Pulled Over While Carrying Concealed By J. Peters Courtesy of United States Concealed Carry Association
I am a cop. I stop you for a violation of motor vehicle code or law. You have a weapon. You have a concealed weapons permit.
What happens now?
I am writing this article as a cop. I am and have been that armed citizen, but that is not what I want to focus on. I am writing this article as a guide to dealing with us cops. Now, everyone has a story about cops. A large majority of those stories may not be what one could describe as "the most wonderful and joyous occasion in recent memory".
Realizing that we are always judged as a group, I try not to be "one of those cops". I have a background in the Marine Corps and grew up shooting and hunting from my earliest memories. My part time job (most cops have some other gig) is working in a local gun shop selling firearms.
I do not question the armed citizen's reasons behind carrying a gun. I understand and promote the concept of an armed and educated citizenry. There are differences in how you and I carry and employ weapons and how we may be involved in a deadly force encounter, but that isn't what I want to focus on either.
My goal here is to provide food for thought when dealing with a police encounter on the street or in your vehicle, while you are armed. I want to do this from my prospective as it may help you to understand it better. Sometimes in order to see things clearly, we have to see it from the reverse angle.
Where I work and live, in Michigan, folks who have a concealed pistol license are required to inform the officer stopping them that they have a weapon with/on them. They can be subject to a civil infraction fine if they do not disclose this information. When not carrying the weapon, they need not do this.
I realize that other states may not require this disclosure to be made. Some people may say that it is none of my business whether or not you have your weapon on you or in your car. To a certain extent, I can understand this. It seems intrusive when you are stopped and detained on a traffic offense. It certainly seems intrusive when you get a ticket right?
My question is why not tell the officer? What do you have to lose by telling me that you have your weapon on you?
Are you lawfully carrying your weapon? Yes.
Is that the reason I stopped you? No.
What are the ramifications of the officer knowing that you have your weapon on you (lawfully)? Well, I have heard many stories about cops doing things such as taking possession of the weapon during the course of the traffic stop. I have heard of officers who may instruct the weapon to be placed in a visible spot in the vehicle until the stop is concluded.
I have heard all sorts of stories about the cops that don't even know how to unload a different weapon than the one that they carry. I do not do any of these things, and I would not recommend these practices to other officers.
Truth be told, I very rarely come into contact with concealed pistol licensees in general. Why? CCW people just don't break the law that much. Upon occasion, I have stopped those with weapons permits in my jurisdiction.
My concerns when approaching the vehicle are primarily the occupants of the car. Traffic is always a secondary concern as is the rest of the environment of the stop, but that is my problem, not necessarily yours.
What I look for may be the positioning of the hands. What I like to see is both hands visible. A good place for the driver is on the wheel, 10 and 2 if you will. It is easy for me to see this as I approach from either side of the vehicle.
Passengers in a vehicle who may be armed can place their hands in their laps if possible. This may seem somewhat remedial, but you would not believe how many people start digging in their vehicle like they were mining for gold.
Picture yourself in my situation; just clearing an intensive domestic assault call or stand off with a suicidal subject and my first traffic stop afterwards is searching frantically around the car for god knows what.
1. Don't dig around...
Don't dig around looking for your paperwork, that French fry you dropped when the lights came on or your kid's pacifier. I do not enjoy putting you at gunpoint. It is stressful for both of us. We can avoid this problem by staying put and keep our hands comfortably visible.
I say 'stay put'; I mean stay in the vehicle. I realize that some jurisdictions may ask you to step from the vehicle. Do so when asked. Again, this may seem remedial, but someone who exits a car, without being asked, on a traffic stop gives an impression that he is either going to do us harm or run from us.
2. Eye Contact...
Make eye contact with the officer. Nothing says "I'm crazy" or "I have something to hide" like the 1000 yard stare down the roadway. This behavior has led to several searches, arrests, and some altercations upon further investigation.
Like Mr. Rourke of Fantasy Island was fond of saying "Smiles everybody, smiles!" Make eye contact and smile. It will let the officer know that he can communicate with you.
4. Keep it hidden...
If you have the gun lying on the seat next to you or in plain sight, plan on having that muzzle related talk mentioned earlier. We know that an action beats a reaction almost every time. A visible weapon is an accessible weapon to a suspect. Concealed Carry means CONCEALED. Unless regulated by statute, I do not want to see your weapon. It would seem obvious, but even if you know this officer, this is no time to play a prank or joke.
I don't come to your work area and play practical jokes on you, do not do it to me. Your motives may be playful but the results could be devastating to you and the officer. I have had people do this before. For the life of me I do not know why and the resulting opinion is that the officer is a jerk for not getting the joke.
5. Take it easy...
No sudden movements to see if he is paying attention. No furtive movements to joke around.This may not be a potential lethal force encounter to you. It is to us, all of the time.
6. When do you tell him?
The time to inform the officer is upon his greeting. Do not say "I have a gun". Never utter this phrase. Never utter any variation of this phrase. There is no good that can come from that phrase when said to an officer. All we hear is "have a gun" and the rest is implied. The highway can be a noisy place and we may not hear everything you said.
7. How do you tell him?
Greet him and tell him you have a concealed weapons permit and the weapon is on your person/in the car.
8. Hand your permit...
Hand him your permit with your operator's license and any required paperwork like your registration and proof of insurance. The officer will likely ask where the weapon is. Tell him. There is no reason not to as long as you are abiding by local and state laws. Do not reach for the weapon unless asked to do so. Most officers, me included will not tell you to do this.
9. Then what?
The officer will most likely tell you very specifically to stay put or give further instructions based on training, experience, and departmental guidelines or operating procedures. Bear in mind that some agencies may have procedures and some may not. If you feel that action was taken that was unnecessary or infringed on your rights, check into the existence of a guideline or policy in the department involved.
If you are polite and proper, you may just even get out of a citation. You may not agree with the citation. This is not the time for that discussion. There are hearings for that. Even if you get a citation, thank the officer and be on your way. Take him to court to air your grievances.
Remember that you are a representative of all the concealed weapons permit holders out there, just as we are all the same cops. You have a responsibility to your fellow armed citizens to act in a manner that reflects well on your peers.
A bad incident involving a permit holder will resound with all the power that the media can muster. Your good behavior will not make headlines on a regular basis what so ever, but you may save the day once in your life.
In that respect, we are a lot alike.
J. Peters is a Law Enforcement Officer with over 10 years experience as certified officer, and was in the USMC Reserves from 1989-1998.
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