Most of us have experienced being stopped by the police for some minor traffic violation, but what if you have your license or permit to carry a handgun? Does this change how an officer handles the investigation? What about your firearm? Can they take your handgun from you just for speeding?
In our previous videos, we’ve discussed the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution: search warrants and their exceptions. Let’s explore if and when a police officer can disarm you during a traffic stop.
A police officer may legally search an arrested person or any place within a person’s immediate control for weapons and evidence of a crime. This wingspan rule is based on a concern for officers’ safety.
What About A Person Who Is Temporarily Detained For A Traffic Infraction?
In most states, a police officer can temporarily disarm a person during an official investigation. This is especially true in those states where you must immediately disclose that you have a concealed handgun license or permit at the beginning of a traffic stop.
When you’re stopped by police, if you have your license or permit to carry and your handgun is on your person or in your vehicle, your best option is to keep both hands on the wheel and let the officer know that you have a firearm.
Next, you want to follow their instructions. Some police officers will ask that you step out of the vehicle to locate the firearm, unload it, and keep it for the duration of the traffic stop. It should then promptly be returned to you. It is also common for a police officer to unload and potentially disassemble your firearm before returning it to you. Other officers may tell you, “Just keep your hands away from your firearm,” and continue with the routine traffic stop. This will depend on the state you are in and the temperament of the police officer.
Most of the time, your firearm is returned to you, but can an officer actually seize your weapon and take it back with them to the police station?
It depends. If the weapon itself is evidence of an alleged crime, then the gun will likely be seized, unloaded, bagged and tagged as evidence while you enjoy a ride back to the police station.
If your firearm is seized as evidence, will you get it back? Whether or not your firearm is returned to you at the end of your court case is going to depend on the outcome. Most states will not return a firearm once it is seized as evidence unless the case is dismissed or a jury finds a person not guilty of an alleged crime. Additionally, a court order to return the firearm may be required. In either scenario, the return can take years.
If you have any questions about whether a police officer can disarm you and seize your weapon, call U.S. LawShield and ask to speak to your Independent Program Attorney.