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Have you ever been confused by all the differing advice about what to do if you are legally carrying a concealed weapon while driving and you are stopped? Well, I had theoretically decided how I would handle the situation but never actually tried it out...until a few days ago!
I had long ago read and even seen a public service video from my local Sheriff's Office suggesting that if you are pulled over for a routine traffic stop and have a concealed carry permit and are carrying a loaded firearm on your person or have one in the car -- you should simply verbally tell the officer that you have a permit and are carrying a firearm. It was suggested that you do so very early on during the exchange with the officer and that you do so with your hands clearly visible, that you are cooperative, pleasant, non-threatening, etc. You are supposed to ask the officer to tell you how they want to proceed.
Last week I saw another video by Massad Ayoob, arguably THE expert on these matters, basically advocating the same approach but with a simple additional step that you should hand the officer your concealed carry permit at the same time you hand them your driver's license. Mr. Ayoob suggested the act of revealing your carry permit without blurting out "I have a gun" is a very effective but much less potentially provocative way of letting the officer know. In everything I had read or seen it was pretty clear that a law enforcement officer might or might not ask to secure your weapon during the rest of the exhange but that they certainly had a right to. It is essentially up to the discretion of the officer.
I had posted the Ayoob video at http://www.buyholsters.com/Conduct-During-Traffic-Stop and on our BuyHolsters.com Facebook page just last week. Fast forward to a few days later.
This past weekend, I took a Basic Firearms Safety Class at the Firearms Academy of Seattle (FAS) located in Onalaska, Washington -- a good 2.5 hours south of where I live. The first part of that class was all about the legal aspects of owning firearms in Washington State. A portion of the discussion included a review of how to conduct yourself during a traffic stop if you are carrying a concealed weapon. In that review, one of the owners of the FAS suggested how she has handled herself when she has been stopped. (She does NOT disclose unless or until it is evident she will be asked to step out of the vehicle.) The instructor of the class told how he had behaved when he had been stopped in the past. Several students told what they did when they had been stopped.
I was listening and thinking, "Wow, you all sure get stopped an awful lot." And then I did it...the thing you should never do and never think. "I never get stopped!", I thought silently to myself.
The class ended around 6:00 pm and I still had at least a 3 hour jaunt back home. I stopped to eat in a fast food restaurant not long after hitting the road and so I took my .38 from my range bag and put it in a holster on my right hip. (I personally use an Active Pro Gear Model 19 Pancake Holster by the way...) I left the restaurant and headed up Interstate 5, north toward Seattle. About a half hour later as I passed through the State Capitol of Olympia I noticed a Washington State Trooper car in the lane to my left and just behind. Then he switched lanes to be directly behind me. I was on cruise control at exactly 60 legal miles per hour so I knew I wasn't speeding. But something told me I was about to be pulled over. Maybe it was the flashing lights...
Sure enough. I pulled over on the shoulder. It was still daylight but the 3 lane wide highway was busy. The trooper actually came to the passenger side front window. I had rolled down the driver's side first. The trooper leaned in through the window, pretty far into my car, and politely suggested I roll up the driver's window so we could hear better. I said, "well, I guess that would make sense" and I did so. He asked if I was aware that my license tabs were expired. I reacted with honest surprise because I did not realize that. I mean, I'm so law abiding I don't even jaywalk across an empty street! I explained that I didn't know that and that it had happened to me before -- that the State had neglected to send the customary renewal notice. The Trooper explained that the State is less and less reliable about doing that and then he asked to see my license and registration.
I was polite and cooperative this whole time. I reached for my purse wherein my billfold was located. My purse was actually closer to the Trooper at the time than to me, on the floor of the passenger side foot well (right on top of a range bag with an unloaded .38 and about 150 rounds of ammo) and I proceeded to remove the billfold and open it up. My Washintgon State Concealed Pistol License (CPL) is a laminated card a little larger than a credit card. It is in a place that is very visible when I open my billfold. My driver's license is actually tucked in a pocket and less visible.
The Trooper (who we've already established could see a postage stamp sized expired license tab while driving 60 miles per hour on a busy freeway) spotted the CPL immediately -- even before I had fully removed it and handed it to him. As I had it and the license almost bundled together to hand to him he asked me point blank, "Is that a Concealed Carry Permit?". As I handed it and my license to him I responded "Yes". He asked "Do you have a weapon with you at this time?". I responded "Yes, I was just down here to take a class at the Firearms Academy". "Where do you have your gun?", he asked. "In a holster on my right hip.", I replied.
"Ok. That's fine. Can I see your proof of insurance and registration please?", said the Trooper.
Now, I realize that I'm not exactly the most threatening looking middle aged slightly fluffy woman this Trooper might run across. But I did have a rolled up target full of holes from the class in the front seat and my car might have even smelled like gunpowder. But, the open container I had in the cupholder was clearly Pepsi and not anything stronger. And I had been going the speed limit. And I was polite and compliant. And honestly, with the traffic as heavy as it was, both I and the Trooper would probably have been at more risk if he had me get out of the car and if he temporarily took custody of my gun than if he just gave me a warning and went on his way. But still, I used the technique suggested by Massad Ayoob and it worked perfectly.
It was easy for me and I felt a lot less at risk of misunderstanding than if I had verbally advised the officer I was carrying. Especially with the road noise. Simply handing the Trooper my CPL initiated the disclosure but did so in a very safe but effective way. While it is just one example and while every circumstance and the drivers and officers involved are all different, I think it makes total sense to handle stops this way.
By the way, I've only been stopped twice in the 21 years I've lived in Washington State and both times were because my license tabs had expired! Both times were by State Patrol Troopers and in both cases the Troopers were very polite and courteous. Maybe I'm just believable but I was given a warning...well, hardly even a warning...just advised to get my tabs right away and then sent on my way in both instances. I should have my new 2012 tabs tomorrow and will no longer be on the lamb!
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