Getting pulled over is never a super fun experience. Add concealed carrying a firearm into the mix and it can lead to feeling rather flustered. But don’t worry, if you are legally concealed carrying you don’t have anything to worry about. Read on for a few tips on how to handle a traffic stop while concealed carrying. As always, this is not legal advice, and I’m simply sharing some things I’ve learned along the way in my concealed carry journey.
What to do if you get pulled over while concealed carrying
1. Know the duty to inform laws in your area
Based on my research, your duty to inform an officer that you have a firearm in your vehicle falls into a couple of different buckets: must inform upon first contact, must inform if asked, or no duty to inform. It’s important to understand what is required by law in your state. Make sure to look up these laws and be prepared to follow them!
2. Determine your personal approach in dealing with law enforcement
This is a big one and can have a major impact on how your encounters with law enforcement go. I prefer to put the officer in a position to where they can most safely and effectively do their job. This involves being transparent and telling the officer up front that I am carrying, even if I don’t have a duty to inform. Keep in mind that the officer will likely know if you have a concealed carry permit once they run your license.
3. Know where your documents are located
Y’all know I like to be prepared! Knowing where your documents (license, registration, insurance, etc.) are located will help your traffic stop go smoothly. There is nothing more frustrating than digging through your car trying to find a card while the officer stands there waiting on you. Keep yourself organized so that you can quickly and easily produce your documents when asked.
4. Keep your hands on the steering wheel until instructed otherwise
This is the biggest tip I received from my law enforcement friends! Keeping your hands on the steering wheel gives the officer one less thing to worry about and helps ensure a safe encounter for everyone. Wait to remove your hands from the steering wheel until you are instructed to do so. If you need to remove your hands to reach for documents, etc., let the officer know what you are reaching for and where it is.
5. Choose your words carefully
It would be wise to avoid using triggering words such as “gun” (no pun intended). If something is taken out of context, or if the officer only hears part of your sentence, a word like “gun”, “firearm”, or “weapon” may be cause for concern. Let the officer know that you are carrying using words or acronyms that describe your situation without using the standard terms. For example, I’ll say, “I have my concealed carry permit and am currently carrying appendix.” Or, I’ll use the acronym “CHL” for “concealed handgun license” (our concealed carry permit in Oregon). Use whatever phrase or acronym is appropriate for your state.
6. Follow instructions
This one is fairly obvious, but it’s easy to get flustered during a traffic stop. Take a deep breath and listen! If the officer instructs you to do something, do it. This will help ensure a smooth encounter for everyone.
What not to do if you get pulled over while concealed carrying
1. Don’t rummage around in your vehicle
Some people like to get their documents ready before the officer approaches their vehicle so that they are prepared for the officer. While it’s a nice idea to be prepared, rummaging around in your vehicle can look suspicious and may cause concern for the officer. If you can’t discretely get to your documents, just wait until the officer is at your window and instructs you to do so.
2. Don’t ignore the officer’s instructions
I may sound a little repetitive here, but it’s so important! Make sure to listen to and follow the officer’s instructions.
3. Don’t reach or point to where your concealed carry is
It’s a good idea to keep your hands away from your firearm during an encounter with law enforcement. You may tell the officer where your concealed carry is located, but be sure not to reach or point to where it is—these types of motions may be misinterpreted and may be cause for concern.
4. Don’t be surprised if you are asked to step out of the vehicle
Once you notify the officer that you are concealed carrying, don’t be surprised if they ask you to step out of the vehicle. This is not necessarily because you are in trouble, but certain circumstances may require the officer to take additional steps to ensure everyone’s safety. If they ask you to step out of the vehicle, follow instructions.
Also, don’t be surprised if the officer disarms you during your encounter. In the instance that your firearm is returned to you unloaded at the end of the traffic stop, do not reload until you have left the scene.
Hopefully you learned a few tips today that can help you if you get pulled over!
*The information in this post if my own personal philosophy and should not be misconstrued as legal advice. Do your own research as to the laws in your areas, find an approach that works for you, and use your best judgement.*