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Summer Travels and Firearm Safety: Tips for Responsible Gun Owners

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‘Tis the season. It’s that time of year when people take off for an extra vacation or two during the warm summer months. If you are going to be carrying to protect your loved ones on your trip, you need to make sure you’re prepared and know what the laws are in the states you’re traveling through and ultimately to.

There have been some stories in the media recently about a few men headed to Turks and Caicos with a couple of rounds of ammo in their pockets. The good news is that a couple of them aren’t locked up there. The bad news is it costs them time and money. One man paid a $6,700 fine, and the other a $9,000 fine. The two others are still on the islands. There’s another story about someone who accidentally brought their gun to the airport.

The good news is that you can legally bring your guns to many other states. Not all of them, of course. But if you do some homework, you shouldn’t have any problems. Please note that there is a difference between carrying and transporting. You carry a firearm on your person somewhere, like the hip, pocket, appendix, or ankle. You transport firearms that are unloaded and locked in secure containers. They should be out of the reach of the driver or not in the driver’s compartment.

You should have range clothes and a bag specifically for going to the range. Okay, dedicated range attire is tough, but you absolutely need a dedicated range bag that isn’t something you use for anything else. Keep some ammo, spare mags, and holsters in it. Don’t use it for anything else. You shouldn’t go from the range to an airport for a flight. Don’t use a backpack for the range and then use it when you’re going flying. Of course, always check and double-check your clothes and suitcases for loose ammo.

The website I use is handgunlaw.us. I’ve been using this for years when I travel. The USCCA has a reciprocity map. USA Carry has one too. And so does ConcealedCarry.com. I find I like handgunlaw’s the best because of the colors of the map. And I don’t want to have to relearn new colors for the other maps. (They aren’t a sponsor of mine, but they should be.)

What I really like about handgunlaw’s website is there is a PDF accompanying every state with all the info you’ll need. There’s a list of states that have reciprocity and a map. The red states are no-go states, the blue states accept licenses, the tan states only accept resident permits. There’s info on how to get a license for residents and non-residents. There’s knife laws, how to interact with police if you’re pulled over, RV laws, restaurant carry laws, and much more.

The three big things that I think you need to know when traveling are: informing the police if pulled over, carrying into a place that serves alcohol, and do the “no gun signs” have the force of law.

In some states, you have to tell the police if you have a firearm on you. In some states, you don’t. But if they ask you, you need to be truthful. You also don’t want to seem like a threat to the police. There are pro-gun police, gun-agnostic police, and anti-gun police. There are police that know they can’t be everywhere to protect you. There are police that aren’t into firearms, and it’s just a tool they have on their belt. There are police that think you and I shouldn’t own or carry firearms because we haven’t had police training. You don’t know which one is pulling you over. Or if he/she has had a bad day and wants to take their day out on you.

If you have to tell the police, you may want to say something like, “Officer, I’ve got a license to carry, and I’m currently doing so. How would you like me to proceed?” Doing your homework also means you know what the states call their carry permit/license: License to carry. Permit to carry. Handgun carry permit. Concealed handgun license. Concealed weapon permit. I strongly discourage saying, “I have a weapon on me” as that could be taken as a threat. We’ve all seen My Cousin Vinny. At the beginning of the movie, Ralph Macchio says, “I shot the clerk?” In court, they ask the police what Macchio said, and he says, “I shot the clerk.” It went from a question to a statement just because of some punctuation and interpretation.

Some police may ask what you have and where it is. Some may not care. Some may want to confiscate the gun, unload it, then give it back to you in a ziplock bag. You’re not going to win a fight on the side of the road with the police. So cooperate and don’t make any sudden moves. Behave cordially and politely. Ask permission to get your license from your wallet and to get your vehicle registration. If asked, tell the police what and where you’re carrying. But only if necessary.

If they ask you to step out of the car and you haven’t informed them you’re carrying, now is a good time to do so. When they pat you down and find out you’ve got a gun on you that you didn’t tell them about, they’re going to make you eat gravel and hogtie you. Something you don’t want.

Next is places that serve alcohol. Sometimes you can carry into one. Sometimes you can’t. Sometimes you can with a permit/license. Sometimes you can have a drink. Of course, you can’t be intoxicated. Sometimes “intoxicated” is just drinking. The legal limit in Utah is .08% BAC. In Massachusetts and New Jersey, you cannot be under the influence at all, which includes just having one drink.

I use Applebee’s as an example. It’s a restaurant with a bar. They do serve alcohol. If an establishment has 51% of their sales as alcohol, then it’s a bar. You may not be able to carry inside a restaurant with a bar. But you don’t have to sit at the bar, you can sit at a table. Depending on the state’s laws, it may be legal to do so. Or it may be illegal for you to carry while dining there, even if you are not consuming alcoholic beverages.

Lastly is the “no gun signs.” Sometimes they have the force of law. Sometimes they don’t. Some folks feel that concealed is concealed and no one should know you’re carrying. Sometimes it’s a picture of a gun with a red circle and a slash through it. Sometimes it has to list the statutes and laws that forbid carrying into a place. Sometimes there will be a sign at the main entrance of a mall but not at the store entrances.

When you’re flying with a firearm, you have to declare it with the boarding counter. Not the self-check kiosk. Not the curbside service. Go to the boarding counter. Declare that you have a firearm, not a weapon. You’ll fill out a card with your name and flight info. That card gets taped to your gun safe/case/box. Your suitcase will go to the front of the luggage line to be scanned by the TSA. Wait for it to be sure there’s no issues. Make sure it goes back on the conveyor belt.

I always wait to make sure there are no issues. Once I had some ammo in a speed strip in a ziplock that was holding my toiletries. The TSA agents spotted it and looked at me. I waved back. They called a manager. When he arrived, they talked and looked towards me. Again, I waved. He came over to me and said there appeared to be loose ammunition. I politely said it was in a thing called a speed strip and wasn’t technically loose. He said, “Don’t do that again.” And now I keep all the ammunition in the original box.

Also, keep a copy of your make, model, and serial number of the gun(s) you have with you. Should you and your guns get separated, this is info you’ll need to know. Taking a photo of the firearm and serial number is also a good idea. You can also use an AirTag and put it in your gun case. Guns should be unloaded, and you shouldn’t have ammunition in the gun case. Ammunition should be in the original box. It does not have to be in a locked container. The TSA website says you can have 11 pounds of ammunition. That’s a lot of .22 and not a lot of .308.

In some states, you can have your gun but not carry it. In some states, you can open carry without a permit. Should you decide to open carry, make sure you have a retention device on your holster. You don’t want someone to take your gun from the holster while you’re least expecting it. Personally, I’m not a fan of open carry, but I have done it at a Florida Carry event a few years ago. I have a Blackhawk OWB holster with a release button on it. Yes, I know there were issues with them. But that’s more with training and the draw stroke than the holster itself. It was perfectly fine at the time to carry openly while going to, at, or from the “-ing” activities: camping, hunting, or fishing. But not afterward.

You still need to follow the state’s laws that you’re in. For example, in my home state of Massachusetts (yeah, I know…), you can have a pre-1994 so-called “high capacity” magazine. Even though the Mass License To Carry says you can possess magazines with more than 10 rounds, the magazine must be made before September 13, 1994. Next question, how do you know? The S&W M&P line didn’t come out until 2005-ish. Those magazines with more than 10 rounds aren’t legal to possess in Mass. Unless, of course, you’re a police officer. But GLOCK has plenty of pre-1994 high-cap mags. Magpul wasn’t around before 1994.

I do travel regularly, and I often take a carry gun with me where I can legally.

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