The Ultimate Firearms Destination for the Gun Lifestyle

What to Do When Pulled Over While Carrying a Firearm

Tips on How to Disclose Information to Law Enforcement When Carrying in Your Car

Red and blue lights pierce the darkness behind you. Great. You’re being pulled over by a local law enforcement officer. Your concealed carry pistol is holstered inside your waistband, and your AR-15 is in the rear compartment of your SUV. You’re driving with firearms on your person and in your possession. How do you legally handle this situation? 

First of all: Obey all local, state, and federal laws. If your state or jurisdiction doesn’t allow concealed carry, don’t! Your chances of being found in possession of an illegal weapon are greater than your chances of saving your life in a shootout. This is a fact, based on known statistics. Also, realize that there are geographic and cultural differences related to firearms possession. A police encounter where you advise the officer that you possess a firearm in downtown Boston will likely be a completely different experience than in rural Wyoming. 

If you have NFA (National Firearms Act) firearms, such as machine guns, short-barreled rifles, and suppressors, you should keep a  laminated copy of the FFL or tax stamp in your locked gun case literally touching the weapon, preferably in the trunk of your vehicle. In every one of your vehicles, you should keep a laminated copy of every Form 4 or Form 1 in a file, perhaps tucked in the rear seat, and an extra copy should always follow the firearm. 

During traffic stops where firearms are in the driver’s possession, there are typically three types of people: the nervous type, the overly friendly person, and the angry guy.

NERVOUS TYPE

This type of person is easily shaken and makes several mistakes by being overly panicked. This individual doesn’t know the laws and tries to avoid bringing to the attention of law enforcement that they have weapons in their possession. This person often becomes visibly shaken, which will likely be apparent to the officer. They might inadvertently prolong the encounter because the officer cannot tell if they’re impaired, nervous, or both. 

Police officer making a traffic stop

Keep things cool, calm, and professional and everyone goes on their way. Hopefully without a ticket.

This individual is easily befuddled and might give inconsistent statements to the officer. For example: “Ah, that’s my brother’s gun,” or “Ah, I was on the way to the range,” when it’s 10 p.m. This’ll make the officer suspicious and might trigger further investigation. This can lead to more time at the scene, where the officer runs a nationwide background check assuming they’re hiding something. The inconsistencies in the statement can lead to criminal charges if the person is caught in an outright lie to the officer. So, a simple speeding ticket can turn into a false information to law enforcement criminal charge. Simply put: don’t be nervous. You’re the good guy, remember?

THE OVERLY FRIENDLY TYPE

This class of individuals becomes overly friendly and is usually overly formal. “Sir, yes sir.” They might talk about their brother in a faraway state who’s a police officer. They might ask questions about the law as though the officer is the local information booth on firearms laws. The overly friendly will always be treated better than an angry person, but this sort of encounter doesn’t require gushing statements about the last time they donated to the Fraternal Order of the Police or long stories about how they love cops. 

So, why is the overly friendly type bad? Well, this personality type can excessively comply or do ridiculous things to appear overly lawful. They usually expect the officer to ask for their driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance and may start reaching across the vehicle to the glovebox to retrieve papers before the officer has even approached the car. Then, when the officer is approaching the car, they see the driver stretched and reaching for … something. This is bad. Another far worse example: The officer walks up, and the driver is trying to unload the firearm and put it on the dash even before the officer makes it to the driver window. So, what does the officer see in this case? A person with a gun — things will go downhill from there. 

THE ANGRY GUY

This personality type is by far the worst. If you have firearms on your person, it’s a terrible idea to get confrontational with the officer. Alternatively, this personality type tends to be aggressive in strange ways. For example, the driver maintains a rigid posture with hands gripping the steering wheel at the 10 and 2 positions, eyes straight ahead without any deviation while speaking to the officer. They might say, “Sir, my identification is in my pocket and my firearm is holstered on my right hip, which is perfectly legal. I will not answer any questions without the presence of my attorney.” They may make exaggerated movements and aggressive tones toward the officer. 

They might also add, “I know my rights, and you have no right to search my car.” This personality type usually makes the traffic stop turn into a prolonged argument that benefits neither the driver nor the officer. Why? The angry guy is acting like a person who’s being arrested. You’ll likely prolong the encounter while the officer waits for ample backup. Whether your car is going to be searched is up to the officer based on the nebulous, legally important Totality of the Circumstances test. Simply put, Totality of the Circumstances tests rely on the officer’s subjective opinion based on all information present to her or him at that time, as to whether or not the officer has “probable cause” that a crime is being committed. Acting aggressively either makes you appear as a jerk or hiding something — this can lead to further investigation and unnecessary delay.

HOW TO HANDLE A TRAFFIC STOP

When the officer approaches, see what she/he wants. Be polite, but not overly polite. Remember, the officer is working, in a job where firearms are too often pointed at cops. Most police officers respect the 2nd Amendment, but if asked to give an honest opinion, most would say vehicles and firearms are the two most dangerous parts of their job. Police officers face two key threats: guns and vehicles trying to run them over — and in this situation you have both. Also, when they approach the car they don’t know if you’re Ted Bundy or Father O’Brien. So, be cool, but immediately notify the officer that you have firearms on your person and in your vehicle. First thing, no deviations. 

puled over with guns glove compartment

If this is your idea of weapons storage, you may want to recalibrate. It’s neither easily accessible in the event of an emergency, or secure should you need to leave the vehicle.

Don’t make any gesture toward the firearm. Don’t move, period! Let the officer decide how she/he wants to deal with it. Some officers will order you out of the vehicle and make you place your hands on the hood. This is legal. The officer is disarming you for the safety of all parties. People mistake placing hands on the hood for an arrest and get squirrely, even evasive — don’t! Do what the officer says. Placing your hands on the hood is how the officer secures your body while they retrieve and make the weapon safe. The officer will tell you to stay still, remove the firearm from your person, unload it and lock the slide or pop the cylinder, and place it on the hood. This is all perfectly legal. You’re not under arrest by placing your hands on the hood; the officer is simply removing the firearm from the encounter for your safety and theirs. Then, the encounter will likely be business as usual. 

If there are multiple occupants in your car, expect the officer to wait for backup. I can hear the questions now: “Wait, isn’t it easier just to not say anything? I don’t want to get hassled by the police.” If you use a polite tone, don’t get nervous, and advise the officer you have a firearm on your person and in your vehicle, they might simply say, “OK, just don’t touch it.” Some officers are strangely gun shy about people and guns; again, cultural and geographic differences exist. So, be polite. If your jurisdiction requires a concealed carry card or permit, ask the officer how they want to receive the documentation. Remember, you just informed the officer that you have a gun, so diving for the glovebox to retrieve a gun permit can cause a very bad reaction. For instance, you can say, “Officer, I have a concealed carry card if you need to see it.” If the officer says yes, ask, “How would you like me to hand it to you, because I have a pistol on my hip?” It’s simple. Let the officer describe how they prefer to handle the encounter and just obey. Simple. 

I usually keep my hands on my lap or the steering wheel (in other words, both hands are clearly visible) and say, “Hey officer, just to let you know, I have a pistol in my waistband and a long-gun in the rear compartment.” Some officers might ask why. This isn’t the time to go into a diatribe on crime or the Constitution. Just say, “my family’s safety.” Don’t read anything more into the question, “Why do you have a firearm?” Don’t bark, “It’s my constitutional right” at them. The officer might think you’re a fellow officer, judge, bounty hunter, or bank robber. As long as you behaving legally, don’t take offense to the question. If for some reason the officer asks that you step out of the vehicle, comply as this is common and lawful. The officer might want to bring you away from the vehicle for your safety and theirs. 

pulled over with guns truck bed drawer

Locked, secure storage that’s inaccessible from the driver’s compartment is a necessity in some states. Check the laws ahead of time if you’re passing through from free America.

So, be calm and polite — and immediately advise the officer of the presence of the firearms in your possession. Keep movement to a minimum and follow their lead. This will protect you and the officer. 

As an aside, I was recently pulled over with my wife. The officer asked for my driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance. I immediately informed him that I had firearms in the vehicle. He quickly asked, “How many?” I replied, “10.” He sharply barked, “I didn’t ask how many guns you own. I asked how many were in the vehicle.” I repeated, “10.” This really is the greatest country on earth. 


About the Author

Jason Squires has been an attorney in Arizona for over 21 years and defends people on a wide range of firearms cases in federal, state, and municipal courts. In his spare time, he’s an avid firearms collector and competes in three-gun competitions across the country.


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16 responses to “What to Do When Pulled Over While Carrying a Firearm”

  1. Ross says:

    I don’t identify that I have a “long gun” (in my case a suppressed SBR) in the trunk as I don’t have immediate access to it and would have to exit the vehicle to get to it, yes all paperwork is present. I do indicate that I have a concealed handgun(s) on/about my person and provide all relevant documentation.

  2. PistolGrip44 says:

    In PA is it not required to tell the police that you are armed. Plus, I do not wish to be shot multiple times by an overzealous coward cop, AKA PIG!!!

  3. Mike says:

    I got pulled over by an Idaho State patrolman, I immediately told him I had a pistol on my hip. He asked “are you going to draw on me?” I told him nope, and he said “well good, I won’t draw down on you….and by the way, do you know your CCW is expired?*”

    * Idaho is a constitutional carry state, I think he was just having fun…at my expense….

    • Ross says:

      Last time I got pulled over I handed the officer my DL and permit and told him where the gun was, his response was “you keep yours where it is and I’ll keep mine where it is”, I told him I could live with that. Didn’t tell him about what was in the trunk, that would come with too many questions I didn’t have the time to answer.

  4. Bruce Mamont says:

    I asked my local cops what they would want me to do if I were “pulled over” while carrying: should I volunteer that I was armed? I was surprised to be told that it would make them more nervous and I shouldn’t volunteer the information. I think if for some reason they wanted me to get out of the car I would tell them. My state doesn’t require disclosure and I have a “concealed pistol license”.

  5. Joe says:

    Efforts to change the face of law enforcement will in time result in traffic stops being different. Think about what it is like to be stopped in Mexico and adjust your expectations.

  6. John H Williams says:

    “…the officer is simply removing the firearm from the encounter for your safety and theirs.”

    Cool, do I get to remove their firearm for the same reason?

  7. Don from CT says:

    Telling an officer right off the bat is a terrible idea. I you have a nervous officer it can immediately escalate the situation.

    I was in a situation where my wallet was stolen and I offered the officer my carry permit for ID. Ha asked if I had a weapon. When I said yes, he immediately pulled me out of the car.

    He then disarmed me and swept my legs while clearing the gun. He had me keep my hands on the trunk of the car while he ran me for warrants.

    After that he let me get back in my car, but then kept my gun while he went to run more checks.

    After a few minutes he came back and handed me back my gun, sweeping me in the process, this time across my face.

    the stop was because my new registration on my new car wasn’t yet in his system so he gave me back my stuff and sent me on my way.

    This would never have happened if I had my DL on me and just handed him that.

    Some of my students have had similar incidents when they volunteered that they had legal firearms with them in traffic stops.

  8. Ed says:

    “The officer is disarming you for the safety of all parties.”

    Definitely NOT in agreement with this statement.

    “Some officers will order you out of the vehicle and make you place your hands on the hood. This is legal.”
    This is totally un-necessary as a do always SOP, it would depend on the totality of the situation.

  9. BobF says:

    Well, the top photo is immediately a problem, as carrying a gun in New York is strictly verbotten – perhaps a photo showing a stop in another state (well, not New Jersey or California for that matter) would be in order…

    I recall a case of an army veteran who ended up jailed for carrying his sidearm in the vehicle as he drove from his army base to family in Vermont or something.

    • Ralph Schloss says:

      Maybe NYC, I live upstate and my CCW and sidearms are perfectly legal when I am in my vehicle or elsewhere. Been carrying since 1976!

  10. Christopher Miller says:

    Unless I am in a Duty To Inform state, I don’t volunteer any information unless asked. Just be polite, and courteous, and they should be the same. The few times I have been asked, I answered honestly and it was a non-issue. There should be no reason a firearm needs to be handled for a traffic stop.

  11. chaz says:

    is there sucha thing as a warning shot?

  12. Bernhard says:

    Things get even more muddled and difficult when you’re disabled and have a CCW. Getting out and putting your hands on the hood/trunk may not be possible. Myself, I let my disabled tags on my vehicles inform the officer I’m disabled, I keep both hands on the steering wheel where the officer can see them, and before the officer even gets to the car I have the windows down and interior lights on so they can better see. Yes, I will be insistent that my rights be respected, but I will also respect the officer’s authority. Any conflict between those two things can be discussed in a court of law at a later date. I will follow commands to the best of my ability and ask the officer for clarification/directions as needed. My ultimate goal is that the officer and I retire to our respective homes at the end of the day and get a good night’s sleep.

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  • I don't identify that I have a "long gun" (in my case a suppressed SBR) in the trunk as I don't have immediate access to it and would have to exit the vehicle to get to it, yes all paperwork is present. I do indicate that I have a concealed handgun(s) on/about my person and provide all relevant documentation.

  • In PA is it not required to tell the police that you are armed. Plus, I do not wish to be shot multiple times by an overzealous coward cop, AKA PIG!!!

  • I got pulled over by an Idaho State patrolman, I immediately told him I had a pistol on my hip. He asked "are you going to draw on me?" I told him nope, and he said "well good, I won't draw down on you....and by the way, do you know your CCW is expired?*"

    * Idaho is a constitutional carry state, I think he was just having fun...at my expense....

    • Last time I got pulled over I handed the officer my DL and permit and told him where the gun was, his response was "you keep yours where it is and I'll keep mine where it is", I told him I could live with that. Didn't tell him about what was in the trunk, that would come with too many questions I didn't have the time to answer.

  • I asked my local cops what they would want me to do if I were "pulled over" while carrying: should I volunteer that I was armed? I was surprised to be told that it would make them more nervous and I shouldn't volunteer the information. I think if for some reason they wanted me to get out of the car I would tell them. My state doesn't require disclosure and I have a "concealed pistol license".

  • Efforts to change the face of law enforcement will in time result in traffic stops being different. Think about what it is like to be stopped in Mexico and adjust your expectations.

  • "...the officer is simply removing the firearm from the encounter for your safety and theirs."

    Cool, do I get to remove their firearm for the same reason?

  • Telling an officer right off the bat is a terrible idea. I you have a nervous officer it can immediately escalate the situation.

    I was in a situation where my wallet was stolen and I offered the officer my carry permit for ID. Ha asked if I had a weapon. When I said yes, he immediately pulled me out of the car.

    He then disarmed me and swept my legs while clearing the gun. He had me keep my hands on the trunk of the car while he ran me for warrants.

    After that he let me get back in my car, but then kept my gun while he went to run more checks.

    After a few minutes he came back and handed me back my gun, sweeping me in the process, this time across my face.

    the stop was because my new registration on my new car wasn't yet in his system so he gave me back my stuff and sent me on my way.

    This would never have happened if I had my DL on me and just handed him that.

    Some of my students have had similar incidents when they volunteered that they had legal firearms with them in traffic stops.

  • "The officer is disarming you for the safety of all parties."

    Definitely NOT in agreement with this statement.

    "Some officers will order you out of the vehicle and make you place your hands on the hood. This is legal."
    This is totally un-necessary as a do always SOP, it would depend on the totality of the situation.

  • Well, the top photo is immediately a problem, as carrying a gun in New York is strictly verbotten - perhaps a photo showing a stop in another state (well, not New Jersey or California for that matter) would be in order...

    I recall a case of an army veteran who ended up jailed for carrying his sidearm in the vehicle as he drove from his army base to family in Vermont or something.

    • Maybe NYC, I live upstate and my CCW and sidearms are perfectly legal when I am in my vehicle or elsewhere. Been carrying since 1976!

  • Unless I am in a Duty To Inform state, I don't volunteer any information unless asked. Just be polite, and courteous, and they should be the same. The few times I have been asked, I answered honestly and it was a non-issue. There should be no reason a firearm needs to be handled for a traffic stop.

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