Interstate Transportation of Firearms: Laws and Requirements

Interstate Transportation of Firearms: Laws and Requirements


Let’s look at this scenario as an example of legally armed citizens traveling with guns. You legally bought a concealed carry handgun, earned your Florida Concealed Carry License as a resident of Florida, and also got your Pennsylvania Non-Resident License to Carry Firearm from the state of Pennsylvania. You have both carry licenses readily available in the glove compartment of your vehicle for your travels. You know both Florida and Pennsylvania law thoroughly and want to be a law-abiding citizen.

You began your one-day vehicle journey in Florida and are traveling on a fun trip from Florida to Pennsylvania, going through New Jersey, ending your trip in New York. You are proud of your new 1911 .45 caliber pistol, carry it concealed on your person with the manual safety on, a round in the chamber, extra ammo in a loaded magazine in your pocket, and the gun is snapped securely in a holster. After a long day’s trip, you are very tired and driving into New Jersey, so you decide to stop and rest there at a road stop for an hour or so relaxation nap. Inadvertently, you made a minor illegal lane change and have been pulled over by a New Jersey police officer while stopped at the road stop. You volunteer that you are safely carrying your pistol concealed and locked and in a secure holster on you and tell the officer that you are reaching for your carry licenses in the glove compartment. You tell the police officer that you sincerely want to do everything legally, safely carry your gun, and properly transport it in your automobile. And that you are not a felon, a fugitive from justice, not an illegal alien, and are transporting the firearm for a lawful purpose. So, are you OK with your actions in interstate transportation and carry of your firearm into New Jersey and the other states?

Disclaimer: I am not an attorney and do not pretend to be one. I just want to sincerely help interstate travelers by referring to existing laws at this time in January, 2021. This general guide and my layman’s opinions and tips are meant as a starting point for your own research and legal contacts about your specific situation and states. It should never be construed as bona fide legal advice or legal opinions. You should review each state’s laws thoroughly about transporting firearms into and through a state to ensure you have the right understanding and specifics for your situation and about the reciprocity. And recognize that many laws change annually or more frequently, depending upon legislative sessions and judicial decisions.

Before Getting Pulled Over With A Firearm

First, before you travel and get pulled over by law enforcement, you need to ensure that you’re transporting your firearm legally, both into and through any and each given state in your journey.

Yes, there are differences in these laws not only from one state to another but even within any one particular state or jurisdiction. Also, understanding concealed carry reciprocity is essential to being a responsible gun owner, especially if you are traveling between states. This example for only the state of New Jersey is the focus in this article, to give you an understanding of the diverse requirements and interpretations by some states about interstate transportation of guns. It is not possible in a brief article like this one to address all the different interpretations, cases, and state laws.

What Is Concealed Carry Reciprocity?

Concealed carry reciprocity basically means your concealed carry permit or license is valid beyond just your issuing state; the rights between states are reciprocated. But, where is your concealed carry license going to be valid or legally sufficient for you to carry? Where is your issued carry license from one state going to be accepted across the United States? It is very important that you must follow the laws of the state in which you are carrying and transporting your gun or you may find yourself in prison for breaking the law. So recognize that the laws of the non-resident state in which you are carrying and transporting your firearm may be significantly different from your issuing state… and you personally bear the responsibility for knowing and following those laws. Some states are very strict and have no reciprocity, like California, New York, New Jersey, Hawaii, and Maryland. Reciprocity only addresses carrying a handgun in a loaded condition.

None of the ideas and comments here will be helpful if you transport your firearm illegally in any state, like New Jersey in my above example. So, it is very important to know the applicable state law about transporting your firearm in any state you will be entering, traveling through or stopping in, in addition to the applicable carry laws and reciprocity there. To be informed, you must contact the local law enforcement or attorneys in the states you will be visiting. Sounds like a major herculean chore, but a very necessary one. What a complex frustration and challenge, but your life and the lives of your loved ones are worth it.

State Legal Transportation Requirements

In this example, since you have been stopped in New Jersey, you must first understand the New Jersey legal transportation requirements. (Remember, legal transportation requirements vary significantly by state and jurisdiction.)

According to New Jersey law and their Office of the Attorney General, you must adhere to the following requirements if you drive there with your firearm. These requirements apply to all firearms transported into the state of new jersey:

  1. The firearm must be unloaded and stored “in a closed and fastened case, gunbox, securely tied package, or locked in the trunk of the automobile;”
  2. “The course of travel shall include only such deviations as are reasonably necessary under the circumstances;”
  3. The firearm cannot be directly accessible from the passenger compartment of the vehicle; NOTE: The passenger compartment means the area of a vehicle designed for the seating of the driver and other passengers.
  4. If the vehicle does not have a compartment separate from the passenger compartment, the firearm and ammunition must be in a locked container other than the vehicle’s glove compartment or console; and (not or)
  5. You must have your carry license on your person.

So, you are unsuspectingly and innocently illegally transporting your pistol into the state of New Jersey, as an out-of-state resident traveler. Your firearm in New Jersey is loaded and not stored properly. The pistol can be directly accessed by you from your person in the passenger compartment. And since your automobile does not a separate compartment, the pistol and ammo arenot locked in a proper container. And you do not have your carry license on your person.

Despite your well-intentioned and lawful motivations, you have unlawfully possessed a weapon and transported it into New Jersey… and will be arrested and probably go to prison. New Jersey does not provide state-to-state reciprocity with regard to any gun permit or license. You had an out-of-state licensed gun in your vehicle. Under New Jersey law, unlawful possession of a firearm is a second-degree crime with a presumption of incarceration and a 5 to 10-year prison sentence. You did not even know that you were committing a serious felony in transporting your firearm.

Research And Investigate Before You Travel

Although there are no common nor standard state transportation laws or procedures for transporting firearms and ammo among and between states, almost all states, and many localities have their own laws governing firearms transportation. So, travelers must consult applicable federal, state, and local laws before crossing a state line with a gun and ammo. Certainly, this involves a lot of preliminary research and reading time before travel to understand the restrictions and procedures. This can be a time-consuming pain, but necessary.

Interstate regulations vary a great deal. There is no national reciprocity and no standard gun laws among the states. If you are a non-resident visiting Massachusetts, you must apply for a temporary license to bring a gun into or through the state. I learned this when taking a Sig Sauer handgun class in New Hampshire wanting to bring my own gun while traveling through Massachusetts. In Montana, for example, you are absolutely prohibited from carrying a firearm into any establishment that serves alcohol. New Mexico restricts people from carrying more than one concealed carry gun at any one time on their person, while in California it is illegal to import ammo from any other state into California. In Kansas, a Constitutional state, you can openly carry any type of firearm or weapon and it is not actionable.

You may not be aware that you are breaking a law. For example, an Army officer was traveling from his parents’ home in New Jersey to his own home in South Carolina. While en route, he stopped at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. for a medical appointment. He consented to a police officer searching his car for firearms. He told them he had a sporting rifle properly locked in his trunk. But he was not aware that sporting rifles are banned from possession in D.C. This respected and innocent Army officer was handcuffed and hauled to jail, facing 20 years in prison and $20,000 in fines and four felonies. Ultimately, he pleaded guilt to a reduced misdemeanor charge and spent the next two years fighting to get his rifle back. Sadly, it took the intervention of two Senators to help with his problems.

And while there is no federal permit or license requirement for the interstate transportation of firearms, there is a federal law that protects those transporting firearms for lawful purposes from local and state restrictions, which would otherwise prohibit passage. So, travelers must particularly be aware of the state and local laws and comply with the legal requirements in each jurisdiction and given state, as well as know the applicable federal law.

Firearms Owners’ Protection Act (FOPA)

A federal law known as the Firearms Owners’ Protection Act, or FOPA, protects those who are transporting firearms for lawful purposes from local and state restrictions that would otherwise prohibit or restrict passage.

Under FOPA and its sections, regardless of any state or local law, a person is entitled to transport a firearm from any place (not necessarily a state) where he or she may lawfully possess and carry such firearm to any other place where he or she may lawfully possess and carry it, if during such transportation, the firearm is unloaded and neither the firearm or ammunition being transported, is readily accessible. Additionally, it must be locked out of reach. In vehicles without a trunk, the unloaded firearm must be in a locked container other than the glove compartment or console. Ammunition that is either locked out of reach in the trunk or in a locked container other than the glove compartment or console is also covered. Further, the traveler must not cease “traveling.” More about this below.

Safe Passage Of 18 U.S. Code, Section 926A

According to the Safe Passage provision in FOPA, 18 U.S. Code, Section 926A, travelers are allowed to carry firearms through all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Guam under this law if the gun is unloaded and in a locked container, not accessible from the passenger compartment of the vehicle and possession of the gun is legal at the start of the journey and the intended destination. Unfortunately, there are different interpretations and definitions of the wording in this federal law, by some states.

Traveler Must Not Cease “traveling”

Certain states and jurisdictions have given superficial and shallow interruptions to traveling and the “journey” and its extent and intent, so as to end the traveler’s status and make possession of the gun illegal. There are cases in New Jersey that interpreted a traveler stopping at the side of the road to take a nap or stopping to get gas for their vehicle, or walking to stretch their legs, as not being done by a “traveler.” The judge found in one bizarre case that the nap made them no longer a traveler and they were sentenced to five years in prison.

So, if someone stays overnight or stops and visits friends for several hours, he might lose the Safe Passage protection. Some courts have actually stated that if a person stops somewhere for too long, they are no longer considered to be “traveling” and will lose the Safe Passage protection. Some judges have interpreted “transporting” to mean not staying for any determined length of time at all, or passing through on the way to someplace.

Also, the definition of “unloaded” for the firearm has even become controversial, since the definition is not included in the statute, laws, or regulations. To most folks, unloaded means no ammo whatsoever in the gun. To others, it means having a round only in the chamber makes it loaded. However, in the 2012 case of McDaniel v. Arnold in Maryland, the courts upheld a conviction based on the interpretation that the accused had a loaded firearm despite not having a round in the chamber.

Airplane Flight Diverted

I personally am aware of a case where an unsuspecting handgun possessor and traveler’s airplane flight was diverted to another state and city, New York City, where transporting and possession of their gun was not legal. There was no reciprocity. The individual did not have a New York firearms permit and New York City did not recognize the Florida and Pennsylvania concealed carry licenses. When he tried to check onto the new aircraft and take possession of his bag containing the gun, he was arrested for illegal felonious possession of the firearm. This was not me, but I learned a valuable lesson from this about avoiding becoming a victim of a state’s different and strict interstate transportation gun law. I do not want to cease “traveling” and just want to stop very briefly, in some states.

TIPS:

  1. If there is an unexpected or extended delay in traveling between states by airplane, travelers should not handle any luggage containing firearms unnecessarily and should secure it in a location where they do not have ready access to it. If in doubt, do not claim your baggage if your airplane is diverted to a gun-hostile state or one that does not recognize your firearm license or permit. And individual airlines may have additional requirements, so check with them before traveling.
  2. Travelers in states and jurisdictions with restrictive laws should plan before travel, know their applicable gun laws, and have copies of any applicable firearm licenses or permits, as well as copies of the relevant jurisdictions’ official publications or websites documenting pertinent laws and reciprocity information.
  3. Know the laws, rules, and regulations of any state where you possess, carry in, or travel through with a gun, weapon, or ammo since you are subject to them.

January 2021 Proposed Bill To Protect Traveling Gun Owners

Recently in January 2021, Congressman Griffith of Virginia has introduced a bill, H.R. 225, to help interstate travelers with firearms. It would protect lawful gun owners from being victims of strict gun control laws in states when the owner travels through or temporarily stays over in other states. While this seems to be a bipartisan law Congress could agree on, I wonder if this legislation will even be voted on by Congress?

Traveling with a firearm and ammo can involve unique and complex challenges for gun owners, but know the laws and plan ahead for the states you will travel to and/or through.

Be Safe My Friends!

Photo by Author.

* This personal opinion article is meant for general information & educational purposes only and the author strongly recommends that you seek counsel from an attorney for legal advice and your own personal certified weapons trainer for proper guidance about shooting & using YOUR firearms, self-defense and concealed carry. It should not be relied upon as accurate for all shooters & the author assumes no responsibility for anyone’s use of the information and shall not be liable for any improper or incorrect use of the information or any damages or injuries incurred whatsoever.

© 2021 Col Benjamin Findley. All Rights Reserved. This article may not be reprinted or reproduced in whole or in part by mechanical means, photocopying, electronic reproduction, scanning, or any other means without prior written permission. For copyright information, contact Col Ben Findley at [email protected].



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