Alaska ferry boat
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Recently, I was looking at options for visiting Alaska. It’s a real bucket list item, and I’d like to take an epic trip from Key West to the North Slope in Alaska, from the southernmost point you can drive to in the U.S. to the northernmost point. But I’d like to do something a little more chill on the way back to the lower 48. I want to load my weird car on a ferry and take it easy for a few days on the way down to Seattle.

It wasn’t long, though, before I found something that’s even worse than Canadian gun laws (which you can work with/around if you use a pump action rifle with a removable magazine). The Alaska Marine Highway System has a strict “no guns” policy, except for weapons that are checked with the ship’s crew or locked inside a vehicle.

I know some readers will be like, “They do this on cruise ships all the time. Why worry?” But there’s a big difference between the Alaska ferry and cruise ships…namely, who owns and operates the boats. The Alaska ferry is state-owned, which gives it obligations that a private carrier isn’t subject to. Obligations such as complying with the Second Amendment.

Under the recent NYSRPA v Bruen decision, a government policy against he lawful carry of firearms isn’t constitutional if all the government agency can come up with for a rationale is “interest balancing,” or basically claiming that they really, really have a good reason for their ban. With Bruen the law of the land, they have to prove through the text, history and tradition of the Second Amendment, and how it was understood around the time of the founding, that their restrictive policy is constitutional.

The only way to prove that a violation of gun rights was acceptable to the ratifiers of the Constitution is to show that such a policy was the norm at the time, and not either the exception or something that just didn’t happen in those days before “progressives” decided to do whatever they wanted, Constitution be damned.

So, the real question isn’t whether the state of Alaska thinks it’s a good idea to ban guns on the ferries it operates. The only thing that matters is whether banning the carrying of guns on ships was common practice in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

I’ve done a fair bit of looking, and couldn’t find any law that banned guns on passenger ships from the era.

When researching weapons on ships, one thing that consistently popped up in searches was the controversy over shootings on the Titanic, in which at least one passenger shot a White Star Line ship’s officer and it seems likely that several ship’s officers then shot and killed passengers as the ship was sinking in the north Atlantic.

But dead men tell no tales, and there’s not much to go on there. However, a manual for White Star Line passengers with detailed rules for Second Class passengers mentions no firearms prohibition, nor does it have information about any sort of security searches upon boarding. Firearms weren’t banned in the UK even as late as the early 20th century. One White Star Line officer admitted to carrying a personally-owned Browning semi-automatic pistol, and fired it to defend a lifeboat from the mobs instead of using a company-issued Webley revolver.

I’m sure that with more searching, a lawyer representing the Alaska DOT could probably find some obscure scattered examples of gun bans on government-owned passenger ships during or around the founding, but that’s not enough. It had to have been a common and normal practice. From by searching, that doesn’t seem to have been the case.

Another argument that might be made to defend the ban is that the ships pass through Canadian waters, which is true. But, that isn’t the same as going to Canada.

From what I could gather from a court case involving a crime committed on one of the ferries, international law treats U.S. flagged vessels operating in Canadian waters as U.S. territory unless Canada specifically asserts jurisdiction. They don’t have any cause to assert jurisdiction under international law, nor have they attempted to.

The ships remain U.S. territory, then, under the law and Alaska state laws apply on the vessels, perhaps even in proximity to Washington State.

I’m no lawyer. But, from what I could figure out, the State of Alaska doesn’t have any business banning guns on their ferries, and should stop this practice immediately. If they don’t, it’s probably time for us to take them to court and make them do the right thing.

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48 COMMENTS

    • They’re just taking cues from CA and NY, so we shouldn’t be surprised. This will only continue until a high profile Mayor or Governor gets slapped down for the entire nation to see. Until then, it appears that rulings such as Bruen are mere playthings for anyone to choose to follow or ignore.

    • It’s unlikely to be codified in law; it looks like it’s just a somewhat arbitrary policy. Note that even on their ferry policy page, they list 220 pounds of ammunition as a “small amount”… generally speaking Alaska is *extremely* good on 2A.

    • I find this odd, Nathan. Alaska is one of those states where you can conceal carry without a permit. One would think that you could carry on the ferry without any troubles. Unless Alaska is trying not to step on Canada’s toes when the ferry broaches their waters on the way down to the lower 48…

  1. “They don’t have any cause to assert jurisdiction under international law…”

    But remember, he’s Trudeau…

  2. But they don’t “ban” guns on their ferries, they ban the carrying of firearms on their ferries. It is the same on Amtrak.Further, on most merchantmen of the 16th and 17th centuries, other than knives, seamen were not armed. In case of attack, the captain or designated individual would unlock the armory and hand out muskets, pistols, swords, etc. I suspect the same was true of naval vessels so as to preclude, as much as possible, armed mutinies.
    Whether the same disarmament applied to passengers I have no idea, although it is quite likely that immigrants carried firearms with them to the colonies prior to the war and after. I have to assume that kegs of black powder were stored in the cargo hold for safety reasons.
    And remember also that while at sea, the Captain was the law.

    • last I looked into it AmTrak ban ALL weapons on their trains, whether carried on one’s person or in carried on luggage or checked bags.

      No enforcement happens, but I suppose if a nutjob broughthis piece out and I moved to counter him I may or may not get into trouble for having mine.

      I have carried on AmTrak, check a bicycle in the baggage car, sit in the folks section with handgun where it always is whenever I’m on the bike, and no one smelled a thing.
      Keep calm and carry on applies.

      But on those state run ferries? Methinks they’ve NO solid grounds for the prohibition.

      As to the guns used on the Titanic, that would have no bearing on what we do here, as that vessel was a British bottom,, and what they do/did has/had nought to do with what can or does go on here. Any more than what was common in Soviet Rusia, Nazi Germany or Mandela’s South Africa. NONE of those places had or have our Constitution as the Supreme Law of the Land.

    • Mark N.,

      “It is the same on Amtrak.”

      So . . . that makes it legal or Constitutional??? And you “captain of a ship” analogy is STUPID – I’m paying the ferry service for passage (on a GOVERNMENT-OWNED common carrier), the captain was hiring (or shanghaing) me to get labor. Not analogous AT ALL.

      It’s illegal and unconstitutional for AMTRAK, for a government ferry service, etc. That you seem to be all good with that is mildly disturbing.

      • Chill out he’s anticipating the legal issues under Bruen i.e. Text, History, Tradition. Feel free to look up contrary history and share them with the group. Anything else is irrelevant as a matter of constitutional law.

        • Sheetlepip, if you read Bruen you would see there is no legal issues that the anti-gun radicals can bring up.

      • The ferry allows firearms in locked containers, which includes the trunk of your car or a locked gun case. You read that part, right? And government owned or not, it travels in international waters. The captain of the ferry is the captain of the ship. Amtrak has the same policy. Until challenged Chicago and NY (to name the ones I know of) ban firearms entirely on common carriers (which is pretty stupid considering how much crime occurs on buses and subways).

  3. What scares me the most about gun control is that in 100 years, England went from guns being lightly regulated to almost completely banned- and the average Briton supports the current status quo without question. they probably can’t fathom that their grandparents would freely own firearms.

    We’re winning the legal fight right now, but we need to look to the cultural fight. Gun-grabbers are ruthless in their efforts to deligitimize gun ownership and render firearms as alien and forbidden objects.

    • Guess that would make me owner of alien artifacts.
      They can forbid them all they want. I for one will ignore them as will all 8 of my children and so far 4 of my 9 grandchildren.

  4. At 71, my bucket list clamors incessantly for attention. For years I’ve planned (but not executed) a trip to Alaska via the Alcan highway. Before diesel rivaled gold in value and COVID reigned supreme, the trip seemed possible and even doable. I researched all aspects of carrying a firearm along the highway. I even went as far as consulting the RCMP about legalities and purchasing a big bore revolver with a barrel exceeding 105 mm. That favorite along with my old Rem 870 would protect my wife and I as we crossed the Canadian wilderness. But the progressives have snuffed the trip, probably for my remaining life. Now, Trudeau bans handguns and most firearms. Biden killed the oil industry while literally decimating my fixed annual income with inflation. So, there’s little chance an old, retired guy like me could soon again afford to drag an 11000 lb RV behind a diesel pickup. And I don’t travel anywhere without heat.

    • in 2016 my adult son and I took my truck up to Canada by way of the Alasks MHS. We drove back by the Alcan. What we carried for that trip was a Rossi Coach shotgun. 3″ chambered SxS 20″ barrels. It was perfectly legal (at that time in Canada). I had to register it with Canadian Border Services when we entered and pay a $25 fee (valid for two years and multiple entries into Canads). I also took the precaution of registering it with US Customs as I left the US so that, upon re-entry, I could prove that I had it prior to the trip and that it was not purchased in Canada. it took a total of about 20 minutes to conduct business for both Ports of Entry. Do NOT tell Canadian enforcement that you have it for bad humans only that you will be camping in remote areas and are concerned with bears. The whole firearm for self-defense is pretty much verboten in Canada.
      .Whitehorse, Yukon is a hoot with some fine breweries. the place we camped was at a hot spring a couple of miles out of town! The B.C. provincial campgrounds were outstanding for tent campers.. most offered clean, hot showers
      for only a buck or two more a night.
      We bummed around Alaska, Yukon and B.C. for six weeks…a fun trip.

      Edit: yes, we had to leave the shotgun secured in the truck whilst in route to Whittier, AK where we got off.

  5. As we are plainly seeing, leftists don’t care about laws, rules, customs and court rulings they don’t like. We can say “it’s unconstitutional!” all day long.

    They.
    Do.
    Not.
    Care.

    Until tyranny is stopped, tyranny won’t stop.

      • Leftists often live in Anchorage. Anchorage is often called “North Seattle”, and they earn the title many times over. Rumor has it, leftists from the lower 48 helped shove the hideous, rank-choice voting through this past year. When a RINO like Lisa Murkowski liked it, you know it is bad. But yeah, Alaska has to watch and make sure they do not end up like Montana or Colorado.

  6. “Another argument that might be made to defend the ban is that the ships pass through Canadian waters, which is true. But, that isn’t the same as going to Canada.”

    Pretty much the same as flying from the ‘lower 48’ to Alaska flies through Canadian airspace, I suppose.

    We can win the battle for for concealed carry on public transport. Mention was made during the ‘Bruen’ oral arguments of crime on New York city subways, which a poor person must use to get to and from work. We can win that battle… 🙂

      • We briefly lost power, I suspect we will lose it for good later this evening.

        I’ll still be able to comment in TTAG using my iPhone, so I’ll update as events unfold.

        Currently, it looks like we will get a taste of the eywall… 🙁

        • My father’s lifelong best friend is on the Eastern side of Florida, so I’m watching the news with interest from afar. I hope you and yours are set to ride this out okay.

        • mom’s watchin’ pbs news… they said, “governor desantis reports the surge is at 12 feet.” you almost don’t notice how they only associate him with the negative and disastrous.

  7. Cruise ships aren’t all that safe either. There were lessons to be learned about this even before Covid. Maybe someone should put in a call to Sarah Palin. She could fix this I’m sure.

    • dacian, the Dunderhead, don’t bet the farm, boy. You are going to be in for a very rude awakening when the Supreme Court decides the cases being filed in NY and California over their ‘sensitive areas laws”. Making entire states into “gun free zones” (read it as target rich environments) just isn’t going to pass muster.

  8. Well duh. Sit in your car with your weapon listening to the radio, hitting on the pipe, till the battery goes dead then rob someone else of their car , it’s the Chicago way.

  9. I looked at this a few years ago when my wife considered a job offer in AK, and also when I traveled up there. The idea was to pack the guns in the cars and move them on the ferry to avoid the excess fees incurred by a moving company that had licenses to transport firearms through Canada (which is obscenely and unnecessarily expensive).

    The explanation I was given, which may or may not be true, has to do with simplicity IIRC.

    Some ferries go directly from Washington to AK at certain times of the year, but some hit some Canadian ports along the way. As it was explained to me the rules change when the ship docks in Canada and AK has an agreement that Canada shall ask no questions about shipboard goings-on provided the “rules” on the ship “prevent” Americans from “possessing guns while in Canadian jurisdiction”.

    Again, IIRC, the biggest concern was that they didn’t want to have Americans who wanted to get off the ship for a bit who stepped onto Canadian soil forgetting they had a CCW gun on them.

    That may just be the BS excuse, but it’s the jist what I was told by a rep from the ferry service ~2014.

  10. There is absolutely NO EVIDENCE to suggest that Officers on the sinking TITANIC shot passengers. That is just another made-up story. BUT I do grant you that in the circumstances it WAS a possibility and in fact would have been in accordance with long accepted practice of ‘WOMEN and CHILDREN’ first in a Disaster at Sea. Even today ships carry weaponry in case of MUTINY and the CAPTAIN can authorise their use. Whilst in international waters the SHIPS Captain is the LAW.

  11. Either it is lawful or it is not lawful and can be tested in court and either the STATE of ALASKA has the right to implement these restrictions or it does not.

  12. unable to carry sucks, but allowing for checked or secured is hardly a ban.
    more intrigued by “weird car.” my bil sends me cherry picked doozies (ah, for any connersville product- swoon) from a twatter account he follows called “quirky cars.”

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