Traveling With a Firearm in the US


Last Updated on February 18, 2024 by Grant

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.

Our new pistol, a Springfield Armory XD-E in 9mm. This is the firearm we now travel with.
Our new pistol, a Springfield Armory XD-E in 9mm.

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.

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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.

  1. Most pistols, including mine, are not effective against bears as anything more than a last-ditch effort.
  2. Bear spray is much more effective against bears than a gun but be careful where you travel with that, too! More on that below.
  3. 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.

A black bear in Yellowstone National Park.
This was the first of two bears we spotted on the Beavers Pond Trail. This cinnamon black bear was more concerned with eating than us on the trail.

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.

A park volunteer dressed as a colonial sentry stands watch.
Despite its heritage and history in the Revolutionary War, like this sentinel standing guard at Fort Stanwix National Monument in Rochester, New York’s laws respecting weapons are more like Britain’s.

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. So, you can drive through a state, enter a particular city or county, and face completely different laws.

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.

I would not consider this to be loaded but many jurisdictions would consider it loaded.
I would not consider this to be loaded but many jurisdictions would consider it 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.

We have a gun magnet to secure our pistol in our center console.
There are not many places to put a pistol to keep it out of plain sight, especially in a truck, but putting it in your glove compartment or center console will get you arrested in many states if you don’t have a concealed carry permit. We have a gun magnet to secure our pistol in our center console.

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.

Our pistol secured in the center console with a Rymmes Gun Magnet.
Our pistol secured in the center console with a Rymmes Gun Magnet.

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.

RYMMES Gun Magnet Mount | Rubber Coated Magnetic Holder Up to 45lbs for Handgun, Pistol, Revolver, Shotgun, Magazines on Wall, Desk, Cabinet Black
  • ✅ POWERFUL & RELIABLE DESIGN: Contrary to similar mounts on the market, this one features a powerful magnet that is up to 45 lbs (It mean this magnet will hold metal objects weighing up to 45 lbs when full contact with the flat surface), strong enough to hold any firearm securely and without wobbling or falling.
  • ✅ FIREARM CONCEALER: Always be ready and safe to using you weapon. Rymmes gun magnet is perfect for lighter weapons such as handguns, pistols, revolvers and magazines but it can also be used for heavier weapons by obtaining and installing two gun magnets side by side. This way, you can also securely hold rifles, hunting rifles, shotguns and more!
  • ✅ SOFT RUBBER COATING – GUN MAGNET FOR VEHICLE: Made from lightweight, durable materials with high quality rubber coating to make sure your firearms are never damaged in any way.
  • ✅ EASY TO MOUNT ANYWHERE: With high quality 2-sided adhesive tape, you can install without damaged your Car, Truck, Wall, Vault, Bedside, Doorway, Desk, Table, Safe. In addition, you are also using screws provided.
  • ✅ COMPACT DESIGN: 3.74″L x 1.5″W x 0.33″H. Include in package: Manual sheet, screw, taquet, 2-sided adhesive tape.

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.

Bonnie qualifying on our new pistol. She shot really well!
Bonnie qualifying on our new pistol. She shot really well!

Fortunately, it also meant I gained reciprocity with several other states in terms of having my gun with me while on the road.

A map of all the states which honor my concealed carry permit, courtesy of
A map of all the states which honor my concealed carry permit, courtesy of

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.

New England

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.

Some of the experimental weapons developed at Springfield Armory National Historic Site.
Massachusetts outlawed most of the weapons made at places like the Springfield Armory. I find that fact ironic.

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.

Out West

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.

Bear Spray

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!

Final Thoughts

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.

Pulling our camper over Powder River Pass in Wyoming
Pulling our camper over Powder River Pass in Wyoming.

That needs to change. There was a bill in Congress that would allow 50-state reciprocity, but it never made it out of the 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 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.

Vastness of West Texas
We often travel to remote places where there is no calling 911 if something were to go wrong. For that reason, I find having a firearm with me to be a prudent decision.

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.

Travel Resources
What do you use to find a flight?

We use Skyscanner to find deals on flights. Skyscanner has a great interface and compares tons of airlines for the best pricing and routing. That said, it does not always have every airline and some airlines will have better deals on their website. Still, Skyscanner is a great place to start.
Click here to search for a flight.

What do you use to find a hotel?

We typically stay at Hilton properties, so we use the Hilton website. You can find good Hilton Honors discounts or AAA discounts for a hotel there. We make great use of our free night certificates from our Hilton Honors American Express.
Click here to book a Hilton property.

If there are no Hilton properties available, we use TripAdvisor to read reviews and book the hotel. We find we can get the best price that way.
Click here to search for a hotel.

We recently partnered with Stay22 to add interactive maps to each of our destination posts. This will allow you to see a plethora of hotels and vacation rentals all in one responsive map of the area.

What if I need more space than I can get at a hotel?

We use Vrbo for the times when we have rented a cabin for a weekend getaway, like this cabin in Townsend, TN, or needed to rent a house for a large family vacation. We had a great experience with them in terms of refunding deposits when COVID hit and will continue to use them.
Click here to search for a vacation rental.

Who do you use for rental cars?

As a general rule, we book with Hertz for rental cars. We have had nothing but good experiences with them. Plus, we really like unlimited mileage and not worrying about crossing state lines. We have even rented from Hertz overseas in both Slovenia and Croatia.
Click here to book a rental car.

How about booking a cruise?

We have found some amazing prices for booking a cruise through Cruise Direct. We have saved a lot of money on our cruises compared to what we found elsewhere, making a last-minute Bahamas cruise even cheaper.
Click here to book a cruise.

What if I want to rent an RV?

We highly recommend Outdoorsy for RV rentals. We rented a camper van for a week to visit Rocky Mountain National Park for the elk rut and Custer State Park for the Buffalo Round-Up and had a blast. The program was easy to use and we really enjoyed the freedom of having a camper van for that trip.
Click here to rent an RV.

What do you use for booking tours?

We don’t often book tours. Typically, we like to do stuff on our own. That said, there are some experiences you can’t have any other way. So, when we do want to book a tour, we always check Viator first.
Click here to book a tour.

Do you use anything to get discounts on the road?

We make extensive use of both Good Sam and AAA on the road. Good Sam is normally regarded as a discount card for RVers at campgrounds and Camping World but anyone can use the 5 cents off a gallon at the pump at both Pilot and Flying J.
Click here to get a Good Sam membership.
We have had AAA as long as we have been married and it has more than paid for itself in discounts at hotels, aside from the peace of mind of having roadside assistance. Add in paper maps and the ability to get an international driver’s license and it is more than worth it for any traveler out there.
Click here to get a AAA membership.

The ins and outs of traveling with a firearm in the US, including how to find the best way to legally travel with a firearm on a road trip.
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26 thoughts on “Traveling With a Firearm in the US”

  1. 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.

  2. 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

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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!

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.


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