By: Trevor Thrasher, Senior Instructor
What To Do If Stopped by the Police While Legally Carrying a Firearm?
Almost everyone will get pulled over by the police at some point in their lives. By itself, it may create a bit of understandable anxiety. The police rarely stop you to give you good news. If you are tactically trained, it can create even more anxiety because you have to allow a stranger to approach you from a superior position. If you are armed, the stress may be even higher. Fortunately, there is typically no need to be alarmed at all, and there are perhaps thousands of encounters with legally armed citizens and police every day that end with nothing more than a courteous warning or a ticket. However, there are a few big do’s and don’ts you should remember.
1. Obey traffic laws.
The easiest thing is to start by obeying traffics laws, keep your car in good working order and especially avoid speeding. Police officers frequently repeat the “if it’s 8 you are great, if it’s 9, you are mine” mantra. In other words, they typically will not pull you over for speeding alone unless it is a bit excessive. Avoidance is always best, but if you do get pulled over…
2. Pick a safe spot to pull over.
Next, when you notice an officer trying to stop you, look for a good area that will be safe for both vehicles and allow the officer to approach on either side of the vehicle. Get well onto the side of the road and put the car in park.
If it is dark, turn on your interior lights, roll down the window and get your hands high on the steering wheel and stop moving. Resist the urge to carefully track the officer in your mirrors or by turning your head. Taking an excessive amount of time to pull over is a key sign of danger, but you don’t want to hastily pick an unsafe area and be a hazard to other drivers on the road or cause the officer to direct you to another location. Safety is always important.
3. Keep your hands visible.
If your hands are not clearly visible and you are gazing at the officer during the approach, you will make the officer nervous. If your passengers keep their hands comfortably visible, such as positioned their knees, it may even put the officer more at ease. Try to calm yourself down and be prepared to be reasonably polite.
Minimize movement inside of the vehicle before and after you stop. Too much movement or any hurried or stealthy reaching may be seen as a furtive gesture and the officer will be on high alert and may be more likely to have a reason to search you or the vehicle. A good place to keep your registration and insurance is above your visor. That way, any reaching you do is easily seen and unlikely to involve a hidden firearm.
Let’s summarize up to this point. If you get pulled over:
- Pick a safe spot
- Put it in park
- Interior lights on; windows down
- Keep your hands visible an on the steering wheel
- Minimize movement before, during, and after the stop
- Calm yourself down
4. Inform the officer you are legally armed.
When actual contact is made, many states require people with a concealed handgun permit, or otherwise legally carrying a firearm, to inform the officer that they are armed. I suggest you do this whether or not it is required. Even if you aren’t armed, it may be a good idea to tell the officer you have a permit but are currently unarmed. If a data check shows you have a permit, but you haven’t said anything, the officer may become suspicious.
Police officers know that people with a permit are overwhelmingly law abiding and most likely have had a background check completed before being issued a permit. These situations are more and more typical as the number of concealed handgun permits continues to climb.
5. Calmly present your permit to carry and identification.
If you are polite and calm, and make the officer’s job less stressful, it may lessen your chance of a ticket. Typically, an officer will ask for your license and paperwork and will explain the reason for the stop. If you aren’t sure or aren’t told, it is perfectly acceptable to ask.
As soon as possible, advise the officer that you have a permit or are otherwise legally armed and have a firearm. Don’t start with “I have a gun!” for obvious reasons. Practice a simple script that gets the point across that you are legally armed first. At this point, the officer may give you instructions on how to secure your firearm, the officer may choose to disarm you, or the officer may be comfortable enough just conduct the stop normally without any further request.
Over time, most officers learn that the safest bet is just to let you be with your hands visible. Do not reach for or present your gun out before the officer asks! You may be required by law to present your permit to carry with your identification. If you are asked to do anything physically such as get additional paperwork, identification, secure your firearm, or exit the vehicle, tell the officer where you are reaching and move slowly and carefully.
Remember, during the traffic stop:
- Calmly let the officer know you are legally armed
- Present your permit to carry and identification if asked
- Be prepared to secure your firearm for safety
- Move carefully, do not reach for you weapon unless asked
- When in doubt, freeze and calmly wait or ask for further instructions
Officers are getting more used to armed citizens with permits. In spite of a few well-known tragedies, there are literally millions of traffic stops a year that end with zero risk to anyone involved. Make sure you know the laws for the state you are in or traveling through.
Stay calm, be polite, and ask yourself what you would want the occupants to do if you were a police officer. If you are looking for any of our current courses click here or our membership fees please click here.