Recently a man from North Carolina made national headlines when he traveled into New Jersey for work. Police arrested him when he volunteered to an officer that he had a firearm in his vehicle. The man from North Carolina was unfamiliar with New Jersey law. He felt he was doing his duty by informing the officer and was unaware that he was breaking New Jersey law by having the firearm in his vehicle in that way in the first place.
Today's article is not meant to focus on everything wrong with New Jersey or any other state. However, I feel that the above story and many others like it make an American gun owner ask the question, “Should I inform law enforcement that I have my firearm or not?”
Before we go too much further, let me also disclaim that I'm assuming that you have a firearm and have it in the vehicle legally in this conversation. The question is not if you are obeying or breaking the law by having a gun; instead, if you would be wise or foolish to inform law enforcement that you have it with you at all.
Know Your Own State Inside and Out
You should be fully fluent with the potential consequences. So here is what I suggest you research:
- Am I required to inform the officer that I have a permit and gun?
- Am I required to inform the officer if they ask?
- In my state, will the officer likely find out that I have a permit despite me not telling them?
- What is the general local attitude of law enforcement concerning private citizens carrying firearms?
If you have difficulty finding the answers, we recommend you reach out to a local firearm instructor (or 2) or a local criminal defense attorney who deals specifically with gun law. Once you have the answers to these questions, you can exercise good judgment (see below).
Know What States Require You Inform the Officer
Some states have specific laws in place that require you to inform an officer if you have a concealed carry permit and/or gun.
Blue = If Asked
Green = No duty
Red = Required to Notify
Yellow = Varies by City or County
*Warning… you should do your own research. We won't be held liable for decisions you make based on the information on this website.
Use Your Best Judgement
If you live in a state that doesn't require you to inform the officer but in which the officer is likely to find out you have a permit when they access your driving record and/or registration, then you may find it easiest to be the one who discloses the firearm upfront instead of waiting for the officer to find out from a computer.
Law enforcement officers hate surprises, and the idea that you may have a gun and didn't tell them about it may cause tension with some officers.
Suppose you live in a state in which law enforcement doesn't require you to notify them and in which they would be unlikely to discover you have a permit in the course of a routine traffic stop. In that case, you may decide that things will be far faster and more simple if you don't bring up the topic of the firearm in the car. That could very well be the case.
Consider factors that can dramatically change the situation. Anything that may happen that will increase the officer's suspicion during the confrontation could potentially escalate into a worse problem when they discover that you didn't disclose the firearm in the car.
For example, if you decide not to say anything, but the officer thinks that potentially you have been drinking and starts to question you about where you have been and what you have been doing… and requests you exit the car… you should recognize at this point that the firearm is going to dramatically impact the situation if the officer discovers it on their own versus you disclosing it upfront. So, look for clues that this is more than just a simple traffic stop. If the partner also exits the vehicle, if the officer is unusually standoffish, or if they begin to ask questions beyond the standard “do you know how fast you were going,” that may be a good time to disclose the firearm.
It can be a difficult decision to make at the moment. You may say to yourself, if I don't mention this gun, I may get out of here in less than 10 minutes. But, on the other hand, if I mention it, I will likely drag this situation out to 20-30 minutes. However, if I don't mention it and the officer finds out that I have the firearm, it may worsen.
Another Way of Thinking
While I would describe the above considerations as an industry best practice, I will also disclaim that they are my own opinion, and many in the industry disagree on this point. Many would recommend a very different approach.
Their opinion is that because we have the right not to submit to questioning, searches, or seizures without probable cause, or subsequent to arrest or a warrant, you shouldn't do any of the above. If the law doesn't require you to disclose that you have a firearm, you shouldn't disclose it.
Those are my best thoughts on the subject… what do you think? Let me know in the comments below.