Traveling Within the U.S. With Your Gun

Many gun enthusiasts have been actively following the case of Marine Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi, who is being held in a Mexican jail since accidently crossing the border with three handguns.  Although many do not understand why an agreement cannot be worked out for Tahmooressi’s release, it is easy to understand how crossing an international border with firearms can be troublesome. But do you realize he same thing can happen by simply crossing from one state to another without ever leaving the United States?

Invisible Lines
One of the great benefits of living in a democracy with a strong federal government is the unrestricted movement across internal borders. Persons and vehicles can move easily from shore to shore without fear of checkpoints, detention or need for special permits.

Unless you are carrying a firearm.

Although the right to keep and bear arms remains a hotly contested legal concept, there are over a century of court decisions confirming an individual’s right to do so. However, many of these same courts have ruled that individual states retain the right to impose “reasonable” restrictions, including the right to issue permits for the concealed carry of handguns.

At first glance, the requirement that gun owners be licensed appears no more restrictive than similar licensing requirements for driving. Unfortunately, while each state readily accepts both driver licenses and vehicle registrations from all other states, they do not convey that same level of acceptance to permits for the carrying of firearms.

According to the National Rifle Association, only Vermont allows citizens of any state to legally carry a firearm with its borders. All other states apply a variety of requirements concerning concealed carry by not only its own residents but also those who may visit, or merely pass through.

There are no shortage of stories involving otherwise law abiding citizens, legally licensed to carry a firearm in their home state, being arrested and facing potential prosecution after  transporting that firearm into a neighboring state which does not recognize the out of state permits.

  • Shaneen Allen, a single mom from Philadelphia, faces felony weapons charges after volunteering she had a handgun in her possession during a minor traffic stop in New Jersey.
  • Meredith Graves, a 39 yr old Louisville woman, was arrested after attempting to check her handgun while visiting the World Trade Center because there was a sign announcing “No guns allowed.”

Each of these individuals became defendants for one reason – they mistakenly believed their state issued permits were valid in other states which happened to have much more restrictive regulations in place. You can help to avoid similar problems by understanding the laws in not only your state, but also those of any states you plan on traveling to or even through.

U.S. Concealed Carry Reciprocity MapAllows the user to select the state from which they obtained their permit(s) and provides a list of states which recognizes your permit(s). The map graphic allows for easier planning of travel routes bypassing potential trouble states.

TSA Traveling with Special Items – Firearms & AmmunitionThe first step in legally traveling aboard commercial airliners with a firearm is to understand the TSA requirements. However, travelers must understand that they are subject to state and local regulations at both the point of departure AND final destination. Furthermore, individual airlines may enact more restrictive policies.

AMTRAK Traveling with Special ItemsIf traveling by railway, you will still need to be aware of legal requirements at point of departure, final destination and any potential disembarking points along the way. You will also need to follow AMTRAK regulations regarding storage and advance declaration.

If you have any specific questions concerning the legal status of your firearms in another state, the best process is to contact the issuing authority in that jurisdiction and ask. You should also attempt to obtain a written copy of the local regulations for later reference if the need should arise.

Tom Burrell

Tom Burrell

Tom enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserves in 1987. Following service in Desert Storm, he transitioned to active duty with the US Coast Guard. In 1997 he left the USCG to pursue a position in conservation & maritime law enforcement. Tom is currently a Captain and he oversees several programs, including his agency investigation unit. He is also a training instructor in several areas including firearms, defensive tactics and first aid/CPR. In 2006 Tom received his Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Harrisburg Area Community College and in 2010 a Bachelor’s Degree from Penn State University.
Tom Burrell

9 thoughts on “Traveling Within the U.S. With Your Gun

  1. Good article with good resources to help gun owners. One thing I would like to say though, is that I know Arizona allows any person who legally owns a firearm and has a valid government I.D. to carry both open and concealed without any other permit, regardless of what state you are from.

    That whole thing with Ms. Allen is pretty messed up. Good thing NJ got such a herdened criminal off the streets…….

  2. Seth,

    You are correct, AZ did pass an update to their firearms law allowing carry without a permit. However , there are some restrictions for those who choose to carry without a permit which differ from individuals who do have a permit. For example non permitted carry is not allowed in businesses which serve alcohol but with a permit this is allowed.
    Based upon the current rules in AZ a more accurate statement would be “Vermont does not issue permits but allows legal carry by both residents and nonresident who are not otherwise prohibited to do so.”

  3. You got me there. Without a permit, you cannot carry in a place that serves alcohol in AZ. Man, there are too many gun laws on the books. One can get all kinds of turned around if you have to travel between states.

  4. Mr. Burnell,

    I am confused by one point you made: “At first glance, the requirement that gun owners be licensed appears no more restrictive than similar licensing requirements for driving” is correct.

    My understanding is that lawful gun ownership in most states does not require anything more than proving your age. Instead of ‘owning’ did you mean ‘carrying’? I ask because it is a very important distinction.

    In my opinion the ability to own a gun but not carry it is like being able to own water but not drink it. It is utterly ridiculous, but unfortunately it is the country we live in.

    Thank you

  5. Arch,

    You are correct, “gun owner” may have been a poor choice of words. I was referring to individuals who elect to carry a firearm outside their home rather than those who simply own a gun.
    You are also on point with stating that owning a gun and not being able to carry it is pointless!


  6. I recently moved across the country. Fortunately reciprocity is excellent with my original CPL, and because of it the process is somewhat different for obtaining my CCDW here. Flying with firearms is not something I enjoy, and you absolutely do have to know the rules, not only for TSA but for the airlines you’re specifically flying on AND any state you might land in. People have gotten in serious trouble with flights detoured elsewhere that landed them in, say, New York, with their guns. It really is ridiculous…and what I find incredibly ridiculous personally is that to check my cases I had to go through multiple checks, accompany them throughout the concourse, stand by while the final check was done, answer questions repeatedly, sign a few forms, and so on…but upon arrival they were just chucked down the baggage carousel with everything else. The door was about five feet away. Literally anyone could have picked them up and left if I hadn’t rushed to the carousel to wait (and there really isn’t an effective way to disguise what Pelican cases are). Your article makes some valuable points, Tom, people need to consider laws everywhere they go, and in their home state they really should know them backwards and forwards, because many members of law enforcement, sadly, do not (or don’t care). Something that was drilled into me from an early age by my police officer uncle. Good article.

  7. Good article and anyone carrying a concealed carry should take notice of it.

    I’m being persnickety about this, but I think it’s important, the author said: “One of the great benefits of living in a democracy with a strong federal government…”

    Since he’s talking about the United States, I’d like to point out we are not a democracy, but a republic. No mention of “democracy” is in the U.S. Constitution or Bill of Rights. Plus, there is a big difference between a democracy and a republic that I won’t go into here.

    The “strong federal government” part just repulsed me….I guess it’s true we have a strong federal government today, but it was designed (originally) to be weaker.

    Okay…I’m done nit-picking. Good article! Two thumbs up.

  8. Erick

    You are correct, I am guilty of incorrectly using democracy when I should have used republic. The statement concerning “strong federal government ” was meant in a limited context, specifically that having a strong federal government rather than stronger individual state governments allows for easy travel across internal borders.

    Thank you for your comments.

  9. I would like to add one more thing that I’ve seen happened several times that is a huge problem. Don’t forget the restrictions in federal offices and facilities. Let’s say you’re in Virginia and have a valid carry permit but enter a federal facility, whether it is a building or a”base,” (something like a Dept of Agriculture facility with some buildings and a big land area.). Once you cross the fence line you have committed a crime. The point is, federal land and facilities are covered by US Code, NOT the laws of the surrounding state with regard firearms. I have seen many people arrested at several facilities because they did not realize they were, for purposes of the law, leaving the state.

    Take care..

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