Primary Arms

Interacting With Law Enforcement...

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One of the benefits of living in most of the states in this country is that the government (grudgingly it seems) acknowledges our pre-existing human right to keep and bear arms in this country. Whether it’s concealed carry or open carry, the acknowledgement of that right makes our nation truly unique. However, in light of recent events, I feel a need to discuss how us regular guys and girls should act while under arms, when approached or approaching law enforcement…

First, as a background, I recommend reading my article on the legalities of firearms ownership and get a handle on the basic laws, if you haven’t already. In that article, I touch on interacting with law enforcement while under arms, but in this article, I’ll be going in depth.

The first key is to understand the mindset of a law enforcement officer. We might be good guys and girls, but a cop doesn’t necessarily know that. To him, you are an unknown. He could come out of the interaction unscathed, or his interaction with you could be his last moments on earth. Especially in a traffic-stop situation where you aren’t 100% visible, he’s going to approach you with caution. It generally isn’t aggressiveness, it’s caution on his part. Are you a good guy or a bad guy? He doesn’t know.

The second key is to do everything within your power to make the officer feel at ease. Most LE encounters these days are in the guise of a traffic stop, so I’ll use that as a basis for my example.

When in a traffic stop situation, you have advance notice that the officer is approaching your vehicle. Thus, you have time to retrieve the necessary documentation that he’ll be asking for, before he approaches your vehicle. Get your license and vehicle registration out, and if necessary, your license to carry a firearm.

If necessary? What does that mean?

In the firearms world, there’s a legal concept called “duty to inform”. This varies from state to state. Basically, if your state is a duty to inform state (Florida is not by the way…) you have to tell the approaching officer you are armed, even if he doesn’t ask. For specifics on your state, reference the excellent website. They cover firearms laws for all 50 states, including duty to inform status.

Also worth noting is that some states (again, not Florida…) tie your concealed firearms license/permit to your driver’s license, so even if there’s no duty to inform, the officer will know if you are licensed to carry if he runs your information. Reference your specific jurisdiction’s website for the authoritative answer.

To inform or not to inform?

If your state has a duty to inform, the answer to that question is obvious. You have to play ball. If the officer discovers you didn’t inform, that does constitute a violation of the law and a simple traffic stop can go from simple to not-so-simple in a very short time.

If your state doesn’t have a duty to inform, the answer isn’t so simple. Some recommend giving the officer the courtesy of informing. Some recommend keeping quiet about it. My recommendation is for you to evaluate the situation. If you are in a jurisdiction (such as a costal urban area) where law enforcement has a dim view of citizens exercising their rights, then it’s best to keep quiet. If the officer inquires about whether you are armed or not, you have to answer in the affirmative, regardless of where you are. If you are in a more gun-friendly jurisdiction, then giving the “courtesy” is perfectly alright. You’ll often find that the officer might be a “gun guy/girl” themselves, and you’ll probably spend more time talking about guns than addressing whatever issue initiated the stop.

If I have to or choose to inform?

OK, you’ve been pulled over. Maybe your brake light is out. Regardless, your conduct is critical from this point on when interacting with the approaching officer.

As I said above, have your documents ready before the officer approaches your vehicle. Turn on the interior lights, and don’t make any furtive movements when he gets close. Keep your hands on the steering wheel.

When you hand over your documents, simply state:

Officer, I just want to let you know that I am legally allowed to carry a firearm, and the firearm is securely holstered on my right hip…

Or wherever the firearm may be on your body or in your vehicle.

The officer may choose to merely acknowledge your status, or he may choose to disarm you for the duration of the stop. If he chooses to disarm you - Pardon the bolded caps, but this is crucial - (thank you to Mac75 on FCC): DO NOT TOUCH YOUR WEAPON, OR MAKE ANY MOVEMENT TOWARD IT, UNLESS AND UNTIL THE LEO INSTRUCTS YOU TO. The goal here in either situation is to make the officer feel comfortable. Also equally important, make sure your passengers, if any, aren’t making any sudden moves. If they are armed, they have to abide by any laws and decisions by the officer as well. You should get your gun back at the end of the stop. Do not reload it until the officer leaves the scene.

An excellent “simulation” of the situation I described above can be seen in the video below. In it is Massad Ayoob, considered one of the “masters” of defensive firearms training. With decades of law enforcement and consulting experience, “Mas” is definitely an authority. Us regular guys and girls should aspire to his competency. Anyways, give it a watch…

What if the officer is abusive?

Sadly, this happens. Some law enforcement personnel have a dim view of citizens exercising their rights. Unfortunately the only thing I can really recommend with regards to a hostile cop is to “take it”, comply, and address the issue afterwards with your jurisdiction’s civilian review panel. Also get in touch with your state’s NRA-affiliated organization, such as Florida Carry for us Sunshine State folk, as they can provide quality services in an unusual situation such as this.

And yes, I’m aware of current events where things have escalated quickly to a undesirable outcome in police/citizen interactions. However, as a regular guy, I don’t have the experience to comment on a complex issue such as what happened recently.

In the end…

Be calm, be polite, and your interaction with law enforcement should go fine. Remember the laws, and your rights. Police are human and common courtesies between people will go a long way.

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