The first thing you figure out as a Police Officer is there are no “normal” traffic stops. If you are a legal gun owner a traffic stop may not be “normal” either.
The most common way legal gun owners come into contact with Law Enforcement is a traffic stop and that is a topic we at USLS get asked about constantly.
As a former Police Officer, current Defensive Shooting Instructor, manufacturer of a unique concealed carry holster, as well as a guy who may have been pulled over while legally carrying a time or two Austin Davis has some tips and insight for you to help make the experience easier for both you and the officer.
How did this all start? You’re driving around, minding your own business, completely unaware of that police officer. The officer observes something, in their opinion, you did or did not do that is in violation of an infinite list of traffic violations the officer will initiate a traffic stop.
The First Steps of the Traffic Stops
After you see the lights and sirens and realize it’s you they’re after:
- Put on your emergency flashers.
- Pull over into a well-lit location out of the traffic flow.
- Put your car in park, and lower at least your front windows. If your car is heavily tinted lower your back windows as well.
- If it is at night turn on your overhead dome light.
- If easily accessible locate your ID and insurance info, if not, leave your hands on the steering wheel until the officer approaches.
As the officer approaches, remember we want to eliminate as many barriers to success (getting out of the ticket) as possible.
Don’t use it, even if you have a good joke like, when a regular dog sees a police dog, does he tell his friends watch out it’s a cop. Humor is at best an inefficient form of communication, and a traffic stop is a serious situation so leave the humor out of it.
Sarcasm does not build rapport, and there is zero chance you being sarcastic will help the situation.
Do not argue the merits of the stop on the side of the road during the traffic stop. The time for argument and discussion is when you have a lawyer present and a judge is present in the courtroom.
How Do I Tell the Officer I Have a Firearm?
My advice would be to avoid the phrase “I gotta gun.” The word gun is a trigger word for officers. Another option is—I have a license to carry. Avoid the gun verbiage all together and pick your words very carefully when you have a firearm.
Once you notify the officer you are a legal gun owner and you have a firearm, they will choose three paths of action on what to make you do with the firearm.
- Let you keep it. Usually if they let you keep it they’ll say something like if you don’t touch yours I won’t touch mine. If they do let you keep it, don’t adjust, don’t fiddle around, leave your hands on the steering wheel, and the process will go fine.
- Officer removes it. The officer will remove it for both your safety and his. If the officer wants to remove the firearm, ask the officer how he would like to handle it. They will ask you out of the car, you will put your hand on a fixed object, they will ask you the location of the firearm and will remove it from you. Just follow instructions and there will be no problems.
- You hand it to the officer. This is the most complicated of the three options. Ask the officer the specific steps you want to take to remove my firearm. Then tell them the facts, i.e. I’m wearing a seatbelt and the firearm is in an ankle holster, shoulder holster, appendix, etc… Then when the officer gives you their instructions, repeat them back, and narrate your actions as you move very slowly. If at any point the officer gives you any instructions you don’t understand, is counteractive to safety, or doesn’t make any sense, stop your motion and ask for clarity. If at all possible release the entire holster and hand it to the officer. If that is not possible remember keep your finger off the trigger and always point the firearm in a safe direction.
State Laws for Informing the Officer You have a Gun
The laws regarding if you have to inform an officer if you are carrying a firearm vary from state-to-state. Below are examples of some of the laws across the country. If you are unsure of the law in your state, call our non-emergency business line and speak to an Independent Program Attorney about the law in your state.
Texas – You have an obligation, if you are carrying a weapon, to hand the officer your LTC along with your driver’s license. There is currently no penalty on the books for failing to give the officer your LTC in this situation, but it is still good practice to do so, particularly if you want to avoid a very annoyed police officer.
Colorado – There is not a state law that requires you to identify that you have a firearm in your car, but there are some CCW that do require you to identify the presence of the gun in the vehicle. Check the law in the county your CCW was issued.
Florida – There is no duty to inform the officer you have a firearm in your vehicle unless the officer specifically asks you.
Georgia – There is no law that requires you to inform an officer that you are carrying a firearm. There is also no law that says you must hand over your weapons carry license, but there is a law preventing police officers from randomly asking you if you have a weapons carry license.
Missouri – The law does not require you to affirmatively tell the police officer that you have a concealed carry permit or a firearm with you.
Oklahoma – As a concealed carry license holder, the law requires you to inform the police officer that you are armed if you are armed. If you do not have a concealed carry license you are still required to inform the police officer you have weapons in the car if you have weapons in the car. Under the Self-Defense Act, the police do not have authority to disarm you unless they have probable cause to suspect a crime, other than a normal traffic violation, has been committed.
Pennsylvania – You are not required to tell police you have a firearm on your person or in the car.
Virginia – There is no requirement to inform the officer that you advise the officer that you have a concealed handgun permit or a weapon in the car. But if you are concealed handgun permit holder and carrying a firearm you are required to hand over the permit and a photo ID on demand.
What Do I Do When the Officer Hands My Firearm Back?
At the end of the process, hopefully they’re going to hand that firearm back. When the officer hands it back be very careful and only point the gun in a safe direction. Not only do you not want to put your finger on the trigger, but you want to avoid the entire trigger area. If they hand it back to you with the action open, or it’s a revolver with the cylinder out, leave the action open or the cylinder out. If they hand it back to you with either the action or the cylinder closed, do not do a check of your firearm to see if it has been reloaded. Put it in a safe place until you are free to go on your way. Once you and the officer are long gone you can pull over and either decide to empty the gun and reload or rearm.
If you have any other questions make a comment in the comment section below, or attend one of our seminars. Go to uslawshield.com/seminar to find a seminar in your area.
—Austin Davis, former police officer and President of Kangaroo Carry Holsters
In the Oklahoma version, it appears that the requirements that were copied must have been before Constitutional Carry went into effect on January 1st, 2019: “If you are not a concealed carry permit holder, you are still required to inform the officer you have a weapon in the car, if you have a weapon in the car.” My guess would be the same applies if you have a weapon on your person even though you do not have a CCW permit, as the permit is no longer required for legal concealed carry. A little clarity is needed for Oklahoma here.
As in Oklahoma now, we don’t need a license to carry open or concealed, in the statement on how to tell an officer that you are carrying it says not to use the word “gun” what word would probably be best to use seeing as carry permits don’t have anything to do with it anymore, should I use “firearm” “weapon” etc., and are officers allowed to get the gun out themselves if you don’t want them inside your vehicle (asking because of the right to refuse search of car without probable cause seeing as I don’t have anything illegal in my vehicle) and lastly if I have my revolver with me, which has a key for the safety and I keep the safety on or “locked” is there any reason for me to have to hand over the key also (reason for asking is I don’t know the protocol for officers in situations where they hold on to your gun for safety reasons, do they take out the bullet of the chamber, the clip/moonring etc. or just leave it as is with the safety on)