What are the Laws for Carrying a Gun in Your Car?

The transportation of firearms in a personal vehicle is interpreted differently by various laws in the US. There are so many factors that go into traveling around with firearms. And there are different laws because gun possession is not as free in some states as they are in others.

Carrying Unloaded Firearms

The general rule and the best practice is always to transport a firearm unloaded in a locked container. As long as there is no ammunition contained inside or attached to a handgun, it can be considered unloaded. Also, even if you have ammunition in a magazine, as long as the magazine is not fixed into a handgun you can transport the magazine with the handgun

In some states, if there is ammunition in a magazine, you cannot transport a handgun and the magazine in the same container. It does not matter if the magazine and the ammunition are not affixed to the handgun.

Carrying Gun in a Locked Container.

A locked container is something that is fully enclosed and prevents access to the firearm. The container is termed locked if it is locked with a padlock, a key lock, combination lock, or other locking devices. There are specific definitions of locking devices under the transportation of gun laws. Gun laws do not specifically define what type of material the locked container has to be; therefore, it can be any type of material that you want. A container can qualify as locked as long as you put some locking mechanism and they prevent access to a firearm.

An example of a locked container would be the simple box that you get with a firearm when you purchase it.

Glove Boxes, Utility Compartments, and Trunks

One common question is if glove boxes and utility departments qualify as locked containers. In states like California, those types of compartments are not locked containers. There are multiple sections in California's penal code that expressly prohibits someone from storing a firearm or transporting a firearm in a glove department or a utility box. However, this can be different in other states.

A trunk qualifies as a locked container but it only counts when it can be locked and cannot be accessed from inside the vehicle. For example, an SUV does not have a trunk and the rear of the SUV can be accessed from other compartments of the vehicle's interior.

Carrying Various Types of Firearms in a Car

The rule for handguns and pistols is different from shotguns and rifles. They do not have to be in a locked container, but they can be in a container out of plain view. They don't have to be locked too.

Not all types of rifles are assault weapons, but in some states, there are laws where individuals would have to register specific rifles as assault weapons. You have to transport assault weapons unloaded and in a locked container. You can also register your firearm for double use. In this case, you can only transport to and from specific locations. For example, you can transport them from your home to your FFL dealer and back to your home. You can also transport them from your home to a gun range and back to your home. If you are transporting a registered firearm, make sure you are only going to and from approved locations. Do not do random stops and don't just throw the rifle in your car.

Carrying Firearms Within School Zones

Here, federal law requires that if you are transporting a firearm and you are within the range of a school zone, they must be unloaded in a locked container. There are various factional scenarios that could apply. For example, in states where you do not have to lock a rifle. Well, if you enter into the area of a school zone while transporting that firearm, you fall under the federal laws and it must be actually locked. Federal law defines school zones as within a thousand feet of the school grounds

Penalty for Violations

The penalty for violating these transportation laws depends on the jurisdiction where it occurred. Most criminal charges involving firearms in states are considered wobblers. The prosecutor is granted the discretion of charging with either a misdemeanor or a felony. If charged with a misdemeanor the penalty can be up to a year of imprisonment in jail or fined up to an amount of a thousand dollars. When charged with a felony, the penalty can be up to three years in jail and up to one thousand dollars in fines or both. The fee is up to the discretion of the prosecutor.

If you are convicted of a felony, that will affect your ability to purchase firearms down the road. So, you must be very cautious when you are transporting firearms.

What is the Firearm Owners Protection Act?

Firearms Owners Protection Act will make your firearms legal during transportation from point A to point B of your travels. With FOPA, you are covered with everything. For example, the Gauntlet is not accepted in a number of states like Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, and Rhode. But because of FOPA, you will be protected when you travel through those states.

How to Travel Interstate With A Firearm?

The fact that you have a concealed carry permit does not mean you can go anywhere you want with your firearm. You might know the laws of your state, but there are no uniform firearm laws across the US, so you must be aware of other state's laws. There are some states where carrying a gun without the proper permit is regarded as a felony offense. So you need to know and understand where you can and can't carry your gun.

Since it is almost impossible to know all state laws and reciprocity agreements, there are some wonderful resources online to help gun owners. These are various websites and mobile apps that will give you an interactive reciprocity map. With this, you can figure out where you can use your permit. By clicking on the states, you will know if your permit is valid while you are there or not.

These apps will also list all of the gun laws in that state. So you will understand what is legal and what is not legal. They help you answer questions like; Is it a right to carry? Is it an open carry state? Do they issue permits? Do they issue non-resident permits? Etc.

These resources are especially good if you are driving across the country or if going on vacation. Some of these apps also come with a map to plot out our route. All you have to do is set up the app to which state you are going into. When you pass through a state, the app will give you a summary of all you need to know about state laws. This is the kind of information that will keep you out of jail and trouble.


Some of the most frequently asked question about carrying guns in a car are:

Can I drive through states that don't have reciprocity?

Reciprocity is the concept that having concealed permit in one state which is valid means you are allowed to carry concealed in other states. If you are going through a state that has no concealed carry or does not recognize your permit, before you get into that state, make your firearm is safe and secure.

 Some state's laws would allow you to transport it through that state without any repercussions and some will not allow that. As a gun owner who is traveling around the United States, you must not only know the rules of the state you are going to but the rules of the states that you are going through.

Which law will I abide by in other states?

If you have a concealed permit from another state and you are allowed to carry your weapon in a particular state, you are subject to the state that you are. You must abide by its rules, laws, and regulations all through your stay in that state.

Saying that you are from another state or that is not how the law works in your home state is not going to get you out of trouble. Ignorance of the law is not a defense.

What happens if somebody sees a gun in my car?

In most states, inadvertent showing of a gun is not something that is actionable under the law. But pulling it out or brandishing such that folks can see and recognize it as a firearm could be a threat.

Open carry States will allow you to open carry if you are authorized and licensed to carry. It is a personal choice whether you choose to advertise the fact that you have a firearm on your person, or whether you want to conceal carry and not let people know that you are armed.

In constitutional Carry states like Kansas, you can drive in the middle of the street with a large rocket launcher if you are lawfully allowed to possess the weapon.