By John G.
So you’re carrying and you see an officer approaching, what do you do if he stops you? Prepare yourself for that chance encounter by understanding the laws. I wanted to write this because I have seen some websites post information that is somewhat misleading and too conclusive. Laws do not apply to everyone in the exact same way – every situation is different – so the following principles provide some basic tips that could help anyone within a couple of common situations. I also wanted to write this because there are a number of Youtube videos out there that are also a bit misleading, and simply poor examples of what you should do. While I personally advocate carrying concealed in order to avoid unwanted attention, I understand if you prefer open carry or need to carry your rifle for safety reasons. If you carry, whether open or concealed, it’s very important that you (a) know your state’s laws and (b) know your own rights when approached by the police . . .
First things first: look up your state’s laws if you haven’t already because there will be particular rules that could mean the difference between jail/fine and freedom. I recommend visiting http://www.handgunlaw.us/ or possibly http://www.usacarry.com/. Even better, however, is that all states should have public access to their state statutes online. Look them up, read it and know it. Once you know your state’s specific laws on carrying, you will be more prepared to avail yourself of your rights.
This next part may be helpful if you actually encounter the police. As a disclaimer, none of this should be construed as legal advice. These two scenarios are generic and are only used to highlight the law and how your knowledge will prevent unwanted police attention or legal violations, and may not be able to apply to a specific situation you find yourself in. You should consult an attorney if you find yourself in a situation in which your gun ownership is under scrutiny:
1) Getting pulled over for a moving violation (speeding, running red light, etc.)
This is a situation where it will help to know the law of your state. Some states that permit concealed carry require a person to announce they are carrying when pulled over or otherwise stopped by the police. If that is the case, it is recommended you place your hands on the steering wheel before the officer approaches, inform him or her that you are legally carrying a concealed (or open) weapon and have a permit, and follow their directions. I would avoid using the word “gun” because that is a word officers key on, and will only invite unwanted attention.
If you live in a state that doesn’t require an announcement to be made to the police, then I would probably avoid doing so unless asked. There is no reason they need to know since you are a law-abiding individual, and the knowledge of it will probably only make the situation more uncomfortable. If the officer asks if you are carrying, which is highly unlikely unless you committed a more serious crime, some states require you to produce your CCW permit to the officer.
2) Carrying openly in public and being stopped by police for that reason
If you are concealed carrying properly, you shouldn’t have an issue, but the same principles apply should someone notice you are carrying. I have seen several videos of people carrying openly in public for the sole reason of “testing” the police or simply for the attention so they can post a video of their encounter on Youtube. This behavior is rather irresponsible. You are only preventing the police from doing actual crime-fighting work.
What’s more, by openly carrying a weapon, you are no longer operating under the Fourth Amendment’s reasonable expectation of privacy clause (as opposed to concealed carry), which means you have less constitutional protection from the police. This video of an Army Master Sergeant and his son is an exception. He and his son were hiking along a country road in Texas for his son’s Boy Scout merit badge, and he carried his AR-15 for the sole reason of protection from wild animals. He wasn’t looking for attention, and you could see in the video that he certainly wasn’t looking for a police encounter.
Here is some information that should be helpful in case you are ever approached by the police because of your lawful carry. First, the police can stop someone if they have a reasonable belief that the person committed or will commit a crime. This means a cop needs more than a hunch or even an anonymous tip to think you committed or will commit a crime in connection with your lawful carry – they need some clear and actual facts that suggest you have or will do something illegal.
Merely carrying a gun in public, as long as you are acting within the laws of your state, will not be enough. You can find this out by asking the officer of their purpose of the stop. If they say it is only because of your weapon, politely tell them you have a right to carry, and unless they have a “reasonable suspicion” that you committed or will commit a crime, they cannot legally seize you or your property. I quoted reasonable suspicion because of its importance – police will probably figure out you have an idea of what you’re talking about when you correctly use those words.
That leads to the next point – if you are being seized, meaning you do not feel free to leave, and the purpose is only about your firearm, then the officer is unlawfully detaining you. You should test this by trying to leave. The courts have recently suggested that if a person responds to the officer’s questions, but could have walked away, then they have not been seized. Responding to questions without trying to walk away suggests you volunteered to the questioning. So, this places the burden on you to try walking away from the officer. At the very least, you should say that you want to leave.
If the officer instructs you to stop or something similar, you should. This will show you no longer have the freedom of movement, and therefore, are being unlawfully seized. If the officer insists on taking your weapon, it is best to avoid resisting because again, they could take that as an invitation to abuse their authority. At this point, use the “I don’t consent to any search or seizure” statement or something similar. Key words being that you “don’t consent” to what they are doing.
This is the gist of what you should know:
- As with all encounters with the police, be respectful and calm; it’s the best thing you can do for yourself.
- If you are stopped by an officer, ask why.
- If it’s because you are carrying a firearm, politely say that unless they have reasonable suspicion that you committed or will commit a crime, they have no reason to stop you.
- Try to walk away.
- If you are prevented from going anywhere and/or your weapon is seized, use the magic words above and follow instructions until you are allowed to leave.
- If it gets any worse, call your lawyer.
I hope you never need to use this information, but if you do, you’ll have it and be prepared. Of course, the alternative to all of this is to do and say as the officer asks; doing so would not only violate your rights, but it would also attract attention from onlookers and needlessly take up your time.