Interstate Transportation of Firearms

Interstate transportation of firearms has been the subject of much controversy, misinformation, and well-meaning but unwise advice.  The resulting confusion has led to costly legal troubles for many well-intentioned gun owners.  The problem stems from a patchwork of state laws regarding firearms that vary widely, even in adjoining states.

What is legal in North Carolina, for instance possession of a handgun, is a felony in New York without a specific license issued by New York.  Obviously, if you decide to move to New York, or to stay a week on vacation, then you should educate yourself on their laws and comply.  But what if you are just passing through, say on your way to Maine, where possession of a handgun would be legal?

In 1986, the federal government passed the Firearm Owners Protection Act (FOPA), codified in 18 USC 926A, which reads:

Notwithstanding any other provision of any law or any rule or regulation of a State or any political subdivision thereof, any person who is not otherwise prohibited by this chapter from transporting, shipping, or receiving a firearm shall be entitled to transport a firearm for any lawful purpose from any place where he may lawfully possess and carry such firearm to any other place where he may lawfully possess and carry such firearm if, during such transportation the firearm is unloaded, and neither the firearm nor any ammunition being transported is readily accessible or is directly accessible from the passenger compartment of such transporting vehicle: Provided, That in the case of a vehicle without a compartment separate from the driver’s compartment the firearm or ammunition shall be contained in a locked container other than the glove compartment or console.

Problem solved, right?  Federal law pre-empts State laws to the contrary, especially on Constitutional matters.  (Just ask Alabama about how its segregation laws held up vs. the Federal Civil Rights Act).  The state laws are unenforceable, right?  Not so fast.  It seems the not-so-gun-friendly liberal states, especially in the Northeast, are picking and choosing which federal statutes they will obey, and they are getting away with it.

New York has arrested scores of FOPA compliant visitors because they dared spend the night in a motel, stopped "too long" for a meal, or to drop in on a relative.  New Jersey arrested a man who was sleeping in a rest stop with firearms in the car.  These arrests were made on the theory that the gun owners were no longer actively "transporting" the weapon.

Air travel has been another area of controversy.  You can legally declare and transport an unloaded handgun in your checked luggage flying from NC to Maine.  But if you change planes in New York, and if your connecting flight gets cancelled by weather, you will have to claim your luggage and spend the night in the airport or in a motel.  The District Attorney for New York City has directed that people claiming those bags be arrested for violating New York's prohibition against possession of a handgun without a New York permit.

Maryland has become downright infamous for their police running the license plates of out-of-state cars, learning that the car's owner has a concealed weapons permit in their home state, and stopping the car for that reason.  Then, they search the car, and if they discover a handgun, they charge the driver, whether the gun is carried in compliance with FOPA or not.  This has happened dozens of times.

These are but a few examples of the outright abuse of power and deliberate disregard for the rights of lawful gun owners under FOPA that takes place in the Northeast in general.  Massachusetts and DC are also known for their harassment of visiting gun owners.  (To make matters worse, the US Third Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that FOPA applies only to vehicles, giving police even more leeway to violate the federal law.)  Similar problems exist in Illinois and California, but the Northeast is by far the worst area for this abuse.

If you are arrested for violating these state laws, your only option is to fight it all the way through the state trial court, state appellate courts, federal district court, federal court of appeals (the same one that dreamed up the idea that FOPA only covers vehicles), and on to the US Supreme Court...IF you happen to have an extra $200,000-300,000 laying around.  So what can be done?

Contact your Senators and Representatives and request that they amend FOPA to provide sanctions (like loss of federal funding) for states that disregard FOPA.  Request that they amend FOPA to address unintentional reclaiming of checked firearms due to no fault of the owner.  Join an organization that provides cost-of-defense insurance for firearms violations.  Avoid the troublesome states if at all possible.  But if you can't avoid them, transport any firearm in STRICT compliance with FOPA, scrupulously obey all traffic laws, and get through their jurisdiction as quickly as possible.  Print off and carry a copy of FOPA, but do not expect the officer to release you based upon it.  If you are arrested, do not answer any questions, and contact an attorney immediately.
Interstate Transportation of Firearms Interstate Transportation of Firearms Reviewed by kensunm on 7:00:00 PM Rating: 5

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