Firearm prohibited

Breaking The Law: What Should We Do When Encountering A “Gun Free Zone” While Carrying?


Editorial Note:
This article was written based on a large demand to cover the topic. While we are indeed covering this topic, Concealed Nation’s stance is to abide by all Local, State and Federal laws. We do not condone breaking the law, even if we feel that law is unjust. Instead, we advocate and push readers to do their part to get these laws changed so that future concealed carriers are able to legally defend themselves wherever they go.

We get asked a lot of questions that sometimes run akimbo of the law of the land.

We get it.  “Gun free zones” are ridiculous.  There’s absolutely no use for them and they don’t protect anybody.  And theoretically, if we lived in a democratic society, we could repeal any law stipulating when and where a person can carry.  Until that happens…

We can’t advise you on how best to break the law.

At the very least, we can warn you of the implications of those actions.  But if we developed an entire site dedicated to circumventing the law, that would be extremely irresponsible.

Here’s what we can do — separate the fact from fiction when it comes to different types of “gun free zones”.

Federal “Gun Free Zones”

This is a very short list of facilities and locations that are protected by the Federal government.  They include Department of Defense facilities (military bases), recruiting outposts, courthouses, and prisons.  Amtrak is also covered.  Oh, and don’t forget about the Post Office. Violating these “gun free zones” comes with potential federal charges.

Federal charges come with federal sentencing and doing time in federal penitentiaries.


The above is a picture of the United States Federal Penitentiary, Victorville.  It’s a place for bad guys — not you.

Fun note: if you commit felonies across states lines, you will probably get to meet a federal prosecutor face-to-face.

So stepping foot onto a military base with a concealed carry handgun is a very bad idea.  Similarly, walking into federal court with your favorite everyday carry is also a great way to impress the prosecution team… And make your defense attorney contemplate recusing himself.



Okay, federal is out of the way.  Don’t mess with the Feds unless you plan on making it a precedent-setting court case.

  • Minimum damages: Loss of CCW permit, forfeiture of firearm, probation, tens of thousands in attorney and court costs/fees
  • Maximum damages: Federal prison time, loss of CCW permit, criminal forfeiture of firearms, hundreds of thousands in attorney and court costs/fees.

State “Gun Free Zones”

Your state likely issued your permit to carry concealed unless you live in a state which allows permitless concealed carry for residents (aka “constitutional carry”).  As such, they usually reserve the right to revoke or suspend that license based upon inappropriate actions on your part.

In Ohio, for instance, if you step foot onto a university campus with a concealed carry firearm and you’re not directly in the process of putting it into your vehicle, that’s a felony offense.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned about felonies, it’s that it’s near impossible to get your license back after getting a felony offense.  It’s a very steep uphill legal battle and most attorneys won’t even attempt it without a decently sized yacht filled to the brim with expensive gin and Benjamin Franklins.

So, don’t go getting a felony because the state said it’s going to restrict your right to carry.

  • Minimum damages: Permit revocation/suspension, criminal/civil forfeiture of firearm, fees and fines.
  • Maximum damages: Prison time, loss of CCW permit, criminal/civil forfeiture of firearms.

Private Property “Gun Free Zones”

Businesses, in some states, do not have a right to designate their business “gun free” to concealed carriers unless they post specific signage in prominent areas of the business.  Texas is a great example of this with their 30.06 signage.  Now, not all states are required to do this but in general they can and will post some indicator that they have a weapons policy in place.

If a business sees you are carrying a concealed firearm and they ask you to leave, you are generally obligated to do so.  And if you are spotted, it’s generally a good idea.  If you leave immediately and don’t cause a scene, that will likely be the end of it.

Private landowners may put up signage requesting visitors to not carry concealed or openly.  That’s their right and it’s protected by the state.  Violating this, in most cases, will result in a misdemeanor offense if you do not immediately remove yourself from the premises.  Civil charges are possible depending upon how easily offended the landowner.  But, think about it in terms of your home.  If you requested that visitors do not bring firearms with them, wouldn’t you be (to say the least) mildly offended if they refused?

  • Minimum damages: Charged with misdemeanor trespassing, occasionally a felony depending upon state/county/municipal jurisdiction.  Fees and fines are possible.  Civil charges are possible.
  • Maximum damages: Suspension/revokation/loss of CCW permit, civil forfeiture of firearms, civil charges, minor criminal charges (misdemeanor, usually).

So, now at least you can see the spectrum you’re up against.  For states that are extremely gun-adverse (New York, Maryland, D.C., Hawaii, New Jersey, California), there’s definitely the opportunity for more complications.  In general, how you handle yourself when you’re spotted will dictate the rest, if you choose to disregard the gun-free sign.

Be respectful.

Be polite.

Those two pieces, right there, will certainly play a factor in everything else.  So, can we advise you on how best to break the law?  Absolutely not.  That said, now you know the potential ramifications, decide for yourself what’s best for you. In our opinion; stick to the law and do your part to get those laws changed in the cc’ers favor.

Disclaimer: The above are opinions of the author. In any situation, it is your responsibility to understand the laws in your area, and what you can and cannot legally do. It is also your responsibility to use your best judgement, given the situation that you may find yourself in. In no way should this information be viewed as legal advice. When in doubt, consult a lawyer for any clarification that you may require. Simply put, use your best judgement and always abide by the law.

Categories: Beginners Guide, General
About James England | View all posts by James England

James England is a Marine Corps veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and has served as a defense contractor in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. His daily concealed carry…

James England is a Marine Corps veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and has served as a defense contractor in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. His daily concealed carry handgun is a Glock 36 in a Lenwood Holsters Specter IWB or his CZ-75D PCR in an Alien Gear MOD holster.

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  • Bob P

    We all have the right to our opinion, here’s mine. Failing to obey laws related to concealed carry places the legal CCW holder in the same category as the Chicago citizens who carry / use illegally and Obama who ignores the US constitution. There is a process to change laws and the constitution, while the process doesn’t work as well as we would like, the US is one of the few countries that has such a process. Regardless of which side of a debate we are on, failure to obey laws is anarchy.

    I avoid gun free zones whenever possible, with private gun free zones it is almost always possible to avoid them by informing the owner that we will not patronize until they respect our 2nd amendment rights.

    • Mike Vee

      I like to open the door of the business, flash them a wad of cash, and yell “I can’t come in because of your no weapons sign so I guess I’ll spend all my money somewhere else”.

      • Bob P

        I like your style. Will definitely give out a try at a small business owned by a friend.

    • TroyMule

      Not really. You are talking about people defying the Constitution and people on the other hand following whats in the Constitution.

    • petedub

      Bob P,

      The 2nd Amendment has nothing to do with whether a person may be armed on private property. The 2nd Amendment only applies to the government, by reminding the government of what the government lacks the power to do.

      Any owner of private property has the right to prohibit people from being armed on that property. The government may not make it a crime for law-abiding citizens to be armed on any person’s private property, but an owner of private property can properly accuse an armed person of trespassing.

      The recourse for an armed law-abiding citizen is to (a) avoid that owner’s place, (b) convince the owner not to be stupid, or (c) disregard the owner’s rights and take the risk of a trespass accusation. I disagree with your suggestion that it would be “anarchy” to require an owner of property to decide between making a fool of himself by making a stupid trespass accusation, or to grow up and understand that it actually is in the owner’s best interest to WELCOME armed law-abiding citizens as many property owners do.

      In the long run, property owners who prohibit law-abiding citizens from being armed are putting everyone involved at risk, and thereby increasing their liability risk very significantly. We don’t need government to pass laws to tell property owners what they can and can’t prohibit, we just need to hold property owners responsible for their stupidity when they subject their patrons to violence by prohibiting law-abiding citizens from being armed. Insurance companies will take care of the rest, by telling property owners that their coverage is void or limited if they post those stupid signs.

      • Dr Dave

        Do you have actual case law to support the Postal Office allowance? I see in several of your posts you say “in my view” that is not legal advice it is a layperson’s opinion (unless you are a Federal Judge that hasn’t identified yourself). If you are stating facts and not opinions do so with actual case law. Many people here might very well read your well worded opinions as fact and get themselves into a high heap of trouble only to find that was just “your opinion”
        Looking forward to seeing actual case law on the legal possession of a fire arm in a Postal Service Facility since in every class for a CCW that I have ever heard of taught it was specifically stated that USPS are off limits. There is even question as to carry in the parking lots of USPS facilities so very interested to seeing who is right here based on case law support. Please clarify if you are speaking facts or just your interpretation of the law as you would like it to be.
        Dr D

        • petedub

          “Dr.” Dave,

          It is a fact that in McDonald the Supreme Court confirmed the obvious point that the basic human right of armed self-defense is a “fundamental” right.

          It also is a fact that in Heller the Court outlined the outer limits of the government’s power to regulate firearms, wherein the Court specifically limited the government’s power to ban firearm possession to “sensitive places” such as government buildings and schools.

          It also is a fact that, under long-standing precedent, any law infringing on the basic human right of armed self-defense or any other fundamental right is subject to review under the Strict Scrutiny Test, requiring that any government action impacting a fundamental right be the “least restrictive means” to protect a “legitimate government interest.”

          Under existing precedent as to the meaning of “least restrictive means,” any law requiring law-abiding citizens to relinquish our basic human right of armed self defense in any government facility, without adequate security, would NOT be the least restrictive means to further any possible legitimate government interest. The least restrictive means to protect any legitimate government interest would be to provide actual adequate security where needed — as is done, for example, at every federal courthouse in the country (so judges obviously know exactly what a “least restrictive means” looks like in this context because they see it every working day) — and to allow law-abiding citizens to provide our own personal security where that level of security is not needed.

          In short, I stated what the law IS, based on existing precedent. What you or anyone else might choose to do about that is up to you.

          I think my statements are clear. In fact, as you specifically noted, I used the “in my view” qualifier as to how a court would be obligated to rule under existing precedent if a case were presented. So, it is patently absurd of you to suggest that others might get themselves into trouble by taking what I wrote as some sort of legal advice on they are or are not free to do.

          I reject your suggestion that the law is not what the law is, as established by existing precedent, until a prosecutor has brought a case and lost. The Supreme Court writes very detailed opinions specifically in order to obviate the need to re-litigate every nuance of an issue that has already been decided.

          Specifically, I am not aware that any court has ruled on the issue of a law-abiding citizen’s firearm possession at an unsecured post office or any other unsecured government or quasi-government facility since McDonald and Heller. In fact, I am unaware that any law-abiding citizen has ever been charged for such possession even before those cases made it flatly illegal and unethical for a prosecutor to bring such a charge.

          Under existing precedent, I would expect a prosecutor to exercise his/her ethical duty not to bring a charge that would require a court to rule, yet again, on matters that already are well established in case precedent. Lest you have any question about how the courts look at such unethical behavior, consider the huge (close to 7 figures) check Rahm Emmanuel had to sign after the City of Chicago tried to get around its loss in the McDonald case with that kind of dishonest argument (on the order of “well, no case law says EXACTLY that”), and then the second-most left-leaning court in our nation properly characterized that behavior as Chicago “thumbing its municipal nose” at the Supreme Court.

          Again, the law is what the law is — what you do about it is up to you. But please don’t suggest that prosecutors have free reign to ignore case precedent they don’t like, just because the EXACT case has not been presented. The applicable phrase in the law is “distinction without a difference.”

          Whether that right is exercised at a post office, Detective Heller’s apartment in DC or in Chicago, the basis human right of armed self-defense is a fundamental right that the government may only regulate with the “least restrictive means” to further a legitimate government interest. Congress and the postal service freaking out by passing foolish laws and putting up meaningless signs after a couple of postal workers created the phrase “going postal” is not the “least restrictive means” to protect anything.

          I am not saying to go armed to post offices, I am saying that it is stupid to suggest that the government can simply freak out at whatever problem surfaces, and that We the People have to jump and say “how high?” The law belongs to US, not the government.

          • Dr Dave

            Super thanks for the awesomely worded reply. I am NO lawyer just a surgeon who also happened to be one of the Directors of the Federal Drug Interdiction Task Force way back when.

            With your reply as detailed as it is then how does 39 C.F.R. § 232.1

            fit into the reply along with the fact that 3 Federal courts refused to completely overturn the statute? The most recent I believe was in 2014 and actually included of all things the parking lot. The USPS used the claim that since they have various equipment to scan mail for various illegally shipped contents they in deed are meeting the requirements of “sensitive places” as well as that they have their own police department and have had and do have arrest power in and of itself.
            Dr D

          • petedub

            Dr. Dave,

            Your “belief” notwithstanding, no appellate court since before Heller has upheld a conviction of a law-abiding citizen for merely being armed at a post office, neither either inside the customer-service area nor in a parking lot. You probably could not find one US Attorney in the entire US who would even publicly say s/he would prosecute such a case, because the suggestion would be patently ridiculous after Heller (which was limited to the federal government) and especially McDonald (which basically applied the Heller decision to the states by confirming that the right to armed self-defense is “fundamental”).

            When a court issues a ruling declaring certain types of laws unconstitutional, as the Supreme Court did in Heller and McDonald, the statutes impacted by that ruling are not automatically removed from the books either in whole or in part. The Heller and McDonald rulings simply render certain portions of statutes unenforceable.

            A court would not “completely overturn” a statute as you suggest, unless every provision of that statute were unenforceable. Parts of impacted statutes can and often do remain enforceable. For example, it still is a crime under 18 USC 930(b) to possess a firearm at a post office with the intent to commit a crime, and a separate crime under subjection (c) to kill someone at a post office with a firearm — even though the prohibition in subsection (a) against mere possession is unconstitutional.

            In fact, 18 USC 930(d)(3) makes subsection (a) unenforceable as to armed law-abiding citizens, because it provides the following exception from subsection (a): “the lawful carrying of firearms or other dangerous weapons in a Federal facility incident to hunting or other lawful purposes.” The Heller court held that armed self-defense by a law-abiding citizen is a “lawful purpose,” so 18 USC 930(d)(3) positively allows that “lawful carrying.”

            FYI, the “statute” you reference (39 CFR 232.1) is not a “statute.” The abbreviation “CFR” stands for “Code of Federal Regulations” — which is rules government agencies create themselves, not statutes Congress passes and Presidents sign into law. For statutes, look for “USC” — which stands for “United States Code.”

            Your claim that scanning equipment qualifies USPS property as “sensitive” within the meaning of Heller is obvious BS. That equipment is not located in areas open to the public, so it does not matter whether law-abiding citizens are armed in areas open to the public. The USPS can protect any legitimate interest in securing that equipment by enforcing other laws making it illegal for non-USPS personnel to be in non-public areas. Your argument does not even pass the “laugh test,” much less the “least restrictive means” test the courts actually use.

            I have told you what the law IS — how you deal with it is up to you.

          • Dr Dave

            Not my “opinion” I have no opinion I am a layperson as I understand the little bit of law that I do an opinion must come from “expert witnesses or advisors” which I am not in this context. I am an expert witness in medicine/surgery and years and years ago in drug interdiction process and protocol but in this I am dumber then a tree trunk. I ask the questions since it sounds like you speak as a lawyer and so are therefore giving expert advice. If so then I am MUCH more likely to accept all of your descriptions which I really would like to but when I go to refute them I find numerous situations where in facts actions or litigations HAVE in fact been brought and enforced against people who brought weapons into USPS facility and have in fact had to pay the price in terms of both costs and freedom loss.
            So I am not trying to one up you I simply ask the questions to see what your background is and how well trusted we can all accept your advise as something to reply on as opposed to Internet lore that we believe in and when SHTF the above and below comments can be used to educate our own counsel as to why we relied on the information to make a decision.
            I am WELL aware that anyone can be arrested for anything and it doesn’t matter if it is true or false it all comes down to the prosecutors decision and the court’s analysis
            Here I read you say that no one has been convicted for entering into a USPS facility with a gun yet I have a dozen cases in the past 5 years alone stating that they have most recent in 2014
            Not saying they are wrong or you are wrong but it would be nice to know your background and expertise in criminal matters and legal matters. I have given out my credentials and have surely hoped to not put myself out as any type of expert of any kind in this discussion all I have done is ask questions that I notice no one else seems to be concerned about. It is all well and good to take advice from the net but do so at your own peril. I have carried a gun since the mid to late 1970’s and have done so under the “agent of the Federal Government” rule which for the most part allows me access to areas that are typically “gun free zones” so no concern there. I have even willfully carried a gun on my person in every hospital I have ever worked in with the full knowledge and not so often appreciation of the administration but it comes a requisite for hiring me. No gun allowance no me and most hospitals MUCH prefer to have me on staff then prevent my gun. My questions come for the laypeople out there that accept the Internet and the detailed information they glean as “facts” when in reality they are neither fact nor in many cases opinions.
            Please help me to really understand the simple question.
            My wife is NOT protected by my Federal License and is therefore governed by a state issued CCW. If we together go into a USPS office can she be held or arrested for possession of a firearm simply because she has it on her person? Now if I worded it in such a way that automatically renders some easy out please understand the intention. We all want to know what to do and not to do.
            Ignoring the fact that I carry Federal Creds as do some can otherwise innocent people with no intention or action beyond possession be prevented from entry or detained and or arrested for simple carrying a firearm into a USPS facility (short of in a box with which they are shipping a long gun to another person inside the same state)
            Dr D

          • petedub

            Dr. Dave,

            As to credibility of my statements, I suggest that you focus solely on the quality of what I post rather that rely on what I tell you about my background. I could say anything I want about my background, but the quality of my analysis speaks for itself.

            While you have probably already read between the lines to ascertain that I actually do have substantial professional qualifications, please understand that I am not giving any kind of advice to you or anyone else. I am instead exercising my basic human right to engage in public advocacy in an effort to offset what I see as a tremendous amount of ignorance and misstatement about the law regarding the basic human right of armed self-defense, largely by people who either are hostile to the law, or who don’t have the slightest clue about the law

            I think it is terrible that, in the most free nation on Earth — for which freedom I served many years and lost too many friends and for which my son now serves — people can be driven more by fear of what some dishonest government thug might claim the law is, than deriving comfort from what the law IS according to the US Supreme Court. On numerous occasions I took a solemn oath to support and defend the Constitution, and I think I would be violating that oath if I did not speak up when I see this kind of misinformation.

            I did not say that “no one” has been convicted. I said that no appellate court has upheld the conviction of a law-abiding citizen for merely being armed at a post office, since before Heller. But I would imagine numerous weapon-possession convictions have been passed down involving people who are NOT law-abiding citizens but who committed ACTUAL crimes.

            Weapon-possession charges are typically brought incident to ACTUAL crime, not against law-abiding citizens for mere possession. For example, the guy who recently became the first to be charged under Colorado’s magazine-capacity law actually is a felon who cannot legally own firearms. So it is misleading of the media to suggest that he is being targeted for having magazines that have “too much capacity.” That magazine-capacity charge is just an “add on” to the fact that he could not legally possess ANY firearm, regardless of magazine capacity. But this is typically how these kinds of BS / unconstitutional charges are brought — not against law-abiding citizens, but against actual dirt-bags who actually deserve to have most of the book thrown at them. That way, prosecutors can “pile on” without taking much risk that they will look like the dishonest jerks they would be shown as if they brought the identical charge against a law-abiding citizen.

            As I showed in my prior post, the federal statute that I think applies affirmatively ALLOWS law-abiding citizens to be armed on federal property, including post offices, under the exclusion in subsection (d)(3) for “lawful carrying.” What remains illegal is possession with the intent to commit a crime under subsection (b), and actually committing crimes — like murder under subsection (c). But the blanket prohibition in subsection (a) against mere possession cannot be enforced against a law-abiding citizen — not only because of the exception in subsection (d)(3), but based on the Heller and McDonald rulings even if that statutory exception did not exist.

            Again, I am not giving advice to anyone, but I am instead engaging in public advocacy to address what I see as a widespread lack of understanding about what the applicable law actually is.

            The closest I have ever seen to an actual deprivation of a law-abiding citizen’s basic human right of armed self-defense on government property, since Heller, involves a decision by a federal judge I happen to know and admire. The citizen was a lawful concealed carrier who was stopped by transit police and detained, just because he was thought to be armed. He sued the transit authority under 42 USC 1983 for violating his 2nd Amendment rights, but the judge threw out his case because merely stopping and investigating a possible crime, without more, was not a sufficient intrusion into his rights to justify his civil-rights claim against the transit authority.

            While I personally disagree with that decision, it is close enough of a call that I cannot say that the judge was wrong. But, significantly, the citizen was not charged with a weapon-possession crime even though there was a statute on the books making his mere possession illegal (that state’s legislature has since passed a statute overriding those kinds of local laws). Every lawyer involved, from the prosecutors to his lawyer to the judge, understood that the law-abiding citizen could not be charged for mere possession, because Heller and McDonald had confirmed that blanket prohibitions against law-abiding citizens’ mere possession are unconstitutional.

  • Bob Rogers

    don’t forget, federal gun free zones also include u.s. post offices.

    • Mark Brown

      They also include inside your car in their parking lot.

      • TroyMule

        They also dont know if they cannot see it.

    • petedub

      No, Bob Rogers, US Post Offices are not actually federal “gun-free zones” according to the US Supreme Court and applicable constitutional law.

      To the contrary, in Heller the Court stated that the ONLY places the government has the power to prohibit guns are “sensitive” places. Under applicable constitutional law, a government facility is not “sensitive” within the Court’s meaning unless the government provides adequate security so law-abiding citizens do not NEED to exercise our basic human right of armed self-defense in that place.

      Accordingly, under existing law, law-abiding citizens have a federal right to be armed in any local, state or federal government facility, except those facilities the government has deemed “sensitive” enough to provide actual screening and security to protect everyone there. Mere signs are not adequate security — there must be actual screening and actual security, as a constitutional matter, before law-abiding citizens can be required to be disarmed in any government facility.

      The only proprietors who can lawfully prohibit law-abiding citizens from being armed on their premises in the US, without providing adequate security as local, state and federal governments must, are owners of private property.

      That’s the law. How you deal with the law is your business — but, unfortunately, we can be fairly certain that few if any LEOs in the 500,000 or so in the US actually understand the law on this issue.

  • Jerry

    During a funeral of a family member… you go to the cemetery, and while in the cemetery, you notice a tiny gun free zone sign… (that was not there before)… kinda too late then…

  • petedub

    In the Heller case, the Supreme Court said that the government may prohibit guns only in “sensitive places” — while giving courthouses, other government buildings and schools as examples of the kinds of places potentially “sensitive” enough for guns to be prohibited.

    In my view the proprietor of any given place does not think the place is “sensitive” within the meaning of the Supreme Court’s language in Heller, unless and until the proprietor has provided everyone present with sufficient security that law-abiding citizens have no need to exercise our basic human right of armed self-defense. Unless the proprietor of a particular place is actually screening to be sure that every person who enters is unarmed (metal detectors, etc.), and actually providing sufficient armed security to protect those present from any reasonably-expected attack, then I say every law-abiding citizen has the right to be armed in that place.

    My reasoning is based on the fact that the basic human right of armed self-defense is formally recognized as a “fundamental” right under the McDonald case — that is the basis on which the Supreme Court “incorporated” that right into the 14th Amendment. Because the right of armed self-defense is “fundamental,” the government may interfere with that right only through the “least restrictive means” to protect a legitimate government interest. In in constitutional law, this is called the “strict scrutiny test.”

    Any law would necessarily fail the “strict scrutiny test” if it requires law-abiding citizens to be disarmed in any place where the proprietor does not provide adequate security. This is because the government could not have any legitimate in disarming a law-abiding citizen, except in places where adequate security is provided such that law-abiding citizens do not NEED to exercise our basic human right of armed self-defense. Any broader prohibition would violate the “least restrictive means” prong as well.

    While it could never be a crime, per se, for a law-abiding citizen to be armed in any place where adequate security is lacking, an armed law-abiding citizen arguably could be trespassing on private property when violating a sign posted to prohibit firearms. For those kinds of locations, law-abiding citizens who are willing to give their business to numbskulls should decide which is more of a concern — being possibly accused of trespassing, or putting one’s life at risk by being without adequate personal security.

    My point of view is that, in the long run, insurers will prohibit the posting of such signs on private property when people who are victims of mass shootings in supposedly “gun-free zones” start suing the proprietors who foolishly prohibit law-abiding citizens from exercising our basic human right of armed self-defense, without providing adequate ACTUAL security against the kinds of attacks that are well know to happen in unsecured supposedly “gun-free zones.” Any proprietor who subjects guests to inadequate security, and then has the stupidity to disarm law-abiding citizens, deserves to be held accountable for that utter stupidity.