Can I Carry a Gun in my Car?

Yes, in general, you can legally carry a gun in your car, but it can depend on whether the gun is loaded or not, if you have you have a permit, where in the car the gun is located, and what state you are driving in. Some states allow a loaded handgun to be carried concealed or in plain sight without a permit. Others require the weapon to be unloaded and locked in a secure container out of reach of the driver and passengers.

In this article, we are going to summarize the regulations for each state and the District of Columbia. But first, let's look at some of the terminology used when discussing gun laws.

can I carry a gun in my car

What is Concealed Carry?

Concealed carry or concealed carrying of a weapon (CCW) is the carrying of a handgun under clothing in such a way that it cannot be seen by others.

Many states, including Alaska, Arizona and Vermont, allow concealed carry without a permit but in most states, such as California and Texas, it is illegal to carry a concealed weapon without a license or permit.

What is an Open Carry State?

An open carry state is a state that allows people to openly carry firearms in public places, either with or without a permit.

Thirty-four states do not require a permit for open carry of handguns and long guns (rifles and shotguns). Nine states, including Texas and Georgia, require a permit for open carry of a handgun but not for a long gun. Hawaii, Massachusetts and Minnesota require a permit for open carry of both types of weapon.

In California, open carry of handguns and long guns is restricted to certain rural counties where discharge of a firearm is not prohibited by local ordinance. In some of these smaller counties, a permit to openly carry a handgun can be issued by the County Sheriff.

In Florida open carry is so restricted that it is effectively banned. Open carry is prohibited by law in the District of Columbia, Illinois and New York.

You can see more details for all states on the map and in the tables below.

Map with Summary of Gun Laws by State 

Red: Open Carry without Permit allowed; Green: Open Carry not allowed or severely restricted; Orange: Permit required for Open Carry.

Click on a state to see details

 

In-Vehicle Gun Laws

What is Constitutional Carry?

Constitutional carry is a type of gun law in the United States that requires no state-specific permit to carry a firearm, either openly or concealed. It is also sometimes referred to as ‘permilles’ or ‘unrestricted’ carry.

The right to bear arms is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and supported by the Supreme Court decision District of Columbia v. Heller (2008). Specifically, this court case states, "the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes such as self-defense within the home."

At the time of District of Columbia v. Heller case in 2008, the District of Columbia Code made it illegal to carry an unregistered firearm. The Code did allow the chief of police to issue one-year licenses for handguns. However, it stipulated that the weapons be kept unloaded and disassembled or disabled with a trigger-lock.

Dick Anthony Heller, a D.C. police officer, applied for a license for a handgun to be kept at his home but the application was denied. He then sued the District of Columbia seeking an injunction against enforcement of the Code. He argued that the relevant sections of the Code violated his Second Amendment right to keep a working firearm at his home without a license. The case was dismissed by the District Court.

Heller then brought the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C Circuit. where the lower court's decision was reversed.

On June 26, 2008 the Supreme Court upheld the Appeals Court decision in a 5-4 vote. Justices Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas and Alito formed the majority. Justices Breyer, Stevens, Souter, and Ginsburg dissented.

While constitutional carry has been enacted by several states, it remains controversial. Opponents argue that concealed weapons can increase the danger of gun violence, and that constitutional carry would result in more firearms being carried into sensitive areas like schools.

Constitutional carry is currently allowed in Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming.

Each of these twenty states applies age restrictions to constitutional carry, as set out in the table below.

Minimum Age for Constitutional Carry

What is Peaceable Journey Law?

The Firearms Owners Protection Act (FOPA) of 1986 also referred to as the Peaceable Journey Law states that:

"Notwithstanding any other provision of the law of any State or any political subdivision thereof, anyone who is not otherwise prohibited by Federal law from possessing a firearm and is carrying a valid license under this section may transport an unloaded handgun across such State's border into another state that does not prohibit the possession of handguns by residents."

The intent of this law is to prevent interference with individuals who are traveling from one state to another and carry firearms with them. As federal law trumps state and local laws, this means that, so long as the firearm is legally possessed at the start of the journey and is legal in the destination state, it can be transported legally through any states in between.

For this law to apply, however, the firearm must be unloaded and secured out of reach of the driver and any passengers.

Since the FOPA did not define 'transport' in great detail, there has been controversy about whether transport includes overnight stops, fuel and meal stops etc. It would, therefore, be advisable to check out the gun laws of any state you plan to pass through before setting off on a journey.

What is a CCW Permit?

In the United States, certain states require anyone who wants to legally carry a weapon outside of their home to hold a current Carrying a Concealed Weapon (CCW) permit. You can get this through your local sheriff or police department, and it allows you to transport loaded weapons in private vehicles as well as on foot so long as they are not visible from afar.

The CCW permit only applies within your own state, so if you are traveling from one place to another in a different state and are carrying a loaded weapon without a concealed carry permit for that particular state, you may be breaking the law. However, if the state you are traveling to has a reciprocity agreement with your home state or is a state that allows concealed carry without a permit, you can legally carry in that state as long as you have a concealed carry permit for your home state.

A reciprocity agreement between states is where one state honors CCW permits issued by another state.

What is an FOID Card?

A Firearm Owner's Identification Card (FOID) is a card issued by the Illinois State Police, which identifies you as an individual who may legally acquire or possess firearms and ammunition in the state of Illinois. You will be required to provide your FOID number when purchasing guns anywhere in Illinois.

To obtain an FOID Card you must be at least 18 years of age, a citizen or legal resident alien and not convicted of certain crimes. These crimes include stalking, domestic battery, or a violent crime. You will need to provide your personal information and submit to an FBI background check before receiving the card.

Your FOID Card is valid until you are no longer eligible for it (at which point you must surrender it).

FOID cards have an expiration period of 10 years. The renewal process can be completed online at any time prior to expiration.

To apply for an FOID card online: go to https://www.ispfsb.com/Public/FOID.aspx

Do's and Don'ts during a Traffic Stop when Carrying

What is a Terry Stop?

A Terry Stop is a type of police stop that does not require probable cause. The officer only needs reasonable suspicion, which means the person they are questioning must be doing something out of the ordinary and their actions should lead them to believe crime has been or will soon be committed.

The officer can then pat down any areas where weapons such as a knife or gun may be concealed.

When a pedestrian is stopped, it referred to as a 'stop and frisk'. When a motorist is stopped, it is referred to as a traffic stop.

During a Terry Stop the officer does not need to read the person their Miranda Rights.

Summary of Terry v Ohio

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is part of the Bill of Rights of 1791 and states that unreasonable searches and seizures of persons or property are not allowed. Searches and/or seizures are only allowed if there is probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed.

However, the 1968 Terry v Ohio nine-to-one Supreme Court decision created an exception to this rule when it comes to police officers conducting a stop in which they need reasonable suspicion that a person has committed or is about to commit a crime.

Summary of Whren v United States

Whren v United states was a 1996 unanimous Supreme Court decision which stated the any traffic offense was a legal basis for a traffic stop. The Court help that such a stop was not in violation of the Fourth Amendment provided that the police officer had reasonable suspicion that a traffic offense had been committed/

Both 'stop and frisk' and traffic stops have long been controversial because police officers have been accused of racial profiling. This is where they stop people based on ethnicity or the color of their skin rather than on a genuine suspicion that they have done anything wrong. This feeds into the ongoing discussion about police reform in the United States

What is Castle Doctrine?

Castle Doctrine refers to laws that grant people the right to use deadly force in their homes or on their property without fear of prosecution. Property here includes an occupied vehicle.

The castle doctrine’s origins date back to English Common Law in the seventeenth century, which allowed for a man's home (castle) and property to be his family’s protector from intruders who would do harm while they were sleeping or otherwise vulnerable.

Castle Doctrine law can be found all over the world, but it varies significantly from country to country.

In Canada, for example, there are few protections under castle doctrine because of strict firearms laws that restrict gun ownership.

In the United States, castle doctrine is viewed as a law that protects people from prosecution when they use deadly force to defend their home or property against intruders.

What is Stand Your Ground Law?

Stand your ground law is a law that allows individuals to defend themselves and their property with deadly force if the reasonable believe themselves to be in danger of death or serious injury.

in the U.S. thirty-Eight states have stand your ground laws. In the other twelve states there is what is called a 'duty to retreat'. This means that a person must retreat from a threatening situation provided that they can do so in complete safety. These states are Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Wisconsin.

District of Columbia does not require a person to retreat but, in effect, 'suggests' retreat if absolutely safe to do so.

Stand your ground law is applicable in any place where the person has no duty to retreat before using deadly force, unlike Castle doctrine which only applies within one's home or vehicle.