Stanford University’s Open Policing Project estimates that police officers in the United States carry out over 50,000 traffic stops on any given day. While traffic stops are common, they can also quickly turn deadly.
As a law-abiding, responsible concealed carrying citizen, knowing what to do and how to behave during a traffic stop is essential to ensure your interaction with the police officer goes smoothly.
Before Anything Else: Know Your Laws!
There are many regulations concerning concealed carry. One of the most important for drivers is the duty-to-inform statute, which requires you to inform police officers that you are armed as soon as you make contact with them, like during a traffic stop.
State and local laws may differ, so you’ll want to do your research for every area you may drive through. In certain states, including Florida and New York, you are only legally required to inform the police officers of your firearm when they specifically ask for it. In contrast, other states like Georgia and Massachusetts have no duty-to-inform statues at all. However, local and county requirements may be more strict than state requirements.
What to do During Traffic Stops
The first thing to remember in any traffic stop is to remain calm and don’t panic. Panic may cause you to say things you don’t mean or forget important details. Looking jittery may also prompt questions and suspicion from the officer. Remember that they, too, might be nervous and don’t want this to turn into a potentially dangerous situation.
When pulling over, do so in the safest way possible. Pull your vehicle over in an area where the officer has enough room to park their cruiser out of the way of oncoming traffic. As soon as you have found a spot to pull over safely, turn off the engine. If it’s nighttime, a well-lit area allows you and the officer to see each other better.
If you can’t find a spot to pull over promptly, slow down, turn on your hazard lights, and drive until you find a suitable area. Turning on your hazard lights and maintaining a low speed shows the officer you are not ignoring or trying to evade them. If the officer uses their patrol vehicle’s megaphone to direct you to a spot of their choosing, follow their orders instead and stop where indicated.
Remember that you want to keep this interaction brief. The longer you remain on the roadway, the higher risk you and the officer have of being struck by passing vehicles.
Follow the Officer’s Instructions
There is some debate about when you should open your glove box to retrieve your registration, insurance, and access your wallet for your driver’s license and gun license. Most police officers prefer you to wait for them to approach before you begin rooting around in your glove compartment. Be sure to announce your intentions before making any sudden movements.
Since you are concealed carrying, it’s best to wait for the officer’s instructions to reach for your paperwork. Keep all your documents together in an easy to access location so you don’t spend time looking for it.
Roll the window all the way down ahead of time (and keep it down for the duration of the stop), turn on your dome light if it’s dark out, keep your hands in view at all times, and let the officer ask questions.
Inform The Officer About Your Firearm
Inform the officer that you are a legally licensed concealed carry permit holder and that you are currently carrying and the location of your firearm. The easiest way to do this is to hand over your permit along with your ID.
Even if there is no duty-to-inform law, it’s generally a good idea to let the officers know you’re armed as a gesture of goodwill. Informing the officer about your firearm will show them that you have nothing to hide, are a responsible gun owner, and will allow them to assess the situation fully.
Some states require that you submit to a pat-down once you inform an officer of your concealed carry weapon and allow the officer to disarm you temporarily. Don’t make any sudden movements during the pat-down and follow all instructions calmly.
Keep Your Hands Visible
Keep your hands visible at all times by resting your wrists in the 10-2 position: Left hand at 10 o’clock, right hand at 2 o’clock. If you need to reach inside a bag, a purse, a glove box, the center console, or some other area to retrieve an item, inform the officer that you’re going to do so beforehand, and keep your movements slow, calm, and deliberate.
During any traffic stop, remember to stay in your vehicle unless asked to get out, follow any of the commands given to you, and respond truthfully to any questions the officers ask.
What Not to do During Traffic Stops
Do not reach for your gun and keep your hands away from it for the entire duration of the traffic stop. If the officer wants to separate you from your firearm, they will usually retrieve it from your holster, your purse, or your glove box on their own.
Reaching for your firearm when not explicitly prompted to do so by a law enforcement officer is a dangerous idea.
Don’t keep your permits or vehicle registration in the same compartment as your firearm, especially if it’s a glove box or a console. Many drivers stash or hide firearms in glove boxes, and officers are trained to expect it as a possibility. If the first thing the officer sees is your gun when you open it, even when all you intended to reach was your papers, you’re likely to end up seeing the officer’s gun in turn.
Don’t Surprise an Officer With Your Firearm
Don’t let an officer see your firearm before you inform them of its existence. If an officer sees a weapon they didn’t expect to see or were not informed about, they may become suspicious and prepare for a potentially lethal interaction.
No Sudden Movements
Don’t make sudden movements. Looking twitchy and visibly nervous will arouse the officer’s suspicion. Most of the time, traffic stops are for minor violations where the officer only expects to give you a ticket. Don’t give the law enforcer a reason to believe the situation is worse than it is.
Don’t Use Threatening Language
Don’t make statements that the officer could interpret in a threatening manner. Most law enforcement officers in America are trained to treat the traffic stop differently if they hear sentences such as “I’ve got a gun” or “Let me show you this.” Just saying “gun” or “weapon” can make the traffic stop officer jumpy.
If you need a word to refer to your firearm, use the terms “firearm,” “concealed carry firearm,” or better yet, “CCW.” Avoid using specific caliber, brand, or model names since not every officer is a gun enthusiast, and it’ll save time and unnecessary questions.
In general, do not argue, be verbally combative, or act in an obnoxious or time-wasting manner. The police are not here to debate with you; at best, it’s a waste of time for both parties, and there are many ways it can go wrong. You can argue your case in traffic court, but in the meantime, complying with all reasonable requests can help you and the officer leave this interaction safely.
Don’t Be Overly Talkative
It’s also in your best interest not to try to strike up a conversation or act overly friendly. Many people become talkative when they are stressed out. However, talking too much allows the officer to press you further on anything you might say. Instead of inviting trouble, stick to answering the questions you’re asked without hostility or non-compliance and don’t say more than you need to.
Passengers in the Vehicle
As the driver, you are responsible for any passengers in your vehicle. You must be aware of whether your passengers are concealed carrying. In states where a license is required, making sure your passengers have their permits alongside their firearms can save you a lot of trouble. Do not begin driving your vehicle until you have confirmed all concealed carry owners have their permits.
The same applies if you are a passenger in someone else’s vehicle. Before getting in their car, let them know you carry and have your license to carry with you.
During a traffic stop, you have to make sure your passengers follow the same advice you would follow. They must keep their hands in view at all times, sit still, and avoid doing anything that could arouse the police officer’s suspicion. Front seat passengers should place their hands on the dashboard, while back seat passengers should place both hands on the headrest of the seat in front of them.
If there are any concealed carrying passengers, check whether your laws say anything regarding duty-to-inform for passengers. For example, in Ohio, it is a requirement for everyone in the vehicle, not just the driver, to inform officers of any firearms on their person or in the car.
Even if there is no duty-to-inform statute for passengers, it shows goodwill for the driver to inform the officer of any firearms you are aware of inside your vehicle, including those carried by your passengers.
Another thing that we would consider is the placement of your wallet. Think about where you carry your gun in relation to where your wallet is. If you carry on your back right hip, for example, it might be a good idea to consider switching your wallet to your front left pocket, that way when you have to retrieve your wallet you're not reaching anywhere near your gun at all.
Constitutional Carry States
Some states are known as “Constitutional carry” states, which require no permit for carrying a firearm, openly or concealed. If you live in such a state, make sure to double-check your locality’s duty-to-inform laws since they may change based on whether you have a concealed carrying license. Additionally, your municipality may have more stringent duty-to-inform regulations than statewide requirements.
For example, Maine is a constitutional carry state where you can, for reciprocity purposes, obtain a concealed carrying license but are not legally required to have one just to concealed carry.
In this state, whether the duty-to-inform statute applies to you depends on small details. If you carry legally without a permit, you have a duty-to-inform, but if you carry legally with a permit, you don’t have a duty-to-inform.
In California, there is no duty-to-inform whatsoever at the state level. However, several counties and municipalities have duty-to-inform or inform-when-asked statutes, such as Orange County or Sacramento.
Regardless of where you live, all concealed carrying citizens should research local and state laws before driving. If you’re ever unsure about a local ordinance or statute, consider asking for legal advice from a lawyer or attorney specializing in firearm law.
You can also call your local police department for information about driving and concealed carry laws. While many will be happy to help you and answer your questions to the best of their ability, remember that the police’s role is to enforce the law, not interpret it.
In most jurisdictions, duty-to-inform statutes apply for all interactions with law enforcement, not just traffic stops in particular.
When you are concealed carrying a firearm, you have a responsibility to ensure you are as respectful and calm as possible in any interaction you have with an officer of the law. Your compliance with reasonable requests, truthfulness, and demeanor help make the officer feel more at ease, even though you are both carrying a gun.
Police officers conduct traffic stops every day, and they are always unsure of what they will encounter. With recent events in the news, law enforcement is already on high alert. Be as cooperative as possible to help defuse the stress of your interaction so you can both get home safely to your families.
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