The day you purchased your first gun you joined a community of individuals who are largely quite focused on observing the measures necessary to use their firearms safely. And while it is of the utmost importance to observe those rules with a focus on the four golden rules of gun safety as we discussed in Part One —-
- Treat all firearms as if they’re loaded,
- Keep your finger off the trigger until you’re on target,
- Don’t point your gun at anything you’re not willing to destroy, and
- Know your target and what is beyond it –
—- there’s more to owning a gun than just being careful how you use it from a literal standpoint. As a gun owner it’s your responsibility to not only know but to follow gun laws, and that includes understanding laws vary from state to state – and that you’re going to need to know the laws for more states than just your own. We’re here to explain not just the how and what, but the why. First, here’s why.
Why You Need to Know State Gun Laws
In your home state the reasons behind needing to know gun laws are obvious, but all too many gun owners fail to think beyond their town limits or state lines. Many gun owners travel, and in the course of those travels you may be either tempted or required to bring one or more guns along.
After all, on road trips you may want your handgun for safety, or you might be traveling for a competition or hunt, and that means you’re going to need to bring a gun along. If you travel somewhere and end up in trouble for violating that area’s gun laws, you are absolutely at fault for not knowing those laws.
Claiming out-of-town status is not a valid reason; as a gun owner, it is your job to know, and that includes other states. If you plan to travel with firearms, do the research. Don’t take someone’s word for it, find out for yourself, and act accordingly.
There are many differences between different state laws, for example, some states are likely to be practically impossible – if not entirely impossible – to enter with your current firearms, such as California and New York. Others have differences pertaining to what is often referred to as the “Will Tell” law, which has to do with whether or not you’re required by law to inform a law enforcement officer that you have a gun if you are asked.
Some states, such as Washington and Kentucky, currently do not require you to answer the question while others, such as Texas, currently require you do. There are differing laws regarding open carry, NFA (National Firearms Act) restrictions, carry inside a vehicle – the list goes on, which is why you must learn your state’s laws for yourself.
Some good sources for learning about your state’s laws include:
If you’re going to carry your gun concealed, a special set of laws will apply to you. But before we get into that, there are a few things you need to consider before going forward with concealed carry (CC). The first thing you need to do prior to CC is to get the proper training, because no one should be carrying a gun if they’re not both safe and sufficiently trained.
That doesn’t mean you need to be an expert marksman, only that you must be proficient and capable in the basics. Once you’ve got that down it’s time to consider the realities of CC. As a CC gun owner you’re responsible for keeping up your firearms skills, because marksmanship requires practice. You cannot simply use your gun a few times, strap it on, and never squeeze the trigger again. Range time is a must.
Then, you must ask yourself if you’re capable of using your gun. It’s important to note here that it’s easy to assume you can without giving it serious thought, so you need to stop and consider this seriously. It might be a good idea to speak to someone you know with combat experience, and there are also books you can read to help you understand the true gravity of the situation.
Two deeply relevant books are “A Time to Kill” by Greg Hopkins, which is a good idea for all gun owners to read regardless of religious convictions, and “Deadly Force” by Massad Ayoob, a law enforcement officer and renowned self-defense shooting expert known for his testimony in many high-profile cases as well as his assistance to the average citizen.
This is an important, potentially life-changing decision, and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Be sure you can use your gun before you start carrying one, because if you carry a gun and are unable to use it, you become not just a target but the first target an active shooter will see.
Finally, once you’re a safe, capable shooter and you’ve made the decision to use your gun for self-defense should a life-threatening situation occur, you need to consider the legalities. Again, this is where research is required, but there are a few things you should know in advance.
Currently the majority of states are what is known as “shall issue” states, meaning that although you are required to obtain a permit to CC a firearm, you can obtain the permit simply by meeting the criteria laid out by the state; the granting authorities aren’t allowed to influence whether or not you get a permit with their own opinion. The criteria may or may not include going through a one-day gun safety class but will include a background check, fingerprints, and a fee.
Various states may have additional criteria. Some states are what is known as “may issue” states, meaning a permit is required but that the process for obtaining a permit is more complex than in Shall Issue states. In May Issue states you must still meet certain criteria and the granting authority’s opinion does matter; some states put decision-making power entirely under the jurisdiction of local law enforcement.
Some May Issue states also require you show “good cause” which typically translates into you needing to prove you have a valid reason for believing you’re in real, current danger, such as the kind requiring a restraining order. And some of those states are the ones where it is incredibly difficult to obtain a permit, such as New York. Finally, there is a third, small category: unrestricted.
In unrestricted states you are allowed to CC without a permit; this is also referred to as Constitutional Carry. Currently those states include Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, Vermont, and Wyoming. There are some states currently discussing bills to allow unrestricted carry, and in two of those – Montana and Idaho – gun owners are allowed to CC without a permit in areas that are outside of incorporated municipalities. You can see why you must learn about your particular state – and city’s – laws, because they vary quite a bit.
Once you have your permit and you’re CC’ing your gun, you need to learn about reciprocity. Reciprocity refers to states that honor permits coming from other states. Some permits are more widely honored than others. Some examples of reciprocity: a Washington state CPL (Concealed Pistol License) has reciprocity with 25 other states while a Texas CHL (Concealed Handgun License) has reciprocity with 34 other states.
To check the reciprocity for your CC permit, head over to: http://www.usacarry.com/concealed_carry_permit_reciprocity_maps.html
Traveling with guns, whether by car or by plane, requires careful research and preparation. You need to know the laws for every state you enter and act accordingly. You may be required to lock your gun in the trunk, unloaded, or you may be able to carry it on your body; it simply depends on the state.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is assuming local law enforcement will know the laws, because odds are they will not. This is why you must know, and carrying proof of the specific citation for those laws is wise.
With proof you can politely inform an officer what citation to refer to when checking on your CC permit’s reciprocity with their state. Having that evidence could save you considerable grief; if you cannot find it, it’s absolutely worth obtaining the assistance of a lawyer to put together a packet of state-specific CC citations.
And if you’re flying, be prepared to do some research on-the-spot. There have been cases of planes grounded in areas outside their original flight plan, luggage being returned to passengers, and gun owners breaking the laws when they then took possession of their firearms. Those firearms may have been legal in the state they’d intended to travel to, but in the state they ended up landing in, they weren’t, and by taking those guns from the airline, they’d committed a felony.
(One such case can be seen at: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2011/01/18/traveling-mans-gun-arrest-appealed-supreme-court/).
If you land in the wrong state and you are unaware of the laws, take the time to find out what they are before taking possession of your firearm from the airline. Most people have smart phones, which makes it fairly easy to do a quick internet search and locate applicable laws.
In addition, flying means following the rules of the airline you’re traveling with, so look up their regulations, and follow them – and consider printing those out, too, because although it may come as a surprise, not all ticket agents will be truly familiar with the process for checking firearms. As a gun owner your mantra is already “be prepared” so make that your motto for traveling with guns, too.
Stand Your Ground
If you CC, there are many laws you need to be aware of, but two in particular stand out when it comes to self-defense. The first is the Stand Your Ground law. Stand Your Ground has to do with whether or not you have a duty to retreat when facing an imminent threat in an area where you are legally allowed to be.
There are currently about 30 states with Stand Your Ground laws, meaning that in those states you are not required to retreat from an area you’re legally allowed to be if you feel your life is being threatened.
This law should never be seen as an excuse to fight; it’s backup for the right to defend yourself if your life is being threatened, and you have no other choice. Basically this means if you’re walking down the sidewalk and someone approaches you and threatens your life in some way, whether with a knife, firearm, or by some other potentially lethal means, you have the right to defend your life.
The issue with this law is that it is somewhat open to interpretation; we have only to examine cases such as that of George Zimmerman to see the firestorm of debates and nuances that arise following a self-defense shooting. A good example of those interpretations also has to do with the nature of the threat, for example, a large man whose only visible weapon is his fists is going to be seen as a significantly larger threat to a woman than to an equally-sized man.
That is not to say there is no threat the other man, only such factors tend to influence perception. That said, hesitating to defend your life could easily mean the difference between life or death, so you won’t have the luxury of taking the time to weigh how a situation will later be perceived. Know the laws in your area.
The other obviously significant self-defense law is the Castle Doctrine. This law has to do with whether or not you are expected to retreat from your own home when your life is being threatened. Yes, there are states where you are expected to flee from your own home rather than defend yourself should you be attacked at home.
In some states this law also applies to legally occupied spaces such as your workplace or your car; this is also referred to as the Defense of Habitation Law. As with all laws, each state varies, including terminology. In Kentucky, according to KRS 503.055, there is no duty to retreat from a dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle.
While in states such as Missouri, the rules are outlined a bit more extensively in accordance with 563.031: “Extends to any building, inhabitable structure, or conveyance of any kind, whether the building, inhabitable structure, or conveyance is temporary or permanent, mobile or immobile (e.g., a camper, RV or mobile home), which has a roof over it, including a tent, and is designed to be occupied by people lodging therein at night, whether the person is residing there temporarily, permanently or visiting (e.g., a hotel or motel), and any vehicle.”
Most states do respect the Castle Doctrine, but there are a few left that do not, including New Jersey, which says, according to statute 2C:3-4, “Retreat required if actor knows he can avoid necessity of deadly force in complete safety, etc. except not obliged to retreat from dwelling, unless the initial aggressor.”
In most states the Castle Doctrine covers threat from a break-in or any unlawful entry into your home. However, in many states it does not cover your front yard or porch; the aggressor must be physically inside your home to be considered a threat. And, of course, the aggressor must be a viable threat. For example, if they take one look at your shotgun and turn and run, they’re no longer a threat.
Self-defense insurance is something all gun owners should consider. Even when you’re obviously in the right, you can end up with legal expenses, and they can be so large as to potentially bankrupt you. Some of the inaccurate assumptions people make include the belief that their homeowner’s insurance will cover them or that an umbrella policy will cover them.
The fine print of a policy must be closely examined, and the reality is in most cases you need specific self-defense insurance. In some states you are protected from a civil lawsuit under that state’s Castle Doctrine, but keep in mind that will only help you in applicable cases.
When you look for self-defense insurance, study the contract carefully and make sure to obtain insurance only from an established, reliable source. As gun ownership continues to increase and CC is on the rise, a growing number of fly-by-night insurance agencies are cropping up, putting the onus on you to be sure you’re purchasing a policy from a reputable source.
Although we cannot specifically recommend a policy, there are some sources in particular with established backgrounds that are worth considering. One of the obvious sources with a long-term, verified background is, of course, the NRA. A link to their insurance can be found at: http://www.locktonaffinity.com/nrains/defense.htm.
Another legitimate source comes from the Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network, a group with an advisory board including the aforementioned self-defense expert Massad Ayoob and experienced marksman and instructor Marty Hayes. A link to their network can be found at: http://www.armedcitizensnetwork.org/.
Regardless of the insurance you choose, do your homework and make sure the coverage you choose actually does cover what you need it to. A good self-defense insurance policy can make all the difference; more than one individual involved in a case of rightful self-defense has found themselves financially destitute despite the fact that their being right was clear from the beginning. Never assume your being obviously justified will save you from expenses; it won’t.
Few Parting Thoughts
Customizing your CC weapon with items such as slide plates emblazoned with phrases such as “Come and take it” could be misinterpreted in court. Although it may well be entirely inaccurate, any appearance that you went looking for a fight can and will be used against you, and though it’s sad that you need to consider such things, you should.
Before you customize your daily carry weapon, stop and consider how that particular customization could be interpreted in court, or by those who dislike guns. Also remember the value of not speaking at length to law enforcement should you be involved in a self-defense shooting. The simple statement of “I was afraid for my life” suffices, as does contacting your lawyer.
In fact, having a game plan in advance is a good idea, which is why you want insurance and a lawyer before anything ever happens. That way you can talk to your lawyer in a relaxed setting before anything happens and ask for advice on how to handle the situation if something does happen.
Concealed carry is an enormous responsibility, and not something to be undertaken lightly. By CC a firearm you are taking on the weight of defending your life as well as the lives of those you around you, and although odds are you’ll never be called upon to draw your weapon in the face of danger, there is still a chance it could happen.
Take the time to train, and take the time to get to know the laws in your area, or the areas you plan to travel to with your gun. Never expect anyone else to know the laws; that is your job, your responsibility. You are a gun owner. You exercise safety, you follow the laws, and you hope the worst-case scenario will never come, but if it does, you need to be ready in every possible way. Remember: be prepared.