Interstate Transportation of Personally-Owned Firearms

The following is a citizen's guide to legal transportation of personally-owned firearms for hunting, competitive shooting, vacationing, and changing residence between states.

Introduction

Federal law does not restrict an individual (except convicted felons, persons under indictment for felonies, mental defectives or incompetents, illegal users of controlled drugs, illegal aliens, veterans dishonorably discharged, those who have renounced their U.S. citizenship, and fugitives from justice) from transporting firearms across state lines. Thus, there is no federal firearms interstate transportation permit.

Many states have laws governing the transportation of firearms. In addition, many cities and localities have ordinances restricting the transportation of firearms. Travelers must be aware of these laws and comply with the legal requirements in each jurisdiction. There is no uniform state firearms transportation procedure.

Federal Law on Transportation of Firearms

A provision of federal law serves as a defense to state or local laws which would prohibit the passage of persons with firearms in interstate travel.

Notwithstanding any state or local law, a person shall be entitled to transport a firearm from any place where he may lawfully possess and transport such firearm to any other place where he may lawfully possess and transport such firearms if the firearm is unloaded and in the trunk. In vehicles without a trunk, the unloaded firearm shall be in a locked container other than the glove compartment or console. Necessary stops, e.g., gasoline and rest, seem permissible.

Carrying on or About the Person

It must be stressed that as soon as any firearm---handgun, rifle, or shotgun---is carried on or about the person, or placed in a vehicle where it is readily accessible, state and local firearms laws dealing with carrying come into play. If you seek to transport firearms in such a manner, it is advisable that you determine what the law is by contacting the Attorney General's office in each state through which you may travel or by reviewing an NRA State Firearms Law Digest. You should determine whether a permit is needed and how to obtain one if available. While many states require a permit for this type of carrying, most will not issue such permits to nonresidents and others prohibit such carrying altogether.

Transportation by Motor Vehicle: The General Rule

In most states, personally-owned firearms may be transported legally if they are unloaded, cased, and locked in the automobile trunk. As an additional precaution, firearms may be disassembled and separated from ammunition.

The exceptions to this rule deal mainly with interstate transportation of handguns. The myriad and conflicting legal requirements for firearm transportation through the states make caution the key for travelers.

If you travel with a trailer or camper that is hauled by an automobile, it is advisable to transport the firearms unloaded, cased and locked in the automobile trunk. If your vehicle is of the type in which driving and living spaces are not separated, the problem becomes one of access. If the firearm, including handguns, rifles or shotguns, is carried on or about the person, or placed in the camper where it is readily accessible to the driver or any passenger, state and local laws dealing with concealed carrying of firearms may come into play. It is suggested, therefore, that the firearm be transported unloaded, cased, and placed in a locked rear compartment of the camper or mobile home, inaccessible to the driver or passenger.

Once you reach your destination, the state or, in some areas, municipal law, will control the ownership, possession, and transportation of your firearms.

Note:Generally, when a mobile home is readily mobile, i.e., when one can simply start its engine or the engine of its towing vehicle and drive away---even if it is capable of being used as a home--- a mobile home is considered a vehicle. If a mobile home is not mobile, i.e., it does not have an engine, or is not attached to a towing vehicle, and is on blocks, permanently connected to utilities, it is considered a house, not a vehicle.

Jurisdictions with Special Rules

California---Travelers to California beware. Before entering the state, a California permit and registration may first need to be obtained for specified semi-automatic rifles, specified semi-automatic pistols, specified shotguns, and any other firearm which is an ``assault weapon.'' Contact the California Department of Justice in Sacramento for additional information.

Connecticut---Connecticut requires a permit to carry handguns in a vehicle. Nonresidents may carry a handgun in or through the state for the purpose of taking part in a firearms competition or an exhibition provided they are residents of the U.S. and have a valid permit-to-carry issued by any other state or locality. No permit is required when changing residences, provided the handgun is unloaded and cased or securely wrapped.

Hawaii--- Hawaii requires the registration of all firearms and ammunition with the county chief of police within 48 hours of arrival on the islands. Rifles or shotguns may be transported for target shooting at a range or hunting provided they are unloaded and cased or securely wrapped. If they are transported for hunting, a valid state hunting license must be procured. Handgun transportation is limited to one's place of sojourn or between the place of sojourn and a target range, provided it is unloaded and securely wrapped or cased.

Illinois--- Illinois permits nonresidents to transport a firearm provided it is unloaded, enclosed in a case, and not easily accessible. Nonresidents may possess an operable firearm for licensed hunting, or at a Department of Law Enforcement-recognized target shooting range or gun show.

The City of Chicago requires all firearms possessed in the city to be registered. Handguns not previously timely registered in Chicago cannot be registered. Oak Park, Evanston, Morton Grove, Highland Park, Wilmette, and Winnetka prohibit the possession of a handgun. Firearms may be transported under the general rule through Chicago for a lawful recreational firearm-related activity.

Indiana and Michigan--- Both states require a carrying permit to transport a handgun in a vehicle. Nonresidents are ineligible for permits; however, both states recognize carrying permits from other states. Exempt from the Michigan permit requirements are hunters with valid Michigan hunting licenses, or individuals with proof of membership in an organization with handgun shooting range facilities in the state, provided the handguns are unloaded and in a container and locked in the trunk or storage area of the vehicle. Both Indiana and Michigan exempt transportation of unloaded handguns during a change of residence. In Michigan, the handgun must be in a container. In Indiana it must be in the trunk or storage area of the car.

Maryland--- Maryland prohibits the unlicensed transportation of handguns in vehicles except for a variety of lawful purposes, including target shooting. Handguns must be transported unloaded and in a enclosed case or holster with a strap.

Massachusetts--- Massachusetts allows nonresidents to bring personally-owned handguns into the Commonwealth for competition, exhibition or hunting. If the handgun is for hunting, a valid hunting license must be procured. Furthermore, the handgun owner must have a valid carrying permit from another state and that state's permit requirements must be the same as in Massachusetts. Those persons who do not meet these requirements must obtain a temporary handgun permit from the Department of Public Safety, 1010 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts 02215.

Nonresidents may transport rifles and shotguns into or through Massachusetts if the guns are unloaded, cased and locked in the trunk of a vehicle.

A nonresident may physically possess an operable rifle or shotgun while hunting with a Massachusetts license, while on a firing range, while at a gun show, or if the nonresident has a permit to possess any firearm in his home state.

A special caution, however, is in order. Massachusetts has enacted one of the most restrictive gun laws in the Nation imposing a mandatory one year jail sentence for anyone illegally possessing a firearm, loaded or unloaded, ``on his person or under his control in a vehicle.''

In all cases, all firearms must be transported as prescribed in the general rule.

Boston---In Boston under a vague law it is unlawful to possess, display, transfer, or receive any shotgun with a capacity exceeding 6 rounds; a semi-automatic rifle with a magazine exceeding 10 rounds; any SKS, AK47, Uzi, AR-15, Steyr AUG, FN-FAL, and FN-FNC rifle; any semi-automatic pistol which is a modification of a proscribed rifle or shotgun; and any magazine or belt which holds more than 10 rounds. An ``assault weapons roster board'' may add additional firearms to the list of so-called ``assault weapons.'' For owners to continue possession of such firearms a license/registration must be obtained from the Boston Police Commissioner within 90 days of the effective date of the law (12/9/89) or addition of a firearm to a roster of ``assault weapons.'' Otherwise a license/registration cannot be obtained.

The provision shall not apply to possession by nonresidents of Boston at a sporting or shooting club by one with a Massachusetts license to carry a pistol, or while taking part in competition or at a collectors' exhibit or meeting or traveling to or from such event or while in transit through Boston for the purpose of hunting by licensed hunters, provided that in all cases the ``assault weapon'' is unloaded and packaged and the person has a Massachusetts firearm identification card or has license or permit to carry or possess firearms issued by another state.

New Hampshire--- A license to carry a firearm concealed issued to a nonresident by another state shall be honored if such state provides a reciprocal privilege.

New Jersey---New Jersey does not permit firearms to be transported through the state unless the owner possesses a Firearms Identification Card. Exceptions to this prohibition are: a person traveling to and from a target range or to and from hunting, provided the individual has obtained a valid state hunting license, and ``between one place of business or residence and another when moving.'' In any event, the general rule should be followed.

New Jersey lists over 4 dozen specified firearms as being ``assault firearms.'' An assault firearm is any semi-automatic rifle with a fixed magazine capacity exceeding 15 rounds, and any semi-automatic shotgun with either a magazine capacity exceeding 6 rounds, an accentuated pistol grip, or a folding stock. Such firearms require registration and a New Jersey license to possess. Any ammunition magazine capable of holding more than 15 rounds may only be possessed for a registered and licensed ``assault firearm''.

New York--- New York prohibits the transportation of handguns except by a resident with a license to carry.

A member or coach of an accredited college or university target pistol team may transport a handgun into or through New York to participate in a collegiate, Olympic or target pistol shooting competition provided that the handgun is unloaded and carried in a separate locked container.

Nonresident target shooters may enter or pass through New York State with handguns for purposes of any NRA approved competition if the competitor has in his possession a copy of the match program, proof of entry and a pistol license from his state of residence. The handgun must be unloaded and transported in a fully opaque container.

New York State has strict laws governing illegal possession of handguns which can result in a possible seven year jail sentence for offenders.

A special caution: New York law presumes that an individual stopped in possession of five or more handguns, without a state permit, possesses the handguns for illegal sale, thus subjecting this person to an increased sentence.

New York is the only state in the Union which prohibits the transportation of handguns without a license. Law-abiding citizens should therefore be particularly careful since they face severe consequences should they inadvertently violate the state's myriad, technical, anti-gun provisions.

New York City--- New York City requires a city permit for possession and transportation of handguns and long guns. New York State handgun permits are invalid within the city limits; however, New York State residents may transport their licensed handguns unloaded through the city if these are locked in a container and the trip is continuous. Rifles and shotguns may be kept in the city for only 24 hours while in transit and these must be unloaded and stored in a locked container or automobile trunk for the period.

New York City forbids the possession of an ``assault weapon,'' which includes various specified semi-automatic rifles and shotguns, or revolving shotgun. It is also unlawful to possess an ``ammunition feeding device'' capable of holding more than 17 rounds in a handgun, and more than 5 rounds in a rifle or shotgun.

In all cases, the general rule should be observed. The New York State law on illegal possession applies to the city as well.

Ohio---Caution. Some units of local government, e.g., Brooklyn, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, and Dayton, forbid the possession of certain semi-automatic firearms and specified shotguns.

Oregon--- A concealed handgun permit or license issued by any state that has requirements substantially comparable to those of Oregon shall be recognized.

Pennsylvania---Pennsylvania requires a permit to carry a handgun in a vehicle. Permits are available to nonresidents and may be obtained from any county sheriff or chief of police in the major cities. An unloaded, securely wrapped handgun may be carried without a license when changing residences.

Rhode Island---Rhode Island requires a permit to transport a handgun. There are three exceptions to this requirement: (1) A person licensed to carry in another state may transport a handgun during an uninterrupted journey across the state; (2) A person may carry without a permit an unloaded, securely wrapped, and, if possible, broken down handgun to and from a target range; or (3) An individual can transport a handgun, under the previous conditions, without a permit during a change of residence.

Washington, D.C.--- District of Columbia laws prohibits the transportation of firearms through the city unless the travel is to or from lawful recreational firearm-related activity. Firearms transported for this purpose should be carried in accordance with the general rule.

Other Points to Remember

Firearms Aboard Aircraft

Federal law prohibits the carrying of any firearm, concealed or unconcealed, on or about the person or in carry-on baggage while aboard an aircraft. Unloaded firearms not accessible to the passenger while aboard the aircraft are permitted when:

  1. The passenger has notified the airline when checking the baggage that the firearm is in the baggage and that it is unloaded.
  2. The baggage in which the firearm is carried is locked, and only the passenger checking the baggage retains a key.
  3. The baggage is carried in an area, other than the flight crew compartment, that is inaccessible to passengers.

Firearms Aboard Other Carriers

Any passenger who owns or legally possesses a firearm being transported aboard any common or contract carrier for movement with the passenger in interstate or foreign commerce must deliver the unloaded firearm into the custody of the pilot, captain, conductor, or operator of such common or contract carrier for the duration of the trip. Check with each carrier before your trip to avoid problems

Bus companies usually refuse to transport firearms. Trains usually allow the transportation of encased long guns, if they are disassembled or the bolt is removed.

Hunters

Hunters should have a thorough knowledge of the game laws of each state in which they hunt. In many states, game wardens strictly enforce regulations dealing with the transportation of firearms during hunting season. Some states, for instance, prohibit the carrying of uncased long guns in the passenger compartment of a vehicle after dark. For up-to-date information on these regulations, it is advisable to contact local fish and game authorities.

National and State Parks

Generally, firearms are prohibited in national parks. If you are transporting firearms, you must notify the ranger or gate attendant of this fact on your arrival, and your firearm must be rendered ``inoperable'' before you enter the park. The National Park Service defines ``inoperable'' to mean unloaded, cased, broken down if possible, and out of sight. Individuals in possession of an operable firearm in a national park are subject to arrest. Again, rules in various state park systems vary, so inquiry should be made concerning the manner of legal firearms possession in each particular park system.

Canada

Canada has very strict laws governing the transport of handguns and ``military type'' long guns. United States citizens may bring ``sporting'' rifles and shotguns into Canada. These must be declared to Customs officials when entering Canada.

Handguns and other ``restricted'' weapons may be brought into Canada if a ``permit to transport'' has first been obtained from Canadian authorities. The permit is issued by a ``local registrar of firearms'' in a province for a limited period of time. The head of the provincial police can inform you where one is located. Travelers to Alaska should take note.

Conclusion

Common sense and caution are important whenever you are traveling with firearms. Prudence in the way in which your firearms are packed and located in your vehicle are important factors in your compliance with the law.

It should also be remembered that you have constitutional protections both against unreasonable searches and seizures and against compelled self-incrimination. Although the authorities may search anywhere within your reach without a search warrant after a valid stop, they may not open and search closed luggage without probable cause to believe evidence of a crime will be found, particularly when it is in a locked storage area or trunk of a vehicle, unless you consent. You have a right not to consent. Furthermore, although you may be required to produce a driver's license, vehicle registration, and, perhaps, proof of automobile insurance, you have a right to remain silent.

There is no substitute, however for scrupulous compliance with every requirement of the law in the state or locality through which you are traveling.

Caution: State firearms laws are subject to frequent change. The above summary is not to be considered as legal advice or restatement of law. To determine the applicability of these laws to specific situations which you may encounter, you are strongly urged to consult a local attorney.

         (c)  1993 NRA/ILA

NL3N 0202                   Rev. 7/93 100M