It’s not that yer Uncle Pancho is getting gun shy, but every time one of my compatriots tells me he or she is traveling out of state or on a commercial carrier (plane, bus or train) with a firearm, I imagine that person drinking head first out of a still, deep stream infested with crocodiles.
The Holiday Season is upon us and many of you will be traveling across the river and through the woods packing your most prized personal possessions in various calibers (how ya supposed to sleep at night away from home unless you feel the sweet caress of the frame of your kindred spirit pressed into the back of yer head through yer Aunt Bee’s feather pillow?) If you aren’t familiar with the
self-defense laws and other gun laws of other states, your peace, tranquility and your wallet could figuratively be torn to pieces by angry and aggressive police detectives and hungry criminal defense attorneys. So, you have two choices. Leave your comfort heater at home OR know the laws of each state through which you intend to visit or travel.
It would be impossible to alert you to all the hidden legal traps in all the states in this short article. But at least we can alert you to some of our favorite pet
peeves and suggest how to best avoid them.
The New York City and New Jersey Trap - You’ve all heard about the Firearm Owners Protection Act (FOPA)? It’s a federal law that supposedly gives all Americans traveling in interstate commerce the right, if they comply with the Act’s strict requirements, to take a firearm from any place it’s legal to possess a firearm to any other place in the Union where it’s legal regardless of ugly state and local gun control laws. Apparently, officials in New York City and New
Jersey don’t completely believe they belong to the USA or believe they have to comply with federal laws. I’ve been peripherally involved in two cases where airline passengers have checked their pistols in either New York City or New Jersey airports as required by federal law and have been turned over to the local police for felony possession of pistols not registered in the arresting jurisdiction. Both travelers believe that New York City and New Jersey offer $1,000 rewards to anyone turning in another person possessing an unregistered pistol. The NRA has brought a civil rights case against New Jersey as a result of one of the arrests, but that case is long from over.
What to do - Avoid these two jurisdictions if you can’t live without your pistola. If you end up in a plane that is rerouted to NYC or NJ because you missed a connecting flight to somewhere else, DO NOT disclose that you have a pistol to ANYONE! Do not go to UPS or a gun dealer and ask them to send your pistol to a gun dealer here in Utah. (Do you think the NYC or NJ gun dealer would rather
have your $29 transfer fee or the $1,000 reward for turning your pistol-packing presence into local authorities? You guessed it. You have a right against self-incrimination - exercise it!) Rent a car without mentioning you have a pistol in your luggage (I’m not aware of anyone checking luggage for a car rental). Drive out of New York City or New Jersey to a gun-friendly state like Vermont and buy
a ticket from there back home. Yes, it will be expensive, but you will save yourself the $15,000 needed to retain a lawyer represent you. Other gun-hating jurisdictions such as Washing DC, Chicago and San Francisco may have or may in the future adopt such draconian policies. Be sure you check the laws carefully before traveling with a firearm. (Incidentally, I’ve never seen a warning
such as this on the websites of any of the major airlines. In fact, one of the individuals I mentioned actually did everything the airline asked him to do, but was arrested in a NYC airport for possession of an illegal handgun.) When you return home, please join a movement to have NY and NJ kicked
out of the Union or traded to Eastern Canada where they belong!
Carry-On Luggage - As we warned you in a previous article, please check your carry-on bags thoroughly before boarding a plane, train or bus. The Salt Lake City Attorney’s office informs me that several men and women are arrested monthly because they failed to adequately check for handguns left in their carry-on luggage. If you are lucky, the FBI will decline the case and refer you to
the City for prosecution. If you are unlucky, you’ll be indicted for a federal felony. Either way, you’ll be into it at least five grand for civil penalties,
attorney fees and fines.
Wrong Gun in the Wrong Place - Like the example given above involving NYC and NJ, you don’t want to take the wrong gun into the wrong place. For example, almost no firearms are allowed into the District of Columbia. Chicago, San
Francisco and Chicago all have ridiculous handgun restrictions. California has penalties for possessing an “assault weapon” which includes AR-15 style
rifles and magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. These laws can change without notice to travelers. A good starting place to begin researching the possession laws of U.S. cities and states are Traveler's Guide to the Firearm Laws of the Fifty States by J. Scott Kappas, Esq. and The Traveler's Gun and Knife Law Book by attorney David Wong. Both are available on line at Alan Korwin’s excellent website, www.gunlaws.com
, where you can get virtually any
gun-law book ever written.
Self-Defense Laws - If you violate a law of possession mentioned above, you might be charged with a low-level felony, which, after much heartache and expense can probably be plea-bargained to a misdemeanor. But if you violate
another state’s laws of self-defense, life as you now know it will end. You could be imprisoned for life and lose all that you have ever worked for. Just
because another state recognizes our concealed weapons permit, DOES NOT MEAN that its laws of self-defense are similar to Utah’s. There are a multitude of hidden legal traps. You may rationalize, “Well, I’ll just never use a firearm in self-defense, unless ‘my life depends upon it.’” Unfortunately, we’ve found that everyone’s concept of “ my life depended upon it” differs greatly.
Here are some of the wacky self-defense laws you will encounter as you travel. Although in Utah, it is not required to retreat before using justifiable deadly force, several states, particularly along the Eastern Seaboard, require retreat, if it’s reasonably safe to do so, before using deadly force. A big surprise to us while researching this issue was Wyoming, the Cowboy State. Wyoming requires
retreat before the use of deadly force when not in one’s home or habitation (which, incidentally, was not defined, but which we hope includes a person’s
hotel room). Although Vermont, a libertarian state, has relatively few gun control laws, we were shocked to find its self-defense laws so vague and
confusing. It’s not clear whether a traveler would be required by law to retreat from his or her hotel room, if reasonably safe to do so, before using deadly force.
Other weird self-defense rules include those that restrict the defense of third persons to certain relatives and your “master and mistress” (which we
interpreted to mean “boss man” and “boss lady” NOT your adulterous girlfriend!) States with variations of this peculiar rule include California, Idaho, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Vermont. In these states you are at serious legal
risk if you use force in defense of someone you don’t know or even of a relative that is not specifically named in that state’s self-defense statute. And speaking of defense of third persons, in some states having a reasonable belief that the
person you are defending has a right to self-defense is not enough. If it turns out that the person you defended lost the right to self-defense by starting a fight or agreeing to fight, you can be held criminally responsible for defending him or her even if you didn’t know he/she started or agreed to fight!
It’s hard to believe, but many state courts do not follow the plain language (and sometimes not so plain language - e.g. the archaic and convoluted self-defense laws of Nevada) of the state’s self-defense laws. California courts no longer look to its general self-defense laws, but have long since begun simply developing jury instructions based upon the state’s court decisions. But for our book, most people, particularly travelers, would not realize that they cannot rely upon the language of the self-defense statutes of such states.
For more information about the laws of self-defense visit our website, www.firearmslaw.com
. The right to keep and bear arms for self-defense is a
precious right. Unfortunately, there are many exceptions and hidden legal traps in the form of rumors, myths and misconceptions that could lead to disaster. If you plan to travel with a weapon this Holiday Season, please make an effort to be well informed about the laws of each state you visit.