Truckers and Self-Defense Series (Article 8 of 8)

The Safety Issues Truck Drivers Face | Protection on the Road | On the Road — Jerry Drolshagen Profile Specialized Driver — Mark Schmidt Profile | The Road Calls — Paul Lathrop Profile | Truckers and the Law | Carrying While Driving | Options for Truck Drivers

Commercial Vehicle or Place of Residence?

Peter LaVoie, an attorney with the Truckers Justice Center, said that a semi-truck, like any commercial vehicle, is generally not considered to be a home or domicile. “While drivers may sleep in their trucks and some even live there full time,” he explained, “a commercial vehicle does not benefit from the Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure in the same way a residence might.”

Further, he said, in the case of a company driver, the truck is owned by his or her employer, who has the right to exercise certain controls over the equipment. “For example, a company can place restrictions on passengers or prohibit a driver from having a firearm in the vehicle even if the person is otherwise legally allowed to carry in that state.”

As for what a driver should do when crossing state lines with firearms, LaVoie recommends learning the laws inside and out. “Drivers are responsible for knowing and abiding by the laws of each state in which they operate,” he said. “While there is no blanket federal law prohibiting firearms in commercial vehicles, many states have their own restrictions.”

Furthermore, the driver is responsible for ensuring that any state in which he or she carries recognizes reciprocity with the state that issued his or her permit, he said. “If the driver is not legally allowed to carry,” he said, “then the firearm should be unloaded, locked and securely stored out of reach.” There are exceptions, of course. For example, New York State and New Jersey have even more restrictive gun laws.[4]

Concealed Carry and Traveling Out of Country

Since the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect in 1994, driving into Canada and Mexico has become commonplace for U.S.-based long-haul truck drivers. However, transporting a firearm into either of these countries is a risky proposition, according to California attorney Matthew Cubeiro, co-author of California Gun Laws: A Guide to State and Federal Firearm Regulations.

“As a general rule, any person traveling outside the United States with firearms or ammunition must obtain a valid and appropriate export license or qualify for an exception,” he declared. Setting aside these export requirements, he said, the U.S. Department of State notes that hundreds of U.S. citizens face arrest in other countries, predominantly on the Canadian and Mexican borders, for simply carrying firearms or ammunition.

“Handguns, for example, are generally prohibited in both Canada and Mexico,” Cubeiro reported. “And while it may be possible to travel to Canada and Mexico for purposes such as hunting, the paperwork involved will generally preclude semi-truck drivers from simply crossing the border during routine travel.”

In the pithier words of Monroe: “It is going to be generally illegal to take a gun to Canada or Mexico. I would strongly advise against it.”

Restricted Areas for Concealed Carry

A frequent complaint of lawfully armed truck drivers is that many of the warehouses and facilities where they pick up and drop off cargo post signs banning firearms. “As with carry restrictions,” Cubeiro said, “whether a ‘No Guns Allowed’ sign has any force of law varies with each state. Some states make it a crime to carry a firearm into any facility with appropriate signage, even if the person is otherwise lawfully allowed to carry a firearm pursuant to a valid CCW.”

And while other states may not expressly prohibit the carrying of a firearm in a building with a “No Guns” sign, he said, a person can still be charged with criminal trespass should he or she refuse to leave after being asked to do so. In order to stay compliant in facilities with posted “No Guns” signage, LaVoie said, your firearm should be unloaded, locked and stored securely.

Pulled Over Carrying a Firearm

When it comes to what armed truckers should do when stopped by law enforcement, Cubeiro said that, again, the answer varies by state.

“For persons lawfully carrying a firearm pursuant to a CCW permit or any other means, some states require the individual to disclose to an officer that [he or she is] carrying a firearm,” he said. “And while other states might not require disclosure, the policies of the individual’s CCW-issuing authority may nonetheless require disclosure.”

Meaning that failure to do so could result in the revocation of the person’s concealed carry permit, Cubeiro said.

“For [a] person otherwise lawfully transporting a firearm unloaded and locked in a container, there is generally no requirement that the person declare to an officer that [he or she is] transporting a firearm,” he said.

Alternative Weapons for Truck Drivers

With regard to the legality of weapons other than firearms, attorney Adam H. Rosenblum is considered an expert in the space. He’s written several e-books and hundreds of articles pertaining to the intersection of criminal and traffic law. “The two classic alternatives are knives and stun guns,” Rosenblum said.

The tricky thing about knives, Rosenblum said, is that while there’s tremendous variation in state law, there are also municipal laws that can vary just as much. There are also categories of blade length, Rosenblum explained. States such as Alaska, Arizona, Kansas, New Hampshire, Tennessee and Utah have no knife restrictions at all. And then you have states, such as Delaware and Rhode Island, that restrict you to 3 or 3.5 inches, but only if the knife is concealed. In North Dakota, the restriction is 5 inches if concealed.

What about nunchucks? Truckers thinking of going the Napoleon Dynamite route better steer clear of Massachusetts, where they are banned completely. And if you’re in California, you can only use them in a martial arts studio. “My bottom line on this is maybe you’re better off sticking to a baseball bat,” Rosenblum said. “Baseball bats aren’t illegal anywhere.” That said, the effectiveness of a baseball bat as a self-defense weapon in a space as tight as a semi-truck cab could easily be debated.

Tasers and stun guns are another option, Rosenblum said, but they’re not allowed for private-citizen use in Hawaii or Rhode Island. Other states, including Delaware,[5] West Virginia,[6] Wisconsin[7] and New Mexico,[8] require a permit for stun guns. And a background check is required in Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts and Minnesota. “One other tool is legal most anywhere,” Rosenblum said. “Pepper spray.”[9]

Pocket knives
Baseball bats
Pepper spray
Collapsible batons
Tactical pens

Rosenblum stressed the need to be judicious and to never get caught up in the heat of a moment. “It’s always wise to exercise caution when using any form of self-defense,” he advised. “A person can end up in handcuffs. It’s always best to de-escalate the situation in a nonviolent way [if possible].”

Self-Defense Justice for Amos

The case of Amos Phillips — the elderly driver who was nearly beaten to death in Idaho and who was featured in the first installment of this series — was investigated by the Fort Hall Police and the FBI. The former arrested a suspect in November 2018. Stormy Adakai, 24, of Fort Hall, Idaho, was charged with one count of aggravated assault and one count of robbery. Both were felonies. The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes forwarded the case to the Tribal Prosecutor’s Office for charges in Tribal Court and to the Federal Prosecutor’s Office for federal charges. Despite arresting his alleged assailant, the Fort Hall Police bungled the case, according to Phillips.[10]

“They didn’t do the job, period,” Phillips said. “I don’t even think they went inside the truck because they didn’t find the bloody rocks that were in his hands. They just charged him with an assault. Attempted murder is what it should have been.” Phillips also took issue with the punishment meted out by Fort Hall officials. “The first go-around, he got a $500 fine and six months in jail,” Phillips said. “Does that sound like justice to you?”


[4] An excellent resource for staying legal in these states and others is the USCCA’s Concealed Carry Reciprocity Map & Gun Laws website at
[5] In Delaware, a permit is required to carry a concealed taser or stun gun but not to possess one. However, they are illegal in three counties: New Castle, Wilmington and Newark.
[6] In West Virginia, a permit is required for carrying a taser or stun gun concealed unless you are on your own premises.
[7] A concealed carry permit is required to carry a taser or stun gun, except in an individual’s dwelling, place of business or on land that he or she owns, leases or legally occupies in Wisconsin.
[8] In New Mexico, a permit is required for concealed carry unless you are on your own premises or in a personal vehicle.
[9] Many states do, however, have maximum-size limitations on pepper spray of anywhere from 0.5 ounces to 5 ounces.
[10] The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes did not respond to an interview request for this story.

Truckers and Self-Defense Series (Article 8 of 8)

The Safety Issues Truck Drivers Face | Protection on the Road | On the Road — Jerry Drolshagen Profile Specialized Driver — Mark Schmidt Profile | The Road Calls — Paul Lathrop Profile | Truckers and the Law | Carrying While Driving | Options for Truck Drivers