We live in a very expansive country. More than once I have had to drive through numerous states with my rifles. The problem is that we live in the United States of America. Each state has the right to make its own laws within reason. This poses a problem for travelers. It is often difficult to keep track of 50 different sets of laws and the case-law that dictates how they shall be enforced. In fact it is often difficult for Citizens to keep track of the changes in laws in their own states.
So how do we get from one place to another without going to jail? This is one place where Federal Law actually helps us out.
Code of Federal Regulations, Title 18 – Part I – Chapter 44 – §926a states that if you are traveling from one place where you may lawfully posses a firearm to another, then you may transport it across a state where it would otherwise be prohibited. Please make sure you actually read the CFR section and understand it. Your freedom depends on it.
Now there are a couple of issues with this law. Primarily it does not define if the law covers the entire journey or the individual legs. Due to the vast distances our country spans, it is possible to need to lay over in a location that is not firearms friendly. This is generally not an issue if you are transporting a bolt-action rifle, but could be a serious issue for a three gun competitor who is transporting full capacity magazines and semi-automatic firearms.
While traveling with your firearms it would be in your best interest to keep receipts. They will show the path of your journey. Hotel reservations at your final destination will also be a good thing. Anything you can use to demonstrate that your destination is in a jurisdiction that allows for the lawful possession of your cargo will assist you. If you find yourself in a position to defend your actions.
Do your best to plan your trip so that your layovers are in locations where your firearms are legal. Avoid “unfriendly” states and cities. While you may be able to make a good defense in a criminal trial, it is much less expensive to avoid the situation altogether.
Fourth Amendment to the Rescue.
When traveling with firearms, the Fourth Amendment to the Bill of Rights of the US Constitution may well be your best friend. For those of you not familiar with it, I will post the text below:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
It is vitally important as a free Citizen that you understand the applications and exceptions to the Fourth Amendment. Over the years the US Supreme Court has provided for exceptions to the Fourth Amendment. They have come to the understanding that there are times when waking up a Judge to get a Search Warrant signed can result in great harm to a victim or the public at large. Over the decades, very specific exceptions have been crafted. States have then made their own Laws and Case Law to further limit the abilities of Law Enforcement Officers with regard to warrant-less searches.
If you are transporting firearms lawfully, and come in contact with Law Enforcement, it is probably best to decline any requests to search your vehicle or person. If an officer searches your vehicle and locates firearms, at the least he will want to handle them to verify they are unloaded. Then he will want to run the serial numbers to confirm that they are not stolen. Most Officers are not “gun guys”. While it is very unlikely that an Officer will intentionally damage your firearm, it is possible that the zero may be altered and there is always the possibility that they may be dropped. It is just a situation that I would prefer to avoid.
Remember, we pay our Law Enforcement Officers to search out criminal activity. This may inconvenience us from time to time but the amount of contraband transported on our highways is staggering. Expect that if you consent to a search, the Law Enforcement Officer is going to do a thorough job.
I am not aware of any State that requires a private Citizen notify a Law Enforcement Officer if they are transporting unloaded firearms in a separate compartment of the vehicle, in compliance with the CFR Title 18 – Part I – Chapter 44 – §926a. It is generally a good idea to just remain silent on the issue unless otherwise required by law.
If you are traveling with a loaded handgun in the passenger compartment of your vehicle, you are NOT in compliance with CFR Title 18 – Part I – Chapter 44 – §926a. In this instance a different set of laws apply. Those laws will differ from State to State and will also depend upon the laws in your State governing any permit you may have been issued.
Traveling with a loaded, easily accessed firearm is a subject for a completely different article.
When hitting the road enroute to a match, hunt or wherever you are headed, make sure your vehicle is in good repair with working lights and signals. Obey the speed limit and traffic regulations, and have a great trip!
If you have any suggestions or corrections for any of the information above, please make sure you cite the applicable State or Federal Law. All to often I hear the “my sister’s, friend’s, uncle’s, father’s, friend said…..” Read the Law. Know the Law.
United States Code, 2011 Edition
Title 18 – CRIMES AND CRIMINAL PROCEDURE
PART I – CRIMES
CHAPTER 44 – FIREARMS
Sec. 926A – Interstate transportation of firearms
From the U.S. Government Printing Office, www.gpo.gov
§926A. Interstate transportation of firearms
Notwithstanding any other provision of any law or any rule or regulation of a State or any political subdivision thereof, any person who is not otherwise prohibited by this chapter from transporting, shipping, or receiving a firearm shall be entitled to transport a firearm for any lawful purpose from any place where he may lawfully possess and carry such firearm to any other place where he may lawfully possess and carry such firearm if, during such transportation the firearm is unloaded, and neither the firearm nor any ammunition being transported is readily accessible or is directly accessible from the passenger compartment of such transporting vehicle: Provided, That in the case of a vehicle without a compartment separate from the driver’s compartment the firearm or ammunition shall be contained in a locked container other than the glove compartment or console.