Although data from the Pew Research Center in 2017 indicates that about 40 percent of all Americans own guns, and figures from the BBC and 2018’s Small Arms Survey reveal that there are 120.5 firearms for every 100 residents of the United States, federal law in the country largely doesn’t concern itself with the issue of concealed carry weapons.
As ever, the issue of carrying a weapon with a concealed carry permit across state lines mostly falls under the purview of state law. Suffice to say, in a union of 50 states, this makes for a pretty intricate and often confusing tapestry of distinct legislation to decipher for gun owners on the road and in the air. Long story short, the legality of carrying a weapon over state borders boils down to how the respective states’ laws interact with each other.
Safe Passage Law
Among the complex entanglement of state laws, there is at least one blanket bit of federal legislation that protects concealed carriers as they travel from state to state. The federal Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986, which itself revises much of the Gun Control Act of 1968, adds a provision that at least offers notable relief for gun owners during the actual process of travel – and only during that process.
In Section 926A of U.S. Code Title 18, “Interstate transportation of firearms,” the law specifies that if someone travels from one state to another state, while carrying a firearm that they are legally allowed to possess in their home state, they are protected from the penalties of stricter guns laws in the state that they are passing through. This defense only applies when passing through – not lingering in – various states and naturally includes some pretty major caveats, though.
For one, during transportation, the gun must be unloaded and not readily accessible. Likewise, the firearm’s ammunition cannot be readily accessible during transport. When traveling in personal vehicles, the passage suggests keeping the unloaded firearm in a compartment separate from the driver’s compartment, or failing that, in a glove compartment or a separate container, such as a lock box. This piece of federal legislation has come to be known as the “safe passage” provision.
Laws Change at the State Line
Outside of the safe passage provision, things get a whole lot murkier, legally speaking. Regardless of whether they’re in possession of a concealed carry permit from another state, every person who carries a concealed weapon across a state border must comply with the firearm transportation laws of the state that they cross into. Of course, the confusion sets in as every state has a whole litany of different laws regarding the transportation of guns.
As such, there is no one right answer to the question of how to carry a concealed weapon across state lines while on a trip (with the exception of the short stops along the journey, which safe passage laws protect). Instead, the United States Concealed Carry Association (USCCA) puts it pretty plainly on their official website: The only way to assure legal protections is to “get in the habit of always checking to make sure [a] concealed carry permit will be honored in the [next] state.”
Rather than a one-size-fits all law, then, this is extremely contextual to the individual concealed-carry traveler and their specific route through various states.
Reciprocity Among States
Legal precedents make it clear that the safe passage law focuses strictly on protecting gun owners during short stops, which pretty much means for food, gas and bathroom breaks, not for hotel stays or even brief friendly visits. Otherwise, concealed carriers rely on a concept known as state reciprocity. Reciprocity is the concept of one jurisdiction honoring a permit or license – in this case, a concealed carry permit – issued by another jurisdiction.
For example, as the USCCA points out, a gun owner from Kansas who has a concealed carry permit from their home state can still legally carry their concealed firearm in states such as Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma and Nebraska because those states will recognize permits from Kansas. That’s state reciprocity in action. However, that permit will not be recognized in states such as Wyoming or Washington, making the carry illegal without a non-resident permit.
Concealed Carry Reciprocity Maps
To say reciprocity varies widely from state to state is an extreme understatement.
For example, only the states of Montana, Indiana and Alabama honor concealed carry permits from North Dakota without restrictions. On the other hand, the states of Washington, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, New Mexico, Louisiana, Indiana, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia all honor concealed carry permits from Ohio. This paints a pretty clear picture of the incredible amount of variance from one state to another.
To help decipher the interactive web of state reciprocity, numerous organizations offer free online tools that give traveling concealed carriers valuable insight before they hit the open road. These easy-to-use concealed carry reciprocity maps come from providers such as the United States Concealed Carry Association.
Using these tools is usually as simple as selecting the state in which the gun owner holds a concealed carry permit (and sometimes selecting the state or states that they plan to travel to). This reveals a display of which states do not honor the original state’s concealed carry permit, which states do honor the permit, which states honor the permit with restrictions, and even which states allow permitless carry – but more on that one later.
Examples of State Reciprocity
Whether or not concealed carriers enjoy protections across state lines based on state reciprocity really depends on each individual traveler’s home state and their travel route, making for a pretty mind-boggling number of potential outcomes.
However, some states have blanket legislation in place that absolutely does not recognize concealed carry permits from out of state. These states and districts include:
- New York.
- Washington, D.C.
States With Permitless Carry
On the completely opposite end of the spectrum, compared to states that don’t recognize out-of-state concealed carry permits at all, are those states that have permitless carry laws.
While the legal norm across most U.S. states requires that gun owners possess a permit to carry loaded, concealed firearms in public, permitless carry laws allow people to carry concealed firearms publicly without a permit and often without undergoing any form of prior safety training. As of 2020, the 13 states that maintain permitless carry laws, colloquially known as “constitutional carry,” include the following:
- New Hampshire.
- South Dakota.
- West Virginia.
While these 13 jurisdictions make interstate travel for concealed carriers easy, some states have permitless carry laws for residents only, such as Idaho, North Dakota and Wyoming. Others have permitless carry laws subject to certain exceptions:
- Illinois allows the permitless carry of unloaded weapons in fully enclosed cases by holders of firearm owner’s identification cards.
- Montana allows permitless carry outside of city limits.
- New Mexico allows permitless carry of unloaded weapons and vehicle carry of loaded weapons for transport.
Areas of Exception While Traveling
There are a few types of places that American travelers often pass through on trips that feature unique stances on firearms and concealed carry.
In national parks and national wildlife refuges, for instance, Section 512 of the Credit Card Act of 2009 (strangely enough) specifies that firearms regulations shall reflect that of state and local law; so if it’s legal in the state, it’s legal in the park that resides within that state. However, national park buildings are federal property, which makes them 100 percent off-limits for firearms, regardless of the state in question. This includes facilities such as visitors centers, ranger stations, park offices, administrative buildings and maintenance structures. This is also reflected in national forests, where state law dictates what’s legal in the forest, while federal facilities are a strict no-go.
Similarly, federal law prohibits firearms in all airports beyond the checkpoints designated by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Whether concealed, carried openly, brandished on purpose or carried in by accident, firearms are absolutely not allowed beyond TSA checkpoints, period.
Attempts to Expand Reciprocity
Numerous attempts on the federal level have been made to expand the reach of concealed carry permits across state lines. In late 2017, the United States House of Representatives approved a greatly expanded reciprocity measure that would have allowed gun owners with a permit in any state to carry a concealed firearm to any another state in which concealed carry is also legal. This bill did not make it through the Senate.
Very similar to 2017’s failed attempt, North Carolina representative Richard Hudson introduced House bill H.R. 38, the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2019, in an attempt to amend title 18 of the United States Code. Even broader than the 2017 legislation, the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act would allow nonresidents of a state whose residents may carry concealed firearms to also act as concealed carriers while visiting that state. In January of 2019, the Republican-sponsored bill was referred to the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security, where it remained all year. As of 2020, Skopos Labs and GovTrack project a 3 percent chance of the bill being enacted into law.
Non-Resident Permits and Beyond
Some states require a non-resident concealed carry weapon permit in order to abide by the law when traveling through the state with a concealed carry. In some cases, applicants for a non-resident permit must own or lease land in the state for which they’re applying. In others, the state in question requires the applicant to undergo some form of weapons training. State reciprocity comes into play here, too, as a varying number of states recognize non-resident concealed carry permits from other states.
Another exception applies in very specific cases as well. Retired law enforcement officers, including federal agents, may apply for a concealed carry permit that’s recognized nationwide, provided they undergo a yearly live-fire proficiency training course. That particular route to interstate concealed carry legality, however, is even longer than Route 66.
- BBC: America's Gun Culture in Charts
- Pew Research Center: Key Takeaways on Americans' Views of Guns and Gun Ownership
- Congress.gov: S.49 – Firearms Owners' Protection Act
- Legal Information Institute: 18 U.S. Code § 926A. Interstate Transportation of Firearms
- United States Concealed Carry Association: Traveling? Know Concealed Carry Permit Info by State
- United States Concealed Carry Association: National Parks, Wildlife Refuges, Forests and Airports
- Everytown: Permitless Carry: Concealed Carry in Public with No Permit and No Training
- National Association for Gun Rights: Constitutional Carry at the State Level
- Newsweek: People Are Getting Non-resident Concealed Carry Permits Through Virginia, Skirting Local Gun Laws
- NPR: House Passes Bill to Allow "Concealed Carry" Across State Lines
- Congress.gov: H.R. 38 – Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2019
- Govtrack: H.R. 38: Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2019