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.
I have been told by several friends that are LEO’s here in Texas that the open carry of a long arm is legal until someone is offended. That’s right, offended. Not threatened or fearful, Offended. According to them that is the exact wording which leaves a lot of room for interpretation. There was a bigger back story on the master sergeant in Temple that happened before his son started filming the encounter. There were two wrongs in that instance. LEO’s will win that one. Best advice, do not try and prove a point, that can be deemed resisting and you will lose. Cooperate and be nice and respectful. If they insist on securing your weapon, ask for a property receipt and go pick it up later. As usual, this is not legal advice, just common sense from someone who has friends in law enforcement and discusses these possibilities with them.
“There was a bigger back story on the master sergeant in Temple that happened before his son started filming the encounter.”
Do share, or shut-up as they say… Thanks!
From this point on this is here say as it is through several extended sources. As it was told to me the master sargent had a attitude from the first. He was inside the city limits on Temple on a high traffic roadway. When the complaint was made the officer responding got “I’m here to make a statement” attitude from the individual. That escalated into refusal and hence the extra backup before the video even started. Tempers were already inflamed at that point. Was he within his rights? In the beginning, maybe. Did he respond correctly to the officer, not. My LEO friends have told me that the moment that someone is offended by the display of your weapon then it becomes an offense. Most times the individual is asked to put it out of sight or at the very least render it safe. The more attitude you show them the more they will respond in kind, and in most cases they will win. It is my understanding that this master sargent is going to be charged with resisting arrest at the very least. That was a while ago and I have not heard an update. Now is that enough of a back story for you gyrfalcon?
Based on where MSgt & son started and where they were stopped, they crossed over what can be a fairly busy road (Airport Road), in an area that is essentially still rural or semi-rural. There is development going on in the area and in a few more years I’m sure the area will be overbuilt.
You see right there it is: “Attitude” does not void any rights and on duty LEO are not allowed “inflamed temper(s)” when dealing with public. When either of these are allowed it qwikly becomes a “because I said so” chest thumping encounter where rights are violated. HeHeHe, But we really showed that serf who has the authority…….
“That was a while ago and I have not heard an update.”
A Business card from the internet;
THIS INTERACTION is NOT CONSENSUAL.
I am invoking my Fifth Amendment
right and refusing to answer ANY
QUESTIONS. Please do not ask me any
questions without an attorney presendt.
I also invoke my Fourth Amendment
rights and do
If you live in Florida, or spend any great amount of time here, you should own the green bible.
It’s sold in basically every gun store in the state (for less than that website sells it for), and is THE resource to have if you’re a gun owner here. A few of his opinions are a little conservative for my taste, but that’s fine, because I’d rather have a conservative teacher on a subject like this than one who takes a very liberal interpretation of statute.
Good info…thanks Matt!
If I meet anyone applying for or just having received their CWP, I will hand them a copy.
That book is what will keep you inside the law without having to waste days of your time trying to research and figure out the legaleze of the FL Firearms statutes.
I even started to give the book away on Reddit (/r/orlando), to any new CWP holder in Orlando. (apparently, not very many ppl believe that I am willing to buy them the book but the few that have taken me up on that offer, have been more than happy with it)
I would go so far as to say that anyone offering the CWP classes, should give their students the option to buy the book.
(no I am not working for or with the author, I pay full (amazon) price for the copies I give away.)
You’re very generous. I’m not giving them away to total strangers; my funds are limited and I don’t like people that much. I have, however, given a copy to everyone I know personally who has come to “the way of the gun” after me.
hehehe, I am not made of money either but if I had to choose between donating $30 to some national organization or handing someone in my area a book that will make them or at least give them the info to be a good and responsible representative of FL CWP holders….i think the latter is still money well spent.
We all know that one idiot can f-it up for all of us.
I would love to build some sort of community fund/effort/org/group to encourage/educate/inform florida CWP holders.
Anyone know of similar resources for other states? Like, say, Colorado and/or Virginia (CO CHP is processing, and I’m working on getting the VA non-resident CHP packet ready).
Given the somewhat watered-down 4th Amendment rights if the police want to search your car since the bleeding heart liberals of the Warren Court decided Terry v Ohio, I’d think twice about not telling the police that I was carrying a concealed firearm. It’s the old poem about traffic safety, except with guns:
“Here’s to the memory of Tom O’Shay;
Who died defending his right-of-way.
His way was as right as the day was long;
But he’s just as dead as if he’d been wrong.”
You might also want to read up on the FBI’s record on shooting incidents: the agent is almost always cleared, and the shooting deemed justified – even where the person that was shot was unarmed. Lots of police get shot during traffic stops – so it’s a question of whether you make them nervous by telling them up front, or whether they see the concealed weapon and get very, very nervous.
In Florida, there is no duty to inform, and my carry permit does not show up on their computer if they run my tag or license. Therefore, I wouldn’t tell them anything under most circumstances. Should the officer ask me to step out of my car, that’s when I’d inform him.
My state requires informing LEOs during a stop and the license comes up on a plate check. My plan is to say “I have a duty to inform you that like you, I am also legally armed.”
If it comes up on a plate check, I’m guessing they’re going to assume you’re armed, whether you say so, or not. As far as what you say, the line you quoted would, in my opinion, tread very close to the line of guardhouse lawyer/smartass, and might tend to irritate the cop, which could lead you to getting a ticket you might otherwise have skated on. It’s the “like you” part that comes off as snarky. Saying, “I just want to let you know that I have a carry permit, and I am carrying a firearm” does the same thing without antagonizing the officer.
Mark, you should also offer to polish the nice Officer’s jackboots.
“the agent is almost always cleared”
150 consecutive findings of no fault on the part of the agent, as came out this week disappearing into our rear view mirror.
But I’m disturbed greatly by the author’s claim that, in carrying, your Fourth Amendment rights are diminished. Care to run that one by us again, because I’m getting a little red in the face at that one.
The time to argue with a cop is in court. You cannot win an argument with a cop. Trying to argue with him will not convince him of anything except that he will want to escalate to assert his “authoritah.” He need not be correct about the initial reasoning, he need only be correct about your resisting his orders.
The problem with cops is that we are not a free country anymore and there are too many laws. That creates an environment where abusive cops can thrive.
“The time to argue with a cop is in court. You cannot win an argument with a cop.”
You can assert your rights, and the laws you know of but you’re 100% right… The Police will do whatever they want in the end. Video, audio and witnesses are you best tools to deal with authority.
There’s no requirement in MA to disclose that you’re legally carrying. The two times I disclosed anyway, I got some serious yawnage from the local cops. I mean they couldn’t have cared less. I might as well have told them that I was carrying pocket change or a rolled-up condom in my wallet.
Exactly. If the reaction to your declaration has an 80% chance to be “yawn,” and a 20% chance to range from “bad” to “really really bad,” and there’s no duty to inform, why the hell would you?
I’m just relating what happened to me, not advocating. I didn’t say that you should disclose to Five-O if you don’t have to — especially in FL. Those crackers are likely to shoot your @ss just because there aren’t any dogs handy (I am licensed in FL, had a home on Key Biscayne and know some of the Miami constabulary all too well).
The local Chief and the cops here have no issues with us. Disclosing helped me avoid a ticket for running a full, blazing red light right in front of the officer’s patrol car. I’m absolutely positive I got just a warning because I’m one of the state-identified “good guys.” And also because I’m so damn charming.
You do have a certain charm every now and then.
Wait. He gave you a pass because you were carrying?
You must have a certain charm I’ve so far missed.
NC is a duty-to-inform state if you are a carrying concealed with a CHP. This is an improvement over the old law which was duty-to-inform for being a CHP holder even if unarmed at the time.
Good advice. In Ohio we have to declare immediately if we have CCW.
My only experience with a police officer while armed was with a Ohio State Trooper. I was speeding, I was guilty, I informed. He asked me to keep my hands in sight and did his job. When he was done with the official part of the proceedings he asked me what I carried (a 1911 of course) an we exchanged a few pleasantries and we both went on our way.
Yeah, our instructor told us that most cops don’t even react when you tell ’em. It’s a non- event.
“be respectful and calm“
Years ago, before I got hired, declaring I had a permit and was armed (in that order) got me out of a ticket. The officer’s focus immediately shifted to the weapon, but in a civil manner.
Several people have gotten out of tickets I was going to write them by declaring they had a permit, because I know the CCW crowd is more responsible and more likely to understand a friendly warning than need a ticket to get the idea across.
One more thing, trying to leave is definitely a valid test of if you are being detained. However, if you are being detained, it may look worse than asking, “Am I free to go?” If you ask that and the answer is no, then deal with it accordingly. If the answer is yes, then you know walking away won’t get you cuffed. Even better, if the answer is no and you’re being unlawfully detained, the lack of cuffs or a fistfight will not stop you from winning your lawsuit.
Do as you think best, and if you’re somewhere that is not gun friendly, your best bet may well be to keep quiet.
“Am I free to go?”
What about when the officer gives no answer at all? I’ve seen far too many videos of someone lawfully carrying a firearm and asking if they are free to go only to have the officer(s) ignore the question.
My guess is that when the officer ignores your question it is an admission that you are not being detained and the officer simply doesn’t want to verbally admit it. Would it then be prudent to declare that because the officer is not affirming detainment that it means I am free to go and am going to do so? You’ll probably find out right away at that point whether you’re being detained.
If he doesn’t answer, I wouldn’t draw an inference that he knows or cares that he has no grounds for an arrest. He may just be deciding whether or not he wants to arrest you.
Several people have gotten out of tickets I was going to write them by declaring they had a permit
That’s exactly what happened to me.
Minnesota doesn’t have a “duty to inform,” but all of the instructors I’ve spoken with have said it’s a good idea to hand over your CCW card along with your license if you’re ever pulled over. Besides informing him that you are legally armed, it also let’s the officer know that you’ve passed a background check and are probably not a hooligan.
Be polite, be calm, be professional…and if that helps you avoid a ticket, so much the better.
I highly recommend that anyone interested in understanding Carry Conceal laws, by state, get a copy of “Traveler’s Guide to the Firearm Laws of the Fifty States” by J. Scott Kappas, Esq. It’s updated yearly and I believe has the most revelant information short of contacting an Attorney for the state in question.
Also, if you live in – or travel through – a state with Native American reservations, be aware that the laws for firearms carry can be different on the reservations than they are in the surrounding state. That was one point my NM CCW instructor made very clear to the class.
Police officers are trained that they need to take control of situations to minimize risks to their safety. This can result in aggressive behavior, especially when dealing with inexperienced officers or those who have recently encountered life-threatening situations. Because of this, it is often wise to avoid responding aggressively yourself and avoid any behavior that will make the officer perceive you as a safety risk. If you are legitimately carrying a sidearm, keep your hands where the cop can see them and advise him that you are legally carrying a weapon. By communicating calmly and clearly, you reduce the risk that the officer will misinterpret your intentions and you establish that you’re being cooperative.
I know that some people would disagree with this, stating that you should stand by your rights and not provide any information unless required by law. I understand this view and certainly don’t favor a “cops can do what they want”-style police state. I’m just saying that cops are people too, fallible and prone to poor judgment. When they are calm and understand that you don’t pose an imminent threat, they will generally make better, more reasonable decisions.
If a police officer persists in poor judgment when you’ve already shown your willingness to communicate and cooperate, you’re in a more solid position to see them held accountable by their department and other authorities.
Added necessary condition there. Remember, if police misconduct isn’t caught on tape, it didn’t happen. There’s a reason cops react to cameras like vampires to crosses…
Here in New Mexico, it’s legal to OC without a permit out in public as well as in your car. I was stopped one time for wandering across the white line because I was REALLY tired. The cop thought I might be DUI, so he asked me to step out of the car to do a sobriety test, I told him I was OCing and that I had a pocket gun; he smiled and said “Armed and dangerous I see” I smiled back and said “only to bad guys”, he chuckled and had me simply do a nastygmus test without getting out of the car. Passed of course. He just gave me a verbal warning and waved me on way.
Never had a bad about experience with a cop. Knock on wood.
I was pulled over one night because my rear license plate light was out. I had just finished collecting rents from one of my rental properties, and I was pulling away from the building when a local lit me up with the spot light and the flashing lights. I was in the ghetto (all my properties are in the ghetto and I keep them in good condition because poor people can’t always chose where they live) and the police did have a good reason to stop me. They might have thought I was up to something shady so they had the right to look into what I was doing. I always keep my license and carry permit together just in case I was ever stopped. I turned on the interior light and keep both hands on the wheel and I had both the license and permit in my left hand when the officer approached my window. The officer was actually very polite and I handed him both items. He laughed as he looked over my carry permit and he didn’t even ask if I was armed. He told me to fix the plate light ASAP and he didn’t even ask for my insurance or registration. I thanked him and I drove away. I was expecting him to call for more officers and a search, but things turned out for the best.
I sent this in as a contest/story submission, and it applies here:
A coworker of mine told me about the time he had gotten pulled over recently by the Pennsylvania state police. I think he had pulled an illegal u-turn, anyway, that’s not important.
When the officer got up to his door my coworker informed the officer that he had a pistol in his center console.
He didn’t have to, as in Pennsylvania you have no obligation to inform the police that you are armed (I haven’t when pulled over, you’ll see why) and having a loaded pistol in your car is legal as well when you have a PA LTCF (license to carry firearms, a “concealed carry permit”).
The officer didn’t “freak out” and remained calm, but rather than telling my coworker to not make any movements for it and leave it at that, the he had his partner go around to the other side and retrieve the pistol.
They then proceeded to struggle with unloading it (it’s a newer Walther with the mag release built into the trigger guard, my coworker had to verbally instruct them as to how to operate it). They then take it and run the serial number to see if it’s stolen, and my coworker is sitting there thinking “man I hope that transfer went through” (he had recently purchased it from another coworker, but that’s not how it works though). Of course it wasn’t reported as stolen, and the firearm was given back to him at the end of the stop. He related this story like it was funny, and liked how the officers handled the situation.
I told him that he shouldn’t have said anything, and since he did he had a couple of cops disarm him and fingerf—k his gun, and then they tried to find a reason to arrest him for it like checking to see if it was stolen. What if there was some kind or error there? he’d have spent the night or weekend in jail, with at the very least a large lawyers bill and an arrest record.
He didn’t seem to understand that yes, the police were (supposedly) polite to him, but they were still looking to arrest him for something, they were still playing their adversarial game. How polite would they have been if they had found something on the gun and were arresting him? Probably a lot less.
This only serves to reinforce that the police are not your friends, and they are not here to help you. Even the “nicest” ones are still there to find a reason to put you in jail.
So yeah, if you aren’t legally obligated to tell the police you have a firearm on you – Don’t mention anything about it.
The police are not your friends, but they are also not your enemies. Unless he’s a rookie trying to make a name for himself, or some kind of wanna-be anti-gun crusader, he’s not “looking to arrest” anyone. Like other people whose jobs are filled with paperwork, he’s trying to look good for his boss without causing himself more work than is necessary. He wants to arrest “the bad guys”, not some schmuck who isn’t looking for trouble. By communicating clearly and rationally, you can ensure that he understands you’re not one of “those guys”.
I live a small rural town. The PD here know me through my job and it’s no secret that Chris carries all the time. Even in my house. I try my best to not give them a reason to stop, pull over or question me . You may think I am a sheeple but no I am not. What I do best is mind my own affairs and leave them alone and they leave me alone. I find that it works best that way.
I would suggest a few more steps when pulled over for a speeding violation:
1. Once safely stopped, turn the steering wheel all the way to the right, turn on hazard lights, turn on interior light, roll down all the windows, turn off the engine, turn off the radio, take your foot off the brake. If wearing sunglasses, remove them. These steps help the officer to see that you aren’t going to speed off suddenly and that the vehicle’s passengers/contents are clearly visible/not a threat.
2. Keep hands at 10 & 2 at all times.
3. After inquiring why you were pulled over, inform the officer that you have a CHL and whether or not you are carrying.
4. If the officer asks for license / registration / insurance, tell them where each item is located, then tell them you are going to retrieve it for them. If they don’t object, slowly reach for the item.
In TX, you don’t have to inform the officer that you have a CHL if you aren’t carrying, but I always hand over my CHL with my license (even when I’m not carrying) as a sign that I don’t have a felony record. Plus, they can run just my license once they get back to their car the CHL will show up, which may make them suspicious if I only hand over my license.
You left out #5, offer to polish officer’s shoes after receiving your citation.
Since it looks like the spam filter ate my comment, here it is again…
Who wrote this article? It sounds like it was written by a cop.
“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.”
The most recommended (and I’ve tested this after getting pulled over for my first ever ticket) way is to phrase it as such:
“Officer, I’m licensed to carry a concealed firearm.”
You are not outright saying “I have a gun/firearm”, which is a very directed statement and can cause some amount of panic. A more rookie LEO at this statement may immediately get on the defensive and can put his hand on his gun or worse yet, draw down on you. It suggests you are, and is a more neutral statement. When I announced this to the Texas DPS officer that pulled me over, he didn’t twitch, didn’t go for his sidearm, didn’t raise his voice, no signs of aggression or reaction. He just simply asked me where it was located.
“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.”
And carrying a firearm is not that. Unless open carry is illegal in your state. If you can carry by license only, they may be able to ask you to show identification depending upon local laws.
“What’s more, by openly carrying a weapon, you are no longer operating under the Fourth Amendment’s reasonable expectation of privacy clause”
BS. Citation f’ing needed. Just because you are carrying does NOT exempt you from Constitutional rights.
Finally, I’m going to get a little snarky…
“You are only preventing the police from doing actual crime-fighting work.”
If that were so, why are police not actually doing crime-fighting work? A man with a gun on his hip isn’t causing crime. The robberies and carjackings and rapes around there are crimes, and perhaps they should be trying harder to actually stop hard crime.