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For years, gun control proponents have advocated gun owner licensing, pointing out that you need a license to drive a car. Ignore the whole “driving isn’t a constitutional right” thing for a minute and think about what it would be like if your carry permit was treated with the same respect as your driver’s license.
Not only would it be valid in your home state in all jurisdictions, but it would be recognized and valid in the other 49 states as well. You could drive coast to coast with your loaded, holstered sidearm without anyone saying boo. Upstate New Yorkers would be able to drive into NYC while strapped, and Washington D.C. would treat you the same as Alexandria, Virginia, on the other side of the Potomac. It sounds nice, but it isn’t the world we live in.
What we actually contend with is a nationwide patchwork of gun laws that make traveling with your gun somewhat like navigating a minefield. It can be done, but the armed traveler needs to be educated and able to communicate with those who might not be.
Gun owners need to be aware of federal laws, individual state gun laws, and municipal laws within those states. There are a number of websites that provide information on these laws, but checking the state police website in the states you plan on traveling through or to is the best way to get the latest info.
States that do not require licensing to carry a handgun for lawful purposes are known as Constitutional Carry States. This is because they recognize your right as a U.S. Citizen to bear arms as set forth in the Constitution. The number of these states continues to grow.
Currently, 17 states have some form of constitutional carry, either unrestricted or with certain conditions. In some states it applies to residents only, to concealed carry only, to open carry only or strictly outside city limits. Check before you go or tuck away your holster.
Some states offer licenses to out-of-state residents who wish to carry in their jurisdiction. They do not recognize out-of-state licenses but are happy to issue one for a fee. For some, these licenses via their reciprocity agreements allow the holder to carry in the majority of the U.S. Florida and Utah are prime examples of this.
Reciprocity is an understanding between states in which one will recognize the validity of the other state’s concealed carry permit if the other state does likewise. Some states limit this to permits from other states that have similar requirements for training and background checks. Other states will recognize anyone’s permit.
There are some complications with reciprocity where the traveler needs to read the fine print. Certain states will only recognize the permit from another state if the holder is a resident of that state. For example: If Bob is from New Jersey but has a Florida non-resident permit, some states that have reciprocity with Florida won’t recognize Bob’s permit because he isn’t a resident of Florida.
Reciprocity agreements are constantly changing, so always check before you travel. They change at the whim of the state attorney general or incoming governors who are in a constant game of tit for tat.
The Firearm Owners Protection Act is intended to protect gun owners while traveling. In theory, if you are in legal possession of a firearm where you start your trip, and you will be in legal possession when you arrive at your destination, you are covered for the duration of your trip so long as certain conditions are met. These conditions normally include having the unloaded gun in a locked container in the trunk or out of reach in the cargo area of an SUV.
Ammunition should be likewise stored separately. In most states, unloaded means no ammunition in the magazine, even if is removed from the firearm and stored elsewhere. In some states you can be charged with illegally carrying a firearm for having nothing more than a loaded mag.
If you are stopped while you are transporting according to federal law, you should be able to proceed without trouble. Some jurisdictions may still pursue charges or confiscate your firearm or ammunition. As the saying goes, “you may beat the rap, but you won’t beat the ride” — meaning that while you may not end up being convicted of a crime, you will still wind up paying substantial legal fees to avoid it.
Know the reputation of the states along your route. New York and New Jersey are excellent places to avoid, as are Washington D.C., Illinois, and Massachusetts.
Maryland — which does not recognize permits from any other state — has been using static license plate readers to cross-reference DMV records with carry permit records. Many states link the two. While Maryland police claim they are not, there is anecdotal evidence that they have been pulling over out-of-state permit holders to search the vehicle for firearms.
Federal law has designated certain areas off-limits to anyone carrying a gun who isn’t a federal law enforcement officer engaged in official duties. These include schools and a 1500-foot perimeter from the institution, unless you have a permit from that state or written permission from the school administrator.
Any federal building is no-go. And not just office buildings and courthouses. The information center at that national park? You can’t go in there while armed. Need to buy some stamps at the post office? Even the parking lot is off limits.
Think you’re exempt because you’re a state or local cop? Nope. Only feds are exempt and only while on the clock.
There have been a few attempts to establish a national reciprocity system so that other states would have to treat your carry permit like a driver’s license, but they have been held up in Congress due to timing issues and political bargaining. President Trump has campaigned on the promise that he would sign such legislation into law if passed, so if you have an interest in national reciprocity, contact your legislators and let them know.
Until that day, travelers must remain ever vigilant to ensure they don’t run afoul of the law. If in doubt, fall back to the provisions of FOPA and secure your firearm accordingly.
* This guest post is brought to you by Benji Menez and our friends at Concealment Express. *
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