Just about every time we go on a road trip, we take a firearm. Specifically, we take a Springfield Armory XD-E pistol with me. But, traveling with a firearm presents some serious legal challenges, some of which can’t be overcome.
Before we get started, I am not a lawyer. I am not dispensing legal advice. I am commenting on how I travel. But, Mike, one of our readers asked about this topic, so I am giving you the best information I have.
Traveling with a firearm is very much a personal choice. I am very comfortable with firearms, but I know a lot of people aren’t. This is in no way a suggestion that everyone should travel with a firearm.
Updated January 2023
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Why I Travel With A Firearm
The first question I get when I tell people I travel with a gun, knowing we camp a lot, is do I bring it for bears?
The answer is an emphatic no.
- Most pistols, including mine, are not effective against bears as anything more than a last-ditch effort.
- Bear spray is much more effective against bears than a gun but be careful where you travel with that, too! More on that below.
- I have no desire to hurt a bear and, most of the time, bears have no desire to hurt a person. We have hiked in Yellowstone National Park and run into bears on the trail. The bears knew we were there and they didn’t care. By the way, I locked my pistol in my truck before going on the hike. My bear spray was on my hip.
I travel with a gun for protection against people.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not paranoid about people. Indeed, I find 90% of the people I meet are perfectly awesome folks and are friendly and helpful. I find 8% of the people I meet are either having a bad day or are just cantankerous in general, but don’t mean me to harm in any way shape or form. The final 2%? Those are the folks I worry about.
Simply, Bonnie and I travel to a lot of “out of the way” places on back roads often. We have been to places where we were the only vehicle on the road for 50 miles and no cell service for hours. I don’t want to be in a bad position in a place like that.
I don’t think I will ever need to use it. Indeed, I hope and pray I never have to use it, but I am a firm believer in it is better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.
That said, a gun is not a substitute for having an emergency kit. We highly recommend you carry a well-equipped emergency kit in your vehicle when you travel.
Read more about being prepared for an emergency here.
The Perils of Traveling with a Firearm in the United States
The Firearms Owner’s Protection Act (FOPA) protects anyone transporting a weapon from local laws and prohibitions. The owner must store the weapon in a locked container separate from the ammunition, not accessible to the passengers of the vehicle.
So, legally, you can transport a firearm through any state, right?
Sorta. Maybe. It depends.
Several states make it illegal to possess a handgun or various other kinds of firearms within state lines. In particular, New York’s firearms laws are incredibly stringent. Basically, you can transport a weapon through the state, but if you stop for the night, you violate the law.
New York authorities arrested several people for having a firearm with them on an overnight layover.
Many states in the US regard FOPA as an “affirmative defense” in the event the police arrest you. But, the police will still arrest you and you have to prove you meet the requirements of FOPA.
In some states, local municipalities, like the city of Portland, have incredibly strict laws regarding weapons.
Oh, and Canada and Mexico? My advice is don’t even think about crossing one of those borders with a firearm without a great amount of research. Indeed, Mexico classifies larger calibers as military weapons and imposes severe penalties upon traveling with the ammunition, much less the firearm.
Is It Loaded Or Not?
What is a “loaded” weapon? Many states outlaw “loaded” weapons within arm’s reach, but what does that mean?
In some states, loaded means having a round (a bullet to most folks) in the chamber or a loaded magazine in the weapon. For those not in the know, a magazine (often erroneously called a clip) is a replaceable housing that feeds rounds into a gun.
Some states consider a gun loaded if there are rounds nearby. So, if you have your pistol in the glove compartment and the magazine in there as well, law enforcement considers the weapon loaded. In some states, if the ammunition is not stored in a separate locked container, law enforcement considers the weapon loaded.
When I traveled with my Springfield Armory M1911A1, I had a loaded magazine in the pistol but not a round in the chamber. Since we got our new pistol, a Springfield Armory XD-E in 9mm, I feel more comfortable leaving the firearm with a round in the chamber. Here’s why:
The new pistol has both a decocker and a manual safety. That allows me to decock the pistol, forcing a much longer trigger pull on the first shot, AND has a manual safety that completely disengages the trigger. That means grabbing the pistol under stress is a lot safer and a lot less prone to accidentally firing the weapon.
Oh, some states outlaw magazines of specific capacities (generally 10 rounds or more). My pistol has a nine-round magazine, which does not violate any state laws.
Is It Concealed Or Not?
First, why do you want it concealed?
The reason I keep my pistol concealed in my vehicle is simple: avoid theft. Leaving a valuable weapon on the seat in plain sight is just asking for someone to break in and steal it.
What is considered concealed?
Each state, and sometimes municipalities within a state, define concealing a weapon differently. In almost every case, having a gun on your person in such a manner as it cannot readily be seen is considered concealed.
But what does that mean in a vehicle?
In some states, the law considers having a gun anywhere out of sight where a person could easily reach it or having it in a non-locked container in the passenger compartment as having it concealed.
So, why do I keep my pistol in my center console?
I choose to keep my pistol in my center console so that I can access it easily AND it is not where I keep any of the documents for my truck. That means if I am pulled over, I never need to reach into my center console for anything related to the traffic stop. The last thing I want to do is inadvertently cause a law enforcement officer stress.
Also, I can lock my center console if I feel I need to do that. In my last truck, I could not do that but my new F-150 has that capability.
We use a Rymmes Gun Magnet to keep the pistol secured and out of the way for getting all of the other stuff out of the center console but easily accessible when I need it.
The basic rule of thumb: Store it in your locked trunk if you are traveling and have any doubts.
What about vehicles, like trucks and RVs, which don’t have a locked trunk space? That’s where things get more complicated and that’s why I got a concealed carry permit to begin with.
A Concealed Carry Permit
I did not get my concealed carry permit to carry my pistol on my person. I got my concealed carry permit because I could not find a legal way without one to transport my weapon with me in the only lockable space in my old Jeep Wrangler: the glove compartment.
This has translated to having the permit for when we travel with our pistol in our truck. But getting a permit and the hoops you have to jump through vary greatly by state.
In Georgia, it is a fairly easy process. The county fingerprinted me and I went through a background check, plus I paid a few fees. Indeed, when we bought our new pistol, Bonnie got her concealed carry permit, which took about an hour’s worth of time for the application and about two weeks. When I renewed my permit, it was even easier.
Fortunately, it also meant I gained reciprocity with several other states in terms of having my gun with me while on the road.
A Tale of Two Road Trips
Let’s talk about the practicalities involved when traveling with a loaded weapon through a couple of case studies from our recent summer road trips.
Our first summer road trip with the camper was to New England. We visited sites or stayed the night in Tennessee, West Virginia, Maryland, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
Of those states, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut do not honor my concealed carry permit. Ok… time to do a little research.
Connecticut and Rhode Island would not be difficult to travel through with a firearm, provided I stored it in a locked container with ammunition stored separately. Massachusetts, on the other hand, would be a problem unless I was just passing through. Since we planned on staying in the state for several days, that made things harder to comply with their laws.
New York, on the other hand, was pretty much impossible to legally have the pistol with me and do anything other than drive through the state. Even then, New York State Police will completely ignore FOPA and arrest people anyway.
So, we left the gun at home. It was not worth the risk to even transport a gun through New York.
Recently, the Supreme Court decided (New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen) to strike down some of New York’s gun control laws. The interesting part of this decision is it basically says that gun regulations should draw their limitations from historic regulations present at the time of the writing of the Second Amendment.
So, what does that mean for transporting a weapon through New York ? At this point, the state still does not accept out-of-state concealed carry permits, so be wary about traveling through the state unless you are prepared to fight a legal battle with the state if arrested.
In summer of 2017, we took the camper through the following states: Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming and Colorado.
Of those states, only New Mexico, California and Nevada do not honor my permit. Again, time to do a little research.
While New Mexico and Nevada do not honor my permit, neither restricts carrying a loaded weapon concealed in your vehicle. Since I don’t carry my pistol on my person, I was good to go.
California has strict gun laws, so I made a point to research them very carefully. California would allow me to transport the pistol as long as I stored it in a locked container separate from the ammunition.
So, while traveling through Arizona, I stopped before passing into California and locked the gun up in the camper. Once I left California, I returned the gun to the truck. Problem solved.
Oddly enough, after doing all the research on where I can legally transport my pistol, I did not give a second thought to transporting bear spray.
Apparently, Arkansas, of all places, deemed the 8.1-ounce canister of bear spray we bought in Yellowstone National Park too large to be legal. So, for all of my preparation and forethought into traveling with a gun, I inadvertently violated Arkansas law by transporting bear spray through the state. Oops!
Until Congress gets its act together and passes both a national standard for concealed carry permits and national reciprocity for concealed carry, traveling with a gun is legally hazardous.
Truly, what bothers me the most is I drive peacefully from one state to the next on a long road trip and go from legally minding my own business to committing a felony just by crossing a state line.
That needs to change. There was a bill in Congress that would allow 50-state reciprocity, but it never made it out of subcommittee in January 2017. I would argue that there is no good reason why a driver’s license, which is honored in all 50 states, should be more accepted than a concealed carry permit, which is associated with a right protected specifically in the Constitution.
I would love to give you some resources on traveling with a weapon across state lines. The laws, however, change and often. I use USACarry.com to track concealed carry permit reciprocity. In terms of the actual gun laws, the only sites I pay attention to are the state police of a particular state or the actual laws themselves, which can often be found online.
When in doubt, I recommend calling the public information line for the state police where you are looking to travel and ask directly.
The other thing I recommend is understanding how the Fourth Amendment works in terms of search and seizure while you are driving. Be sure to understand 2015’s Supreme Court decision on Rodriguez v. US. That case limits a traffic stop to how long it takes to accomplish the objective of the stop (writing a ticket, etc.).
It is important to be polite and respectful to all law enforcement officers. It is also important to not willingly give away your rights in the process.
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26 thoughts on “Traveling With a Firearm in the US”
Great write-up brother. Couldn’t agree more on the need for national reciprocity. Time for the subcommittee holdups to end. And I never would’ve considered bear-spray to be a potential violation.
Thank you for this article. My husband and I are preparing to go full time and have never been gun owners. We are debating if we should buy one and you’ve answered a lot of questions for us
Thanks so much! Please let us know if there is anything else we can help you with on this. I know it is a tough decision.
Id like to know about air travel in the US with a checked in hand gun (unloaded revolver), with advanced disclosure to the airline in a secured and locked box…thanks
First, check out the TSA site: https://www.tsa.gov/travel/transporting-firearms-and-ammunition. That will provide the how.
The biggest issue when traveling with a handgun is local laws when you land. In particular, I have heard several folks in New York/ New Jersey arrested for having the weapon when trying to fly out. I would be very careful of which state you fly into… and double-check the city laws in some of the gun-friendly states out there. Las Vegas and Portland, in particular, have far more stringent laws than their surrounding states.
Thanks for the informative article. I am Illinois resident with only a valid Illinois FOID card which of course is worthless in all other states and only allows for the purchase and travel of an unloaded and out of reach firearm in my state. My wife and I are travelling to both Wyoming and Colorado for vacation this year and while traveling through IL, IA and NE, I will keep the gun in the trunk and in the original plastic case unloaded and padlocked. If I interpret the somewhat confusing non-resident gun laws of Wyoming, again by not having a CCW permit, as soon as I enter the state, I must display it in plain view which I’m guessing the dash board would be the best place. What makes me cringe is while staying in the hotel, it still must be on the dash all night in plain view? Without question, this makes me cringe. On the plus side, I am a bit clearer on Colorado’s non-resident, no permit rules which allows for concealed in car so as soon as we cross into the state, I can toss it in the glove box loaded.
Thanks so much! I would definitely call or e-mail someone in the Wyoming State Troopers and ask for clarification on the law there. I would not display the weapon out in the open unless absolutely necessary. It is just inviting thievery. Unless you are transporting a long gun, why not put the gun in your luggage when going into the hotel? But as always, calling and checking is best method to resolve a question like this.
I you’re never attacked in such a way that you lose control of one of your limbs. Really tough to rack the slide and load a round into the chamber one handed.
All that said thanks for the info. I’m a Mainer trapped in my state by insane gun laws in surrounding states.
I agree, but my wife and I travel together and she knows how to handle the pistol as well. If I were wearing my pistol on my hip, I would certainly carry it with a round in the chamber. Leaving it in the truck in a holster? Again, if that is the deciding the factor, I have already lost.
Great post! You confirmed what my research was telling me. Either avoid the Northeast next summer or store our firearms until we leave for more friendly states. Kind of sucks but when Boston and NYC, among other places, are on the bucket list, what are you going to do? Was hoping Pennsylvania was more friendly but it doesn’t look like it.
BTW, if you pick up an Arizona non-resident CCW permit, you’ll gain about four more states (NV, NM, NE and DE). It can be done by mail as there’s no training requirement, just proof of prior training. I think another state’s permit should do.
Pennsylvania honors our permit, so I don’t worry about traveling there. Honestly, the biggest issue is NY state. When it comes to visiting NYC and Boston, we are planning on flying there and using mass transit. I really don’t like driving in large cities in my truck, much less taking the camper anywhere close.
Thanks for the advice on the Arizona permit. I will look into getting that!
Good write up, I have a Fl. ccw, & whenever I go to western NY I leave my Gun at a Gun shop in North East Pa. It’s well worth the small charge to leave it there than to get arrested in NY as we stay in the state for 3 weeks. The only problem with that is I have to travel an xtra 150 mi to drop it off & pick it up on my return home.
Bill, that is a good idea! I might have to hit you up for that particular gun shop for when we return to tour the NPS sites in western New York. I hate leaving my firearm at home for the duration of a 6-7 week-long trip.
Great article, I am always interested in learning the struggles of travelling with a firearm in states that “ala mode” the constitution. I have a CCW permit and in bad states such as CA, NY, IL, pretty much the MA, CT, RI area will unload it and place it in the trailer. Another idea is to avoid the big cities when travelling. By this we will stay on the smaller “back” roads between destinations and then sanitize the vehicle before we go into a large urban area, scenery is better on country roads anyway. We have found largely that park rangers, state police, and county sheriffs support the 2A. Stay safe out there, only you are responsible for your safety and the security of your property.
Thanks, AJ! I completely agree with you on storing firearms in the trailer when headed through states that have issues with our CCW permit. That said, I won’t take our firearm through NY State unless we are passing through. If we plan to stop, it is a no go based upon those laws.
We also typically avoid big cities with the camper regardless of traveling armed or not… Just too much difficulty with the camper.
I’m a bit leery of national reciprocity carry laws. My concern is that we could face more restrictions at the local level if Schumer, Pelosi and their friends had a say in it. I live in Utah and our laws aren’t too bad though we have to remain vigilant. I enjoyed the article, best wishes to you both.
Thanks and I understand! As much as we travel, I would be willing to trade some reasonable requirements, like firearms training, in exchange for not having to worry about committing a felony by crossing state lines. For Georgia, since we do not have a training requirement, it precludes us from having reciprocity with states that do. Most of those states would honor my military service as adequate firearms training, so it would not be a big deal to me.
Great article. Will look into this more before we head out. Have CCP from Pa and will map route.
Any thoughts on Shotguns?
Do the same rules apply?
Shotguns are a completely different animal as compared to a handgun. Now, having it loaded and concealed in your vehicle where you can reach it while driving would mean it is a concealed weapon. Having it unloaded and locked in your trunk OR in your camper is a different ballgame. We have recently gotten a shotgun to keep in the camper while we travel.
In terms of your PA CCP, I would check the Concealed Carry Permit Reciprocity Map. In particular, be careful with your neighboring states of Maryland and New York!
What a terrific, and well-written article! You are helping lots of folks to stay legal. Your comments on the bear spray was eye opening. Yes, if the laws weren’t so complicated and inconsistent, it would be easier to be law abiding gun owner.
Thanks John and we agree 100%! We wish we could get, at the very least, nationwide reciprocity on weapons permits.
It’s absolute insanity how it is near impossible to legally own a firearm these days. I have my license in 2 states which don’t honor permits from any other states, but luckily for the “based” 14 states who actually are constitutional carry/recognize any license I get those in the bag. Having a firearm in your vehicle but not accessible is basically useless anyways. I’ve looked into so many states licensing requirements and a lot of them don’t even let out of state residents get them, or if they do it’s a big ordeal and you have to re-do training or whatever every few years. Just absolutely not practical. I might as well hire a team of bodyguards. It doesn’t help that most of these states especially on the west coast and the tri state area are so stupidly stringent and don’t honor permits from other states.
I agree wholeheartedly, John.
I often wonder how driver’s licenses are reciprocated but CCWs are not.
I have a cwl in indiana and I want to do some traveling but wanted to know the laws better I’ve read a lot but would rather hear from a person. I haven’t purchased my weapon yet still doing research but looking at a ruger 9m and want to carry in a ankle Hollister. Your thoughts. Thank you!
Thanks so much for the comment, Jessica!
Personally, I am not a fan of ankle holsters. I don’t find they are practical for travel during the warmer months when I am going to be wearing shorts a lot. That’s very much my personal preference, though.
In terms of a weapon, Ruger makes a fine pistol. My biggest advice is to go to a shop and get a feel for the pistol before you buy it. Better yet, if you can rent one and shoot it at the range, that will give you an idea of how well it shoots.
The biggest thing you need to do if this is your first pistol is take a course to learn how to properly use your weapon. Then practice with it often. Shooting is a perishable skill, so you need to keep up with your marksmanship.