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Can You Carry A Gun Across State Lines? 7 Helpful Tips About What to Know

By Jeremiah Colt November 11, 2020 0 comments

If you own a gun, there will come a time when you need to travel out of state with it. It might be for a hunting trip, to move to another state when you relocate for a job, or if you are just skittish and need your firearm with you when you travel. We cover what you need to know when driving across state borders in the US, into Canada, and into Mexico.

Can you carry a gun across state lines?

Yes, you can carry a gun across state lines under federal law 18 USC § 926A, but it is advisable to not stop in states with strict gun laws.

Firearms can legally be transported across state borders when:

  • You can lawfully possess firearms in your state of origin (i.e. where you started your trip).

  • You can lawfully possess firearms at your destination (i.e. where your trip ends).

  • The firearm and ammo must be stored out of reach (not in the glove compartment or center console) but check the concealed carry laws of the state and how your permit affects the requirements.

Though not required, it is advisable to secure your firearms and ammo in separate lockboxes in the trunk or anywhere out of immediate reach. A car gun holster provides multiple ways to secure your gun but we advise a more secure gun safe for car like a center console gun safe.

(Source: Per federal law 18 USC § 926A, every U.S. citizen may legally transport firearms across state lines as long as he or she is legally allowed to possess the weapons in both the state of origin as well as the destination.) Under Federal Law 18 USC § 926A you can travel through, but not to, the states in which it’s illegal to carry firearms. In states with strict gun laws (such as California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York), it may be a good idea not to stop in these states at all. In addition, be sure to comply with any magazine and ammunition restrictions that are in place at your destination.

Can you legally carry a gun across the Canadian border?

Yes, you can legally carry a gun across the Canadian border but only under specific circumstances.

If you enter Canada it is advisable that you do not take handguns or ammunition with you.

However, if cross the border into Canada with long guns for sport or hunting purposes, download and complete a Non-Resident Firearm Declaration Form before you arrive at the border. However, do not sign it as a customs officer must witness your signature, and pay the associated fee.

(For more information about carrying a gun into and transporting a gun in Canada, refer to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police website.)

Can I carry a gun into Mexico?

No, Mexican Federal Law strictly forbids possession of guns or ammo without proper authorization by Mexican authorities. A violation is deemed to be a “federal firearms offense”.

The offense carries a stiff penalty. Possession of a single weapon or bullet carries a penalty of up to 5 years in a Mexican prison.

What's even worse, any tourist not admitting that they possess a firearm will be treated as an arms smuggler and is ineligible for bail.

Under special circumstances where some long guns, rifles, and shotguns are being used for sports or hunting, strict guidelines need to be followed including obtaining the correct permit from Mexican authorities. You need to get a permit from a Mexican Consulate in the United States before bringing hunting rifles or ammunition into Mexico.

Can I take my gun on a road trip?

Yes, you can take your gun on a road trip, subject to Federal Law 926A. Here is the statement of the relevant section for your review.

"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."

Let's look at some general rules and regulations that apply to all domestic travel with firearms, and get into California law in particular.

7 rules for transporting guns you should know about

  1. Crossing the border rules

  2. Requirements for importing weapons

  3. Rules when crossing a state border

  4. General rules on firearm transportation

  5. FOPA laws

  6. Regulations for bringing firearms on a commercial aircraft

  7. Open carry laws

Making sure you comply with local and federal gun laws while transporting firearms is essential. Penalties for abusing gun laws can be severe and might ruin an otherwise perfect trip.

In this article, we'll run through seven essential rules to know if you're planning on bringing your guns with you. We'll also touch on the local state laws of California and Texas.

Remember, it's always your responsibility to understand the law. Always double-check the rules of your destination and those of the states you pass through.

Also, be sure to check if any regulations or laws have changed since the last time you traveled. Laws are always evolving and adapting.

1. Crossing the U.S. Border Rules

U.S. border control is a serious affair. Bringing a firearm into the country is generally illegal if you are not a U.S. resident.

Federal Law governs the transport of firearms into the United States. Exceptions include traveling to the U.S. for hunting or shooting competitions.

While there are exceptions to the rule, be very wary of bringing weapons into the United States. U.S. border agents do have considerable discretion in the enforcement of these rules. While they may choose not to, they do have the power to confiscate your weapons, fine you, and or jail you.

Exporting firearms requires ATF Form 9. The export regulations for handguns, rifles and similar components or ammunition are called the ITAR (International Traffic in Arms Regulations). Whilst shotguns or barrel lengths longer than 18 inches are covered by the EAR (Export Administration Regulations. 

Exporting weapons requires a license from either the DDTC (Department of State's Directorate of Defense Trade Controls) or the BIS (Department of Commerce's Bureau of Industry and Security). This depends on the distinction between barrel length above. 

That's never a great start to a trip.

2. Requirements for Importing Weapons

If transporting firearms in the U.S. is vital for your journey, make sure you obtain the right permits. You will need to fill out an ATF Form 6NIA to obtain one.

The requirements listed in this form detail the exceptions to a ban on non-U.S. residents transporting firearms. You will either need a valid hunting license or an invitation to attend a sponsored shooting competition/event/tradeshow. Sponsorship must come from a National, state, or local organization.

This is to prevent merely making up an event to transport firearms. The process can take two to three months and is valid for a year. Once valid, you can travel in and out without restriction with the weapons you have received a permit for.

3. Rules When Crossing a State Border

Here's where it gets complicated. Transporting firearms between states is not restricted by federal law. In its place, citizens must follow state laws and regulations.

Your hunting trip or family gathering will have to check the local laws of the states through which you will travel. Air travel is slightly different, more on that later.

4. General Rules on Firearm Transportation

Across state lines, federal laws don't restrict the legal transportation of firearms. There are, of course, many exceptions to this rule, including but not limited to:

  • Convicted felons
  • Persons indicted for felonies
  • Persons involuntarily committed to mental institutions
  • Illegal drug users
  • Illegal aliens
  • Dishonorably discharged veterans
  • Persons convicted of domestic violence
  • Persons subject to specific domestic violence restraining orders, and more

There is no comprehensive law for all states; each state has its own transportation laws. States also tend to enforce their laws differently. Even though two states may have the same firearm regulations, they may enforce them differently.

If you are ever in doubt on transportation laws for your journey, carry your weapons:

  1. Unloaded
  2. Locked in a case
  3. Stored in an area inaccessible from the passenger compartment and not visible from outside the vehicle
  4. With ammunition separately locked

These laws will differentiate if you are a qualified or retired law enforcement officer.

5. FOPA Laws

FOPA, or the Firearms Owner Protection Act, helps protect you in mid-transport. This law applies if you transport firearms between two places where you may possess and carry that firearm.

Carrying a firearm between two places where you may legally carry it still has its restrictions. These safe passage laws are minimal to prevent gun owners from abusing the law in more restrictive states, especially regarding the open carrying of a firearm.

Therefore, weapons under FOPA protection should follow the steps above. Gun owners must keep firearms locked, unloaded, and out of reach. Keep your firearms locked in the trunk of your car or a place unreachable.

Ammunition belongs either in your trunk or a locked container other than the glove compartment. If you do not follow this guidance, you may be liable as if you were carrying firearms illegally.

In addition, some local gun laws only permit this defense after the arrest, otherwise known as an 'affirmative defense.' In the event of a stop by law enforcement, follow these guidelines for safety:

  1. Keep copies of your firearm licenses, permits, and the laws of each state you are passing through (including FOPA)
  2. Do not unnecessarily handle or pick up bags/cases containing firearms
  3. Cooperate with law enforcement calmly

6. Regulations for Bringing Firearms on a Commercial Aircraft

The TSA (Transportation Security Authority) has enacted regulations for carrying firearms or ammunition.

All firearms and ammunition must be in a check-in bag. 'Firearms' includes all parts of firearms, such as barrels, frames, magazines, or any internal parts of a gun.

Even accidentally leaving a firearm part or bullet in your carry on luggage is a serious event. Security will likely detain you for questioning and issue fines or criminal charges.

If you're carrying firearms or ammunition in your check-in luggage, be sure to:

  • Unload all firearms
  • Place them in a hard-sided container
  • Lock the container
  • Make sure only you have the key or code to the container

For more information on firearms on board an aircraft, please read this DoJ letter and the TSA website linked above.

7. Open Carry Laws

If you wish to carry your firearms on your person, loaded or unlocked, you will have to comply with state laws. This means following the law in every state you travel through.

If you are unsure about any state's laws, make sure you call the Attorney General's Office in each state you are traveling through. You can also use the link above, or call the NRA-ILA hotline at 800-392-8683.

Some states are also willing to issue a permit to carry loaded firearms on your person to non-residents. Let's take a look at the state laws of California and Texas as examples.

Transporting Firearms in California

California U.S. citizens over the age of 18 who are not prohibited from carrying a firearm are permitted to do so. This applies to anyone passing through California or staying there for a short period.

Firearms in your vehicle belong in the trunk or in a locked container. Handguns also belong in locked containers provided they are unloaded. Handguns should be transported to and from the vehicle in locked containers.

California Penal Code section 16850 states that a "locked container" means a container which is:

  1. Totally enclosed
  2. Locked by a padlock, key lock, combination lock, or similar
  3. Or locked in the trunk of a vehicle

Utility or glove compartments do not count as locked containers.

Shotguns and rifles should be unloaded but don't need to be locked away. On the other hand, assault weapons have to be in a sealed container and unloaded.

Safe Gun Transportation 

Transporting firearms can be dangerous and tricky. It is imperative to stick to all laws and regulations imposed on you. Failing to comply with local or federal laws can leave you facing criminal charges.

Remember to inquire on official government websites, or seek advice from government officials. Do not rely on legal advice from this or any other article that depicts gun safety laws.

These laws are in place to keep yourself and other citizens safe. When in doubt, make sure to keep your firearms locked, unloaded, and separate from ammunition. Never carry firearms on your person without a permit or permission from local law enforcement.

If you're looking for a safe and secure gun storage solution, look no further than USA Safe and Vault. Do not hesitate to contact us with any questions on gun storage and safe transportation.

In Summary (with Resources)

So if you still need to know if you can carry a gun across state lines, here are the top resources we found useful.

1. New York Gun Laws for Visitors

2. NRA Guide

3. Law firm of Chuck Franklin Law

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