-hostile state without stopping, and you’re legally allowed to possess your firearm in your home state and in your destination state, and you pack your unloaded firearm and ammunition in a locked hard-sided container in your trunk, you’ll have the Federal Safe Passage Act as a defense available to you.

It’s important to note that this is a defense raised in court after your arrest. A police officer in an unfriendly state may simply not allow you to carry on to your destination if you’re stopped with an illegal weapon in their territory.

What is the Firearm Owners Protection Act?

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

  1. 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!
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Research the laws of the states you’re traveling to

That’s why we recommend the best practice when traveling to other states: do your homework. Research the laws of each state you plan on visiting before you leave home. You don’t want to leave on vacation and come back on probation.

For any reciprocity or state law carrying questions, call U.S. LawShield and ask to speak to your Independent Program Attorney.