CONCEALMENT 21 What to Do When Pulled Over While Carrying a Firearm Forrest Cooper 16 Comments, Join the Conversation 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. 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. 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. 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. MORE FROM RECOIL Arm Yourself with the Right Concealed Carry Insurance. Everyman EDC: A look at what Concealed Carry looks like for Average Americans. Nevada Judge Strikes Down Homemade Gun Ban on Constitutional Grounds. Rittenhouse Acquitted: The Role of Guns. 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