For the responsible handgun toter, taking a vacation or otherwise traveling from state to state with firearms can involve a little more advance planning and research than vacations do for those who travel unarmed.
I know I referenced a class taught by Claude Werner, the Tactical Professor at Tac-Con in a recent column, but something he brought up in a classroom session at Tac-Con 2016 stuck with me on this topic.
We were all sitting there in a classroom tent at the Direct Action Resource Center training facility in North Little Rock and Werner asked how many people there were actually from Arkansas. Only a couple hands went up. So, Werner asked how many of the rest of the attendees were carrying.
Oh, hands shot up. Everybody, pretty much, was enthusiastically packing heat, with this being a big training conference.
Then Werner asked how many people there had actually bothered looking up the actual Arkansas statutes for carrying firearms, what constituted self-defense and other important matters on the topic. You could have heard a pin drop as nearly everyone put their hand down and started studying their shoes or the walls of the tent while blushing furiously.
“They’re online, you know,” he chided.
This is an aspect, often overlooked, I have started paying a lot more attention to as I’ve started traveling more. Fortunately, this stuff is online, just like Werner said. Not only do states publish their various state codes online, but NRA-ILA has an excellent compilation of state laws and reciprocity guidelines at nraila.org/gun-laws/state-gun-laws/. Just be sure to double check with the state agencies for the latest info, as some laws or reciprocity agreements do change.
The little differences between the various state laws pop up in lots of unexpected ways, too.
A few years ago, when I was still carrying a full-size Smith & Wesson M&P9, I traveled out to Colorado to see some friends. The Colorado magazine-capacity ban was brand-new at the time and, while there was some confusion about whether it applied to someone from out of state with “pre-ban” magazines, I short-circuited any possibility of that by switching my carry gun over to my M&P357. It had the same sights, the same trigger, used the same holsters, and its 15-round magazines wouldn’t cause any confusion regarding the new law if it came up at a hypothetical traffic stop.
Similarly, I’ve acquired a retention holster for when I visit friends in New Mexico. While they don’t honor my Hoosier carry permit, “The Land of Enchantment” has no prohibitions on open carry, so I’ll spend some time exploring the Open Carry lifestyle.
Speaking of New Mexico, that illustrates another problem with travel: The meaning of signs and prohibitions. In my home state, a “No Guns Allowed” sign carries no real legal weight on its own unless it’s posted on state-owned property. This is not necessarily so elsewhere. Similarly, there’s no ban against carrying a handgun in an establishment that serves liquor in my home state, but to do so when I’m visiting New Mexico would be a felony-level offense outside of narrow exceptions.
When I’m flying, I always make sure to allow plenty of extra time at the airport, on the off-chance that today will be an exceptionally bad TSA day. I almost never need the cushion, but I’d rather gamble on having to hang around a bad, overpriced mall/flying bus station for an extra 30 minutes or so than miss my flight due to an argument over whether or not it was OK to have ammunition in MTM Case-Gard boxes.
Another thing when I’m flying is that I attempt to avoid flights that connect through airports in New York, Boston or other places where, should there be an unexpected long layover, I’d need to tell the airlines to hold my bag because I can’t touch it.
I maintain separate laptop and camera bags for travel, and never take them to the range or do anything gun-related with them, but not everyone has that luxury. Turn that carry-on bag inside-out and give it a good shake or three before packing for air travel.
Judging from the pictures of guns in the “Look what we found!” posters the TSA puts up at airports, most of them were forgotten on the bottoms of purses rather than smuggled with nefarious intent, unless terrorists have a fascination with raspberry-framed pocket .380s of which I wasn’t aware.
If you’re driving, rather than flying, don’t forget to check the laws of the states through which you’ll transit, as well as those of your destination. This is why when I’m driving to Missouri or Arkansas, I tank up in Terre Haute, case and lock the unloaded gun in the trunk and don’t exit the vehicle again until I cross the Mississippi.
Being a responsible handgun carrier requires being cognizant of the laws governing the practice wherever you are. Until we get national reciprocity, we need to minimize incidents where an otherwise innocent tourist gets jammed up by draconian local laws.