by Art Joslin, J.D., Director of Legal Services
In the month of May, as we head into nicer weather (hopefully), folks will begin to travel. More specifically, May will bring thousands of patriotic Americans to Houston, Texas for the 2022 annual membership meeting of the National Rifle Association. This is a great time to remind all of us about reciprocity and traveling with your firearms.
In the early 1960s, a few states entered the driver license compact. This compact between states gave driver license reciprocity to those states that entered it. This gave drivers the ability to travel in states in the compact and have driver license reciprocity between their home state and state into which they traveled. Eventually all states had driver license reciprocity.
Our civil rights don’t stop at the state line. The first ten amendments to the Bill of Rights are considered our civil rights. My right to free speech, fifth and fourteenth amendments, right to a jury trial, and right to counsel, aren’t left at the state line. They are rights endowed by our Creator and not by any government. If this is so, then why isn’t our Second Amendment also listed among those civil rights which we can take with us? Consider this: if I possess these rights, shouldn’t I be the one to decide where I take them? Yeah, I know…we could write volumes about the issue. Let’s leave this question to the Attorney-of-the-Month Q & A.
Let me continue with my analogy to driver license reciprocity. Granted, when driving state to state, some states have different motor vehicles codes, although most jurisdictions have adopted the Uniform Vehicle Code. By comparison, a cursory study of firearm travel laws across the United States can send a person’s head spinning.
When traveling to each state, you need to know the laws of each jurisdiction and have studied the laws before your trips. For example, when my son and I traveled for camping trips to the Appalachian Trail in June last year, we both carried firearms. We carry under LEOSA, the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act. LEOSA is a federal law that allows law enforcement to carry their firearms in all fifty states, under certain conditions. We traveled through Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, and Vermont. Guess which state wouldn’t let us carry?
While planning for this trip, I spent about an hour doing research on the various carry laws of each state to which we traveled. I found some interested facts to which I paid attention in case we were questioned on our LEOSA carry. All the states I mentioned above, except New York, allowed us to carry without issue. Vermont, a constitutional carry state, allowed us to carry with only a driver license. At least one state restricted us from bringing our guns into our motel room, whether posted “no guns” or not. The law left that restriction up to the innkeeper. Maryland wasn’t as restrictive as I expected, but we were able to hike into Vermont and camp and hike fully loaded.
Here is an interesting note: on our trip back through the People’s Republic, we had an extra day to stop and visit Niagara Falls. I stopped to talk to a New York police officer. He was, in fact, a command officer. I asked about carrying under LEOSA and he responded, “What’s that?” I explained it and he said he never heard of it. Yes, true story. What’s the point of the story? Even those who are supposed to know, often don’t know. By the way, he said if we are going on the boat just lock our guns up in one of the storage lockers. Unbelievable.
Make sure your information comes from reliable sources. Don’t take advice from Internet lawyers. They might be correct but if they’re not, who suffers the wrath of the legal system? The Internet does, however, have a few well-researched websites that have taken great pains to bring accurate information to the concealed pistol carrier. One such website is https://handgunlaw.us.
New York, among others, is not a preemption state so individual units of government can restrict the carrying of weapons in their jurisdiction. There are so many disjunct laws across the United States that it can be a harrowing experience. If you are traveling through a certain state, do you know if you can carry in their state parks, national parks, motel rooms, campground domiciles, rest areas, or houses of worship? The list goes on and on, almost forever.
Until we get national carry reciprocity or constitutional carry in this country, spend some time doing your own research before heading out to travel. A great place to start to search is the website I mentioned earlier. From there, actually browse to each state’s website and read their laws, restrictions, where to carry, etc. PRINT this information. Do this for each state or jurisdiction you will visit. Place their printouts in a folder and keep them WITH YOU at all times. Careful study of this material will hopefully keep you out of trouble. Is that guaranteed? Of course not, but it is a great place to start. I teach my students if they are not sure they can carry, then do not carry. Please don’t be the guy (or gal) who starts spouting their Second Amendments rights, hoping to try your case on the street, because your words will fall on deaf ears while the jail cell closes behind you. When you must make changes in your carry-travel arrangements, do it before you hit the next state line or jurisdiction, not five miles in.
When you fly, make sure you have called ahead to ask the airline you’re booked on how their procedure works. I usually take an extra gun lock just in case I need to make someone happy at the airline or TSA (Transportation Security Administration). I don’t normally give endorsements, but I have found Delta to be one of the best in this regard, in my experience. I try to fly Delta almost exclusively because of the ease of transitioning through this process.
Allow me to relay an interesting story. I once traveled from Detroit to Las Vegas with my firearm. It’s important to note this was before 9-11. In Detroit, I was told I would need to go to the security office to retrieve my checked bag that contained my gun. I did just that, but there was no bag and no gun. I went back to the baggage claim area and lo and behold there was my bag and my gun. Anyone could have grabbed it and taken off. It was obvious there was a gun in the bag because the airline had placed a bright orange sticker on the outside of the bag with big letters that said FIREARM. Fast forward to my last trip a few weeks ago. Now, I had to go to TSA and retrieve my bag and gun as special baggage. It was much safer now. I’ve also had the experience of having to teach the TSA agent in the correct procedure of checking that the firearm isn’t loaded and that the magazine is empty.
Keep in mind that firearms are not allowed in the sterile areas of the airport. This means you cannot carry a firearm beyond the entry point to stand in line at TSA. Airports set their own rules on this so be aware. When I was a bodyguard for the sales reps with LeVian jewelry, we had a special entrance through which we could travel. Of course, I had to be squeaky clean to get that approval. Most times, if we had been accosted, I would have had to use hand-to-hand skills to guard the rep. Were people after the rep? No, they wanted the 10 to 12 million dollars of cut and unmarked diamonds he had in his bags. The people I mention, whom we considered the biggest threats, were mostly drug cartels who could convert the diamonds to easy cash on the black market.
It is difficult to comprehend the vast scheme of gun laws that change from state to state and jurisdiction to jurisdiction. For example, in Michigan, you may not carry a firearm into a church, house of worship, or other religious meeting unless you have the permission of the presiding church official. However, Governor Ron DeSantis signed Florida’s “Church Carry” law into effect in 2021. HB-529 allows concealed carry into churches, houses of worship, etc. HB-529 still allows churches to exercise their private property rights where guns are concerned but this bill allows concealed carry until otherwise notified, unlike Michigan, where one cannot carry in a church unless told they can carry. A subtle difference perhaps, but a difference, nonetheless.
Other restricted locations in some states may include a national park located in that state. As of this writing, the federal government allows the government of the state in which a national park is located to enforce their state laws about carrying guns. For example, in Bryce Canyon, located in Utah, as long as Utah has reciprocity with your state and you are legally allowed to carry in your state, you carry in Bryce Canyon. Keep in mind that some larger national parks cover more than one state. Simply because you enter in one state and exit the park in another does not mean you are in legal possession of your firearm. Keep in mind, you cannot carry in federal buildings, which means no guns in any building in a national park. These can include the visitor center, ranger station, information booth, or other outbuilding.
Another important aspect of traveling with guns is magazine capacity. You may drive through one state where you are allowed to carry your firearm, but cross into another state where you may carry your firearm yet suddenly you are subject to the second state’s magazine capacity restriction. Usually, the capacity is limited by the number of rounds the magazine can carry, not the number you have placed in them. For example, if I am in a state with a ten-round magazine capacity limit and I only have ten rounds in my fifteen-round magazine, I am still in violation of the law.
When we think of travel, we usually consider driving and flying. But what about the confusing restrictions on trains and buses? Amtrak rules are very similar to restrictions on transporting firearms on any commercial airline, with a few minor differences. You must contact Amtrak at least 24 hours prior to departure and make notification you are planning to transport a gun. The firearm must be in a locked, hard-sided case to which you retain the key. Check in no less than 30 minutes prior to departure. Firearms may only be transported in your checked baggage with no firearms in a carry-on bag. Greyhound does not allow transport of firearms of any kind, at any time, on any bus…period.
When people travel for pleasure, they sometimes avoid airports and choose to go in an RV. Transporting your gun with you in your RV can be tricky, too. Generally, if your RV is not hooked-up to utilities and you are on the move, it is considered like an automobile, and the state law about guns in cars applies. You would still be subject to state laws that may require concealed carry permit, etc. When stationary and hooked-up to utilities an RV is considered your home for that stay. Make sure the campground or park you stay at allows firearms; you could be in violation if they don’t.
It’s easy to see now why laws can be confusing when it seems each jurisdiction has set rules on carrying a firearm in their locale. Make one minor mistake or even misinterpret the law and commit what seemingly is a minor offense and you can land in jail. After attorney’s fees, bail, fines and costs, you’ve dropped $5,000 and missed out on your travel time.
Be careful, be safe, check and double check every single jurisdiction you enter. It will save you time and hassle when wading through the mud pit of firearm laws.
To read more of this month's journal, please click here.