Traffic Stop While Carrying in Pennsylvania

U.S. Law Shield Independent Program Attorney Justin McShane:

Nothing can ruin your day like being pulled over by a police officer.  You see flashing lights going on and you think to yourself, oh, great.  What did I do?  As someone who has a license to carry a firearm, there’s naturally going to be questions about what you can, should and must do in the type of a traffic stop like I just described.

First things first.  Be safe and use common sense.  Pull over immediately to a safe area, safe for you and safe for the police officer.  I would suggest keep your hands on the steering wheel, put on your four-way flashers, put down your side-view mirror. When the police officer approaches, he will tell you or she will tell you their name, what agency they’re from and potentially maybe, although they don’t have to, the reason for the stop.  If they do so and they ask for license, registration, proof of insurance, it’s a good idea to sit there and say, hey, it’s over in my glove box.  I’m going to go over to the glove box, if that’s okay.  If you have a firearm in the glove box, it’s a wonderful idea, even though you’re not required to under the law, if you have a firearm in there to let them know, hey, I want to let you know I have a license to carry a firearm and there’s a firearm in the glove box where I have my registration papers and my insurance card.  Do you still want me to go in there?

They will appreciate that because nothing’s worse than all of a sudden your .357 magnum falls out and you could startle them, and they don’t know what’s going on.  They don’t know if you’re a good guy or bad guy.  One of the most dangerous things for a police officer is a traffic stop.  But under the law if you are carrying a firearm concealed or even openly in a car, you have no duty or requirement to announce to the police officer that you’re carrying a firearm.  It also depends upon where it is in the car.  If it’s in the back trunk area that’s not accessible to you, maybe you don’t want to tell them about it.  It’s up to you.  If it’s on your hip and the police officer is going to see it anyway, might be a good idea to tell them about it just so it doesn’t open up a whole can of worms and potential misunderstandings.

So, the police officer can ask for your license to carry a firearm under certain conditions if probable cause exists.  In other words, if they see a firearm say on your seat, they have a report of someone like you got SWAT’d, someone saying, oh, there was some crazy man with a firearm, in that case they can ask you for a license to carry a firearm.  They can also ask you for no reason whatsoever, but you don’t have to comply but you also cannot lie to a police officer during an official investigation.  So, in that point in time, if you decline to provide them that information, you can simply say, hey, I decline to give that information. That might escalate things and get what should be a short period of time to get your traffic ticket and move on to make it a longer period.  That’s up to you.  You have to think about that.

And the ultimate question is if you say you have a license to carry a firearm, does that open it up to a search of your entire car where they go looking for everything?  The answer to that is no.  They can always ask for consent to search your car for no reason whatsoever and you can or can’t grant it.  But depending upon what you want to do, it’s generally not a good idea to grant consent absent a search warrant to a car, even if you think there’s nothing in it.  But that’s, again, up to you.  The law doesn’t command or say that you have to be removed from the car once you announce that you have a license to carry a firearm and you have a firearm with you, so, they have the right to search the whole car.  That’s not the law.

And the other thing to think about is the way that you tell the police officer that you have a firearm.  It is not a good idea when the police officer comes up to you for first contact and say, I’ve got a gun.  That’s not a good idea at all.  The better thing to do is if you’re going to declare it, you say, hi, trooper.  Thank you very much.  I want to let you know I have a license to carry a firearm, and I have a Glock 26 firearm on my right hip.  What would you like me to do? And await for further instructions.

If you get into a situation where the police officer doesn’t understand the law, it is not a good idea to start, you know, pulling out your gun and saying, Second Amendment, and all this good stuff. That’s a formula for disaster, but it is a great idea to call up U.S. Law Shield if you’re a member on our emergency hot line.  We’d be happy to help you out.

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