Today, 11 states and the District of Columbia have some form of duty to inform or duty to notify law, which requires a citizen stopped by law enforcement, notify or inform the officer he or she is carrying a concealed firearm. In Fourteen other states, the citizen only has to notify the officer if the officer asks. Here are 3 reasons I think these laws are harmful, dangerous, and even bordering on unconstitutional.
A Brief Explanation of Duty no Inform Law
First, I'll briefly explain what duty to inform laws are. If you want an in-depth explanation, you can read this post from Jacob or even Josh's experience of being pulled over while carrying his everyday carry EDC handgun.
In general, duty to inform laws requires that when detained by law enforcement (pedestrian or in a motor vehicle), the concealed carrier notify the officer that they are carrying their firearm with them. There are various repercussions for failing to inform the officer ranging from temporary suspension of the license, complete revocation, and fines.
As mentioned above, some duty to inform laws simply require that you tell the officer you have a firearm with you only after they ask you.
Supports of the law say:
These laws are just common courtesy to law enforcement. After all, they have a tough job, and if we're not doing anything wrong, what's the harm in notifying them about your handgun?
This train of thought actually brings me to my first issue with such laws.
#1 It isn't an officer safety issue:
I was a patrol cop for around 8 years in a busy, crime-filled city. I must have made a couple thousand traffic and pedestrian stops. Officers working the streets should always use wise officer safety tactics, and part of that is learning body language and pre-assault indicators. In other words, when stopping a gang-banging parole, I didn't assume that since he didn't tell me, he had a gun, that he couldn't be armed. Officer safety has to do with the individual officer's actions, not based on what the detained person says or doesn't say.
Suppose an officer can articulate that they believe the person lawfully detained is a risk to them. In that case, they have the authority to place cuffs on the person for a reasonable amount of time to complete their enforcement action.
An officer stops a pedestrian for jaywalking and is going to issue a ticket. During the stop, the person continues to reach in their pockets, is evasive in answering questions, has documented gang tattoos or clothing. The officer could conduct a terry-frisk or pat-down (not a search) because there are observable and articulable facts (reasonable suspicion) that lead a reasonable officer to believe the person stopped could be carrying a weapon. It is reasonable for the officer to cuff the person for the duration of the stop.
The officer must articulate why he conducted a pat-down and put the person in cuffs because actions like this are the exception based on the need for officer safety and enforcement rather than the de facto procedure for all police-citizen contacts.
To put it another way, officers can't do this to everyone they stop. Would it seem reasonable to have a little old lady, concealed carrier, sit on the curb in cuffs while the officer wrote her a ticket for officer safety? Of course not.
#2 It Infringes on Your Fourth Amendment Rights
The Fourth Amendment protects the individual from unreasonable governmental search and seizure. As mentioned above, an officer can only subject you to a higher level of restraint and control (seizure) if they articulate a need to do so.
However, duty to inform law compels you to provide a level of consent that otherwise you would not be subject to, under penalty of law.
Police stop you for a traffic infraction and are carrying a firearm legally. You have passed all the state-mandated requirements. Nothing is indicating you pose a threat to the officer. Following the law, you advise the officer you have your firearm.
Now the officer has the authority to seize your property from you during the duration of the stop. What if that property (your handgun) is inside a purse, bag, or glove box. The officer won't ask you to hand the gun over. Instead, he will ask for you to give consent for him to retrieve it.
No matter what answer you give, the officer already has the legal right to retrieve the gun. Consent is just an easier way of getting it. But if you say no, they can still temporarily seize the gun.
The officer will remove you from the car while retrieving the gun (at least an officer practicing sound officer safety tactics would proceed like this.)
The officer can't go searching the vehicle for the gun. However, if while retrieving the gun, the officer sees contraband in plain view or smells something – “plain smell,” you have a problem.
Perhaps you have a knife in your bag that is against some arbitrary city ordinance. The officer can now expand the scope of the detention based on the newly discovered crime.
Suppose you have a controlled substance or paraphernalia along with your firearm. Maybe it isn't even yours, but an addicted family member's. Many states have laws addressing possessing both a controlled substance and a gun at the same time. I think you can see where I am going with this.
I am not saying that all officers are using this as a pretext to search people's vehicles. The point is the law can and has been abused.
The constitution restrains the powers of the government the way it does to protect against potential abuses of power. There must be a very compelling cause and the necessity for the government to start poking deeper and deeper into your person and effects. Doing something legal like carrying a concealed firearm isn't a compelling reason, in my opinion.
#3 People May Unintentionally Violate the Law
Words like promptly, as soon as possible, or earliest opportunity can mean different things under different circumstances. If the law states the person “shall promptly” inform or notify the officer, determining if the person is in actual compliance is somewhat arbitrary.
And don't get me started on the various legal opinions and case law on if the duty to inform extends to passengers of the vehicle or not.
Putting it Into Practice:
I am not saying you should never tell an officer you are armed, or if asked, you should lie. The vast majority of law enforcement encounters I have heard of or been part of (both as an officer and citizen stopped in my private vehicle) are uneventful.
A case is made that informing the officer that you have a firearm is safer for the citizen.
This is debatable, but I understand the premise that notifying the officer you have a firearm and that you want to comply could reduce the chance of being mistaken as a threat if the gun is discovered later in the contact.
However, I don't think the solution to this problem is punitive laws laying out arbitrary parameters for how and when to notify an officer.
If you live in or are visiting a state that has a duty to inform or duty to notify law, make sure you follow the law. If you happen to be in a state that doesn't require it, use your judgment in your decision.
The best resource for keeping up with all the various state gun laws is our Concealed Carry Gun Tools smartphone app. It has a full legal rundown for every state's gun laws, reciprocity maps and so much more. And it is completely free!