Road Tripping with Guns: Tips and Tricks

Road trips are an American tradition that have been carried out by multiple generations. Whether you’re taking a road trip with a specific destination in mind, traveling Route 66 to see the sights, or on an aimless adventure, your road trip is bound to leave a mark (good or bad). Of course, it’s preferable that the worst thing a road trip does to you is leave you broke and sunburned, not sitting in a cell because you took a gun where you shouldn’t. We have some tips and tricks to help you make the firearms aspect of your road trip as smooth as possible. The sunburn and blowing all your money on shot glasses, well, that’s on you.

gun rack with lever action, road trip tips
Gun racks in truck windows used to be a common sight, but not anymore. (Photo credit: ophirah)

Is it legal to travel with a gun?

Before we get into any of this, let’s get one thing straight: I am not a lawyer and this information should not be misconstrued as legal advice. When it comes to the legalities of various cities, counties, and states, due diligence is your responsibility. This guide is just a place to start.

Generally speaking, it’s legal to travel with a gun. That doesn’t cover the many nuances in the laws and how they vary by state (city, county). What’s legal where you reside may not be legal at your destination, and don’t even get me started on the possibilities of variations along the way. If you want to take a road trip with a gun, you’re going to have to educate yourself on each and every place you intend to pass through. Don’t trust what some dude on social media told you or how it was years ago, or even one year ago, because all these laws are subject to constant change. You’ll never get away with saying you didn’t know, because ignorance of the law is simply not a valid legal defense.

handgun in car, road trip tips
No, you shouldn’t toss your gun on the seat next to you. (Photo credit: Pelican)

What’s the Federal Safe Passage Act?

Maybe someone told you you’re cool taking whatever guns wherever thanks to the Federal Safe Passage Act. Maybe you hit Google and feel like you’re immune from trouble thanks to this law. Unfortunately, you’re wrong.

Just like all other laws and regulations, there are things you have to understand about the Safe Passage Act. Here’s what 18 USC 926A: Interstate transportation of firearms actually says:

Notwithstanding any other provision of any law or any rule or regulation of a State or any political subdivision thereof, any person who is not otherwise prohibited by this chapter from transporting, shipping, or receiving a firearm shall be entitled to transport a firearm for any lawful purpose from any place where he may lawfully possess and carry such firearm to any other place where he may lawfully possess and carry such firearm if, during such transportation the firearm is unloaded, and neither the firearm nor any ammunition being transported is readily accessible or is directly accessible from the passenger compartment of such transporting vehicle: Provided, That in the case of a vehicle without a compartment separate from the driver’s compartment the firearm or ammunition shall be contained in a locked container other than the glove compartment or console.

Does this Act mean you’re totally cool with your gun as you leisurely pick out snacks at a truck stop or make a stop at the local fudge factory on your way through an anti-gun area? Does this mean you can pull over and take a nap if you get tired, even though you’re in an anti-gun area? The short answer is no. The long answer is that getting accurate answers to all these questions, and more, is just one reason why it’s smart to have some sort of self-defense insurance in place that allows you to ask a qualified attorney questions outside an emergency situation. There have been cases where someone took a nap in an anti-gun area and ended up arrested for their gun. That’s something to keep in mind, too: even if you believe you are abiding by the law, you can still be arrested. It’s smarter to have self-defense insurance and a lawyer at the ready, just in case. (In fact, it’s not a bad idea at all to make sure you have that coverage before setting out on your road trip.)

My state has constitutional carry, so I can carry everywhere, right?

constitutional carry
Constitutional carry has come to more than half the country. (Photo credit: Relentless Tactical)

At the time of this writing, constitutional carry is now in more than half the country. It isn’t called constitutional carry everywhere, though. You’ll also see it called permitless carry, unrestricted carry, and all manner of things. Just because your state of residence has permitless carry, constitutional carry, or whatever they choose to call it doesn’t mean you can legally carry all over the country. Even in states that no longer require a permit for concealed carry, rules remain. It isn’t the Wild West and if you treat it like it is, you’re going to have a bad time.

Before assuming the requirement being dropped for a concealed carry permit applies to you in whatever state you’re traveling to or through, check the laws. Laws aren’t all written in the same way and, as we said, things change. What we can tell you is this: permitless carry in one state doesn’t automatically extend to bordering states. That’s not how it works. Think of the state line like resetting a game. You’re back at the beginning, and you’d better know the rules.

How should I store my gun in my vehicle?

Remington 870 TAC 14 in vehicle, road trip tips and tricks
How are you supposed to transport guns on a road trip? (Photo credit: Kat Stevens)

From a legal perspective, the answer to this varies. We’re right back to reminding you it’s your job to check the laws and regulations for your home state and each and every state you travel to or through. But on the safety side, this is an easier answer. Your gun should be within your control in your vehicle, and you should remember that your vehicle isn’t a gun safe.

Ideally, your gun will be on your body. There are times this isn’t possible, like if you have long guns or if you flat out can’t find a not-painful way to carry your handgun for 10 hours while driving. If your gun can’t be worn on your body for some reason, you need to find a realistic, safe way to store it (and remember, you’ve got to stick to the law wherever you are). There are quite a few great safes on the market designed for use in cars that also allow you fast access. With a little research, you can find a safe that suits your needs and adheres to the law wherever you are.

Here are things you should not be doing with your gun in your vehicle:

  • Sticking it on a magnet.
  • Attaching it to the underside of the dash, console, or anywhere else with Velcro (or a magnet).
  • Tossing it loose on the seat or floor, with or without a holster.
  • Jamming it between your seat and the console and hoping for the best.
  • Throwing it under your seat where it could slide anywhere at any time.

Your gun(s) should be safely and legally secured at all times by whatever means you decide on. The key words here are safely and legally. Many things flat out do not fall under those headings.

A Few Helpful Road Trip With Guns Tips (and Tricks)

gun sticker decals
Plastering your car with gun decals? Might want to reconsider. (Photo credit: Decal Junky)

We all love stickers, magnets, and logo hats. But did you ever stop and think about what information you’re giving to potential bad actors when you put that stuff on your vehicle? You could be telling them you’re a woman, traveling alone, and a certain age (think band decals, sayings, and phrases that are pretty specific to generations). Gun decals could let a criminal know it’s a great idea to try to rob you, and could also tip off law enforcement in anti-gun areas that they should find a reason to pull you over. Then there’s the simple fact that decals and magnets make your car memorable, and it tends to be smarter to be forgettable as you travel.

Check your local laws and take precautions to be sure your gun is carried or stored in a safe, legal manner. Get some good self-defense insurance. Chat up with a qualified attorney with questions. Take some advanced-level classes (or work your way up to them). But never let yourself think that something will never happen to you, or that if it does you’ll obviously be in the right, so you’ll be fine. It’s far wiser to be prepared than caught unaware.

Now, go forth and road trip. Just do it as a law-abiding citizen.

Kat Ainsworth Stevens is a long-time outdoor writer, official OGC (Original Gun Cognoscenti), and author of Handgun Hunting: a Comprehensive Guide to Choosing and Using the Right Firearms for Big and Small Game. Der Teufel Katze has written for a number of industry publications (print and online) and edited some of the others, so chances are you've seen or read her work before, somewhere. A woman of eclectic background and habits, Kat has been carrying concealed for over two decades, used to be a farrier, and worked for a long time in emergency veterinary medicine. She prefers big bores, enjoys K9 Search & Rescue, and has a Master's Degree in Pitiless Snarkastic Delivery.

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