Recently we got an email from a long time reader concerning a police interaction he had while carrying concealed. The matter concerned less of the interaction with law enforcement and more of the proper way to address the fact that he was carrying a concealed handgun.
I just picked up a car at the car auction a few weeks ago. In my state, when you get your registration and plates, you have 10 days to get the car inspected and get a sticker on it. Over this last Thanksgiving, I got caught up in family stuff and I ended up going over that 10 day grace period.
The car also has a ‘check engine’ light on so I can’t just roll into the local auto body and get a sticker slapped on. That’s how I got to day 2 of not having an inspection sticker.
As I passed through town, a local police officer saw I didn’t have a sticker and pulled me over. Before he arrived to the window, I shut off my car engine, got out my license and registration and had them in my hand.
I’m an everyday concealed carrier so I had my pistol in the 3 o’clock position on my waistband.
The police officer told me he pulled me over for not having a current inspection sticker on my car. I told him, ‘I know’ and I was going to make an appointment to have the car inspected after Thanksgiving weekend.
He took my license and registration from me and asked me if I had anything he should know about.
I told him I had a gun on me.
My state is a permitless carry state. I don’t need to have a license to carry — but I have one anyway for when I go through state lines.
The officer was a younger guy so I’m willing to chalk it up to inexperience but after hearing the word ‘gun’, he put his hand on his holster. This caused me to get anxious. He asked me if I was a felon. I replied that I wasn’t. He asked if I wouldn’t mind stepping out of the car. I told him that in order to do that, I had to unbuckle my safety belt and my gun is located right where the buckle is located.
He told me to proceed to unbuckle the belt.
I’ll be honest, I was kind of nervous. I’ve been pulled over before and had interactions with police while carrying a concealed handgun but I just felt like this interaction – for whatever reason – was more tense. Needless to say, I complied but made sure to keep my other hand visible and on the steering wheel.
I unbuckled the safety belt and he asked me to step out of the car. I got out and left the keys on the driver’s seat. At this point, I didn’t know what was going on. Did I unknowingly cross into some Twilight Zone and I was a bad guy or why did I even need to get out of the car in the first place.
Once out of the car, he had me walk to the rear of the car. He told me that he was going to run my driver’s license and registration and if I could just sit tight, he’d have me along soon enough.
He got into his cruiser and I could see him calling in my information. During this time, I saw people I knew passing through town, looking at me as if I did something wrong. I felt a bit more exposed and – more importantly – didn’t feel at ease with the situation. The police officer got out and handed me back my stuff. He asked me if the car had anything preventing it from getting a sticker and I told him the ‘check engine’ light went on and it was an auction car so I didn’t know exactly what that would entail. I was a bit worried it would run me deeper than my pockets could manage. He said that I needed to get it into the shop and get a sticker on it and I agreed that’s what I would do.
That was the end of the interaction. I still felt like maybe I said something wrong or did something wrong to elicit a more tense response from the officer. Was it because I called my gun a ‘gun’ and not a ‘firearm’ or is there something else I should be doing?
With these types of Q&As, we generally discuss the topic among our own cadre of writers and occasionally solicit some legal opinion from a few attorneys we know. This is a more sensitive topic so we’re going to handle it carefully.
- Please follow lawful instructions given to you by law enforcement during an interaction.
- Keep your hands visible to the officer or officers present at the scene at all times.
- If you are confused about the way a police officer is asking you to do something, ask him to repeat the statement or question.
- If you feel uncomfortable about the legality of a certain situation, ask to speak with your attorney.
- Please do not take this article as legal advice. None of the writers on our staff are attorneys and simply use their own experience and that of their own personal observations as source material.
Response to Question:
(G. Halek) I, too, have had interactions with law enforcement while carrying a concealed handgun. In one such incidence, I had pulled over to the side of the road to get a few hours sleep because I found myself getting drowsy and didn’t want to risk falling asleep at the wheel.
I was awoken to the bright glare of police car lights pouring in through my back window. As a concealed carrier, I also made sure to have my license and registration ready when he arrived to the window. My driver’s side window doesn’t work right so I have to open the front door to interact.
I told the approaching police officer that my driver’s side window doesn’t work right now. He asked what I was doing and I told him I felt I needed to rest because I had been driving a long time and it was late. He asked me if I had been drinking and I told him I hadn’t been. He asked me to step out of the vehicle and, at which point, I informed him I was a lawfully permitted concealed carrier. He said that wasn’t a problem so long as I kept my hands visible during the interaction. I complied. I got out of the vehicle without incident and the police officer, to my observation, never placed his hand on his holster. We had a short conversation. He ran my information. It came back clear. He told me of a spot a few miles up the road where I could park for a few hours and rest until day break. I thanked him and went about my business.
I use my own personal story to draw some parallels with this reader’s experience. Sometimes a police officer will ask a person to get out of the vehicle even if nothing wrong has occurred. I’m not sure of the legality of this request or whether or not it needs to be complied with. In general, I always advise any reader that if he or she doesn’t feel comfortable with a request, it’s time to speak with an attorney.
I don’t have that type of money so I’m forced to just use proper judgement.
However, I feel the only thing I can really think that differentiates my experience with police and our reader’s is perhaps how I chose to phrase my situation.
I specified that I was a permitted concealed carrier. The follow-up question to that is usually, ‘are you armed?’
To which, I reply, ‘yes, I am armed.’
I am only soliciting as much information as is requested to ensure the safety of both myself and the reassurance of the officer present for the interaction. I don’t furnish any information not specifically requested or not legally required.
The officer probably has a desire to know if you are armed but maybe something about the phraseology of ‘gun’ set him off. I’m not entirely sure. It could also be his inexperience as an officer or previous experiences… I can’t begin to speculate.
All I know is that ultimately, all I’m looking to get out of a police interaction is to go about my business. To that effect, I’m okay with informing the officer that I am a concealed carrier and I generally let him decide how to proceed.
In total, I think I’ve had about four interactions with police my entire time as a concealed carrier. The example above is the only time I’ve been asked to step out of my vehicle. I would recommend that if you feel uncomfortable with a police interaction, you pursue whatever legal means — up to and including asking the advice of a practicing attorney — to ensure you feel safe during a police interaction.
I hope this helps answer your question and I appreciate you taking the time to write in with your experience. Carry every day, everywhere you legally can! It’s a great country!