Published by The Law Offices of Bruce Colodny
By Bruce Colodny, The California Gun Attorney
Revised & Copyright © 2017
Cross-country driving is another potential "legal trap" for gun owners. Some areas of the United States, for example California, Massachusetts or New Jersey, have extremely restrictive firearms laws. However, gun owners who are eligible and comply with a provision of federal law may lawfully travel through such areas despite state or local laws to the contrary.
In 1986, the 1968 Gun Control Act was revised by the enactment of the Firearms Owners' Protection Act ("FOPA"). Among the various FOPA provisions, the Act added 18 U.S.C. 926A (the "Safe Passage" act) to the Federal Criminal Code. This section applies to any person not prohibited under federal law from possessing firearms. Such persons may transport firearms from any place where they can lawfully possess and carry such firearms, to any other place where they can lawfully possess and carry such firearms. For example, a Florida gun owner may lawfully drive through Massachusetts to their ultimate destination in Vermont, provided they comply with the requirements of the Federal "Safe Passage" act, however, it is not clear whether this act applies to transportation of firearms through the District of Colombia (Washington, D.C.).
To obtain the protection of the Federal "Safe Passage" act, the firearm must be unloaded, and neither the firearm nor any ammunition may be readily or directly accessible from the passenger compartment of the vehicle. There is a further requirement that in the case of a vehicle without a compartment, separate from the passenger compartment, the firearm or ammunition shall be contained in a locked container other than the glove compartment or console.
The "Safe Passage" act does not define "unloaded". Therefore, I strongly recommend that all transported firearms be completely unloaded. More specifically, an empty firing chamber is not sufficient. Be certain there are no live rounds of ammunition in the cylinder, magazine, or clip, whether or not attached to the firearm. Again, magazines and clips should be unloaded even if not attached to the firearm.
Another caution should be exercised when you are traveling in a hatchback, sport utility vehicle or motor home. Although such vehicles commonly have storage compartments, questions may arise as to whether or not the storage qualifies under the Act as separate from the passenger or driver's compartment. In other words, unless your vehicle has a traditional trunk, I strongly recommend the use of both traditional, locking, hard- sided gun cases and separate locking hard-sided containers for ammunition. This is likely to be somewhat inconvenient, but it is a small price to pay for the protection offered by the "Safe Passage" act against the severe (e.g. felony) penalties imposed by the anti-gun laws of some states.
Finally, to minimize exposure while transporting firearms interstate, plan your trip to make one continuous and direct journey.
The actual text of the Safe Passage Act reads as follows:
18 USC 926A Interstate Transportation of Firearms.
Notwithstanding any other provision of any law or any rule or regulation of a State or any political subdivision thereof, any person who is not otherwise prohibited by this chapter from transporting, shipping, or receiving a firearm shall be entitled to transport a firearm for any lawful purpose from any place where he may lawfully possess and carry such firearm to any other place where he may lawfully possess and carry such firearm if, during such transportation the firearm is unloaded, and neither the firearm nor any ammunition being transported is readily accessible or is directly accessible from the passenger compartment of such transporting vehicle: Provided, That in the case of a vehicle without a compartment separate from the driver's compartment the firearm or ammunition shall be contained in a locked container other than the glove compartment or console.