Summer vacation time is coming, and many of us will be traveling. So it’s a good time to remind ourselves that whenever we venture outside of our home states with our firearms, we expose ourselves to a multitude of laws, regulations, and even local city ordinances.
Whether we intend to carry a handgun or merely transport it in our vehicle, caution is the watchword. Remember the old legal axiom, “Ignorance of the law is never a defense.” This is doubly important when we are the “foreigners” in transit.
First, some basics. Is your driver’s license current? A shocking number of people are carrying a license showing their old address. Not only is this a violation in most states, explaining why the address on your license is not the correct one can be problematic when you are being questioned on the side of the road by a state trooper. The same goes for your vehicle tags, proof of insurance, etc.
Also, make sure your car, truck, or SUV is operationally functional. A headlight or taillight that is out can invite a stop by authorities. Even excessively tinted windows are grounds for a stop in some states. Check the rules before you hit the road.
Now, the really important stuff. Before getting in your car, or boarding that airplane, check the carry reciprocity situation for every state you plan to visit, even if you are merely passing through on the way to your destination. The USCCA has a quick and easy guide at: http://www.usconcealedcarry.com/travel/
There are other resources as well. Use them, but read the fine print. Some states will recognize permits only for residents of that state. Since many of us have additional, non-resident permits/licenses from other states, it is important to know in which states they are valid.
Another major issue is that while some states allow open carry, others require truly “concealed carry” and consider “flashing” or “brandishing” your gun a violation. Also, places where you are prohibited from carrying will vary from state to state. For example, most people are surprised to find that in supposedly wild and wooly Texas, you may not carry in churches, or in any bar or restaurant that serves alcohol. Yet in the relatively politically liberal state of Minnesota, carry in bars and restaurants is perfectly legal. In any case, find out the laws of wherever it is you’re going to be.
If your travels will place you in a state that does not recognize any of your carry permits/licenses, it is vital that you understand the rules for transporting firearms in your vehicle. This is often complicated by the range of vehicles we have today. An unloaded, cased firearm in the trunk of a normal sedan is likely to be considered legal in most states. But SUVs and pickup trucks present greater challenges. Make sure you are conforming to local storage rules.
RVs present yet another challenge, in that there is widespread legal disagreement as to whether it is a vehicle or a residence. This is important because where your firearm may reside can depend on whether the RV is moving or not. Some states specify that while moving, it is a vehicle, but while parked it is akin to a motel. Others consider it a “domicile” only if parked in a designated RV facility (hint: the parking lot of a Wal-Mart may not qualify). Find out before you hit the road.
As an extra precaution, I go to the official government websites of wherever it is that I’ll be, I print out both the carry and transportation-of firearms rules, and I keep them in a file folder in my car. Having a copy of these with you is a good idea. If you are stopped, it will at least show due diligence on your part.
Finally, be very wary of travel to or through states like Illinois, New York, and California that are extremely hostile to guns and gun owners. Horror stories abound of visitors imprisoned for violating some obscure rule. A particularly frightening New Jersey case is working its way to the Supreme Court as we speak.
While having to take these steps may be a pain, being properly prepared is better than having your whole vacation ruined by legal difficulties.
Travel smart. Travel safe.
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