If you have an extended driving trip in mind for the future, you have a lot of planning in store for you. Adequate and appropriate clothing, safety equipment, and other supplies all have to fit into your vehicle.
Gun enthusiasts have another set of considerations when traveling. If you plan on bringing your guns with you, the vagaries of state laws and proper travel safety should be first and foremost on your mind.
If you’re unwilling to leave your guns behind, you need some guidelines, so you don’t get caught unaware. Being cautious and knowledgeable are the main ingredients of a safe trip.
Firearms Owners Protection or FOPA declares that all firearms must be unloaded and locked away out of reach of the driver. But beyond this, there are other distinctions. Here is some valuable information about traveling with your guns and, specifically, how to take them across state lines.
How Are You Traveling With Your Firearms?
If you’re traveling for pleasure, you may only need to bring your favorite pistol with you. However, if you’re moving house to a different state, then you may be transporting your whole collection. These are two very different scenarios, and you need to plan accordingly.
If you’re traveling with your whole collection, you should ensure that each firearm is secured in a professional carrying case or holster. This includes any firearm extras, like ammo, magazines, and clips. If you’re using a moving company, ensure that they understand the compliance requirements for transporting firearms across state lines.
No matter if you're traveling with all of your guns or just a few well-chosen ones, for the most part, FOPA can make sure that your trip is legal and protected.
The Firearms Owners Protections Act, or FOPA, was enacted in 1986 and was one of the most crucial laws for traveling across state lines with firearms. This law loosened the restrictive gun laws enacted in 1968.
There are some restrictions on who can carry handguns in the United States. This includes those convicted of a felony, those with documented mental health challenges, or dishonorably discharged veterans.
The Firearms Owners Protection Act can help you if you are both a traveler and a gun owner, but caution should always be your watchword.
History of the Fire Arms Protection Act
This seminal act was lauded by gun enthusiasts and fair-minded individuals as a necessary clarification of the previous laws, especially when traveling with guns.
In the past, if you were driving with your firearms through a state with excessively strict laws, you could’ve been pulled over and prosecuted for merely moving your guns from Point A to Point B across the state’s borders.
However, federal law is more substantial than state laws. Since the enactment of FOPA, state authorities won’t bother you if you’re just passing through, for the most part.
Some states, stalwartly against anyone traveling with guns across state lines, took the definition of the word transport to task. They argued that if a gun owner stopped anywhere between their borders, they were no longer in transport with the firearms and could be arrested for unlawful possession.
What Does FOPA Provide?
No matter if you’re traveling with one gun or many, the Firearms Owners Protection Act or FOPA will get you where you're trying to go, regardless of the state laws. That’s what the law says, although sometimes it doesn’t end up that way.
You need to know the individual laws of every state you’re traveling through, especially if you’re spending the night. There are certain areas, like the Gauntlet – an area in New England where anti-gun states and pro-gun states lie side-by-side – that makes traveling a little tricky.
FOPA is intended to protect you from any legal ramifications, even if you’re in a state with some of the most stringent gun laws, like New Jersey. New Jersey doesn’t recognize any carry permits from other states, and to add to that, you must have a permit to carry from the state of New Jersey itself. New York sometimes arrests those with a carrying permit from another state, despite the protection of FOPA.
New York City has a long history of being incredibly aggressive toward out-of-towners passing through with gun licenses from other states.
These types of restrictions, which can change 100 miles away in a different state, are the reasons why you need to know all you can about firearm transport laws. It’s not just where you start and where you’re going; you have to understand every state’s gun laws in-between, so you store your pistol correctly when you stop at a rest stop.
Concealed vs. Open Carry
Each state, and sometimes different areas and municipalities, has a unique definition as to what concealed carry means. For the most part, if you have a weapon on your body that isn’t readily visible to passers-by, your gun is concealed.
If, however, your gun is in a visible spot, or you have it in a holster outside of your clothes, state laws take precedence. The NRA advises that if you need to carry your gun in that manner, you should contact the Attorney General’s office in each state.
Other resources are highly useful to the traveling gun aficionados. You can check an online map called the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Guide to ensure your following state guidelines and expectations. Since everyone usually has a smartphone in their pockets, it’s a keen idea to keep the CCRG app up on your browser for quick reference.
Remember, local laws and reciprocity are continually changing, so having the app can provide you with the most up-to-date information.
Loaded vs. Unloaded
This also applies to carrying guns that are loaded in your vehicle. Some states require permits to carry a loaded weapon on your person in a visible manner, and most of these are loathe to hand out these types of permits to nonresidents. There are instances in which you may be technically allowed to carry concealed in a particular state, with some exceptions.
Illinois, a notoriously authoritarian state when it comes to gun laws, allows those with a Concealed Carry License (or CCL) in their home state to carry within the state borders. However, if the traveler should leave their vehicle with the weapon when in the state, they are subject to prosecution or arrest.
The safest place for your unloaded or loaded pistol is locked away and out of reach. But out-of-reach can also pose some difficulties if you have a vehicle like a pickup or an RV.
Type of Vehicle
Most states are clear on one thing – guns should be out-of-reach and unloaded when in transit. But what if your living space and or passenger area is all you’ve got? Legally, does that make your weapons out-of-reach at any point since they are technically in the same compartment as you?
A gun owner in a sedan-style vehicle can simply lock their firearms away in the trunk and not open it again until they arrive at their destination. If you’re driving a pickup truck, you can’t necessarily lock your gun cases out of the way, and you don’t want to store them in the bed of your pickup in case someone steals them.
If this is the case, carry your firearms on your person or in a specially made case. As with most elements of road tripping with guns, being cautious. Having every conceivable permit and paper with you is always the wisest course of option.
An RV or trailer poses similar issues in that, even if you have your guns in a case underneath a couch in your RV’s living space, it is still technically reachable.
If you’re in a state that considers an RV a domicile, you’re protected by the 4th amendment. If you’re pulled over, the officials cannot look in your RV or trailer without a search warrant.
This only applies if you’re a full-time RVer, not a weekend RVer. You may be asked to show your insurance policy, which will designate whether you’re a full-time traveler or just a hobbyist.
All these discrepancies make thorough research a necessary component to any gun owner’s travel itinerary.
The Importance of Holsters
If you’re carrying, it is crucial to have a well-made holster so you can keep your firearm snapped in and secure. A professional holster and a permit can satisfy many states, even those that are strict.
In states like Florida, you can have a concealed, loaded weapon, as long as it’s snapped into a holster.
The Final Word
Since 1968, FOPA has been making it easier to travel across state lines with your firearms. Unfortunately, Congress hasn’t been able to pass a federal law that is stronger than FOPA so that travelers can be sure of their safety, as long as they have the right permits. It’s done a pretty fair job with all the different state gun laws.
Being cautious can help keep you legally on the right foot. Traveling can be as stressful as it is fulfilling. Whether you’re moving across a few states or road tripping for fun, you don’t want to complicate your trip more than necessary.
One of the easiest ways to keep on the right side of the law, wherever you’re traveling, is with a high-quality, American-made holster like those at We the People Holsters. Keeping your gun snapped in and on your person with a permit close at hand will allow you to travel freely between the states on your road trip.