When it comes to car carry, there's no one rule to follow—each state has its own laws, and those laws can sometimes be complicated. This article can help you figure out which rules apply to your situation (assuming you have the legal right to possess the gun), and will also address important questions like what to do if you get pulled over with your gun in your vehicle.
Whether you can legally carry a gun in your car depends on where you live and travel, what kind of gun you own, where in the car you've placed the gun, and more. Here are some of the issues to consider when deciding how to legally carry or transport a firearm in your vehicle.
In many states, the same permit that allows concealed carry in general (for example, in a holster covered by a shirt or jacket, or inside a purse) also allows you to carry a concealed gun in your vehicle. The California Attorney General's summary of California's firearm laws, for instance, states that if you have a concealed carry permit, it's legal "for any person to carry a handgun concealed upon his or her person or concealed in a vehicle." If you live in a state with a law like California's and you have a concealed carry permit, you'll be on safe ground to also carry the gun in your car.
Suppose that you do not have a concealed carry permit. Are there any situations when you can carry a gun in your car without a permit? Yes, but it's important to pay close attention to the relevant state laws. Here are some examples of how the rules differ from state to state.
Montana's laws covering concealed weapons allow anyone who can legally possess a firearm to carry a concealed weapon, with no permit required, and the law does not prohibit carrying a weapon in a vehicle.
Florida requires a permit for concealed carry. But, even without a permit, you can have a gun in your vehicle "if the firearm or other weapon is securely encased or is otherwise not readily accessible for immediate use."
Here's how Florida explains its rule: If a gun in a vehicle can be "retrieved and used as easily and quickly as if carried on the person," then a concealed carry permit is required. But you don't need a permit if the gun is harder to get to—for example, if it's in the glove compartment or in a gun case. Because these rules are ultimately enforced according to the judgment of Florida police and courts, it's important to consult with a Florida attorney if you have questions about where and how you can store a gun in your vehicle in that state.
California has more restrictive rules for people without concealed carry permits. In that state, a resident or visitor who is over 18, and legally allowed to possess firearms, can transport a handgun as long as the gun is unloaded and stored in a locked container (a locked container includes the trunk, but not the utility or glove compartment).
Let's assume that you have determined that in your situation, you can legally carry a gun in your car. But can it be a loaded gun? The answer depends on a few factors, including the state, the type of firearm (handgun or rifle), and how it will be carried (openly or concealed).
Some states have fewer restrictions than others. Texas is pretty liberal: You used to need a permit to openly carry a handgun in your vehicle in Texas. But the law was changed in 2021 and now only people under the age of 21 are subject to that permit requirement. According to the Texas State Law Library, people in that state who are allowed to possess firearms generally don't need a permit to carry a handgun in their car, whether it's loaded or not. The Texas Law Library also hasn't found any laws in the state restricting the transportation of long guns, including rifles, in motor vehicles.
Other states have a more extensive permitting process and stricter rules about carrying loaded firearms. New York state, for example, has several different kinds of handgun licenses, and permit applications are reviewed by local judges or police, not by the state. (Handgun permits issued anywhere in New York generally allow you to carry a handgun everywhere in the state, but New York City requires out-of-city permit-holders to get additional permission from the New York Police Department.)
Until June 2022, if you wanted a New York permit to carry a pistol or revolver outside your home or business, you had to show "proper cause" for why you needed the firearm for self-defense. But the Supreme Court ruled in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen that this New York requirement violated the Second Amendment.
The Supreme Court's ruling makes it easier to get a concealed carry permit, but it does not prevent states from regulating where and how guns can be carried. For example, it is still illegal in New York to carry a loaded firearm, including in your vehicle, without the proper permit. And it's important to keep in mind that New York considers a gun to be "loaded" if the person carrying it is also carrying ammunition for the weapon.
With the proper New York permit, you can carry a concealed and loaded handgun in your car or truck. But the rules in New York for rifles and other long guns are different—even if you are legally permitted to own and carry a rifle, it must be unloaded while you transport it in your vehicle.
What you can and cannot do in any state is always decided by the laws of the state that you're in, not the state that issued your permit. Some states honor each other's gun permits, including when it comes to carrying guns in vehicles, but others do not. California, for example, does not recognize other states' permits—once you enter that state with a gun in your car, you're subject to California's requirement for a concealed carry permit. So, before traveling out of state with your gun in your vehicle, make sure you know the rules in all of the states you plan to visit.
Drivers are commonly stopped by the police for suspected traffic violations, at DUI checkpoints, or for other reasons. Once a police officer approaches your car, you should know what you're legally required to do if you have a firearm in the vehicle.
Your response will vary depending on the state you're in. In Michigan, for example, if you have a valid concealed carry permit and a gun in your vehicle you must "immediately disclose" the presence of the weapon if stopped by law enforcement. In Oklahoma, on the other hand, you are not required to volunteer information to law enforcement. But you must answer honestly if you're stopped by the police and they ask if you have a firearm.
The consequences will depend on the seriousness of the offense. In Illinois, for example, it is a misdemeanor under the state's Wildlife Code (unless you have a concealed carry license) to have a gun in your vehicle unless it is unloaded and enclosed in a case specifically made for holding firearms. So if you leave the case unlocked, or you have the firearm in the wrong kind of container, you could spend up to six months in jail, or be fined up to $1,500. But Illinois has much more severe penalties for violations it considers more serious and dangerous. For example, it is a felony punishable by 1-3 years in prison and a $25,000 fine for anyone without a concealed carry license to have a loaded gun immediately accessible in a vehicle.
One consequence of a criminal conviction could be losing your right to possess firearms for a period of time, even in states with fewer restrictions on owning and carrying firearms. Under Texas law, for example, people who are convicted of felonies and certain misdemeanors are barred for several years from possessing firearms.
Each state regulates firearms in its own way, and within each state, the rules can also vary between cities and towns. So, before you carry a gun in your car, be sure to research the laws that apply to your situation. If you have questions about your state's laws or have been charged with a crime involving a firearm, seek the advice of a qualified criminal defense attorney in your area.
(Cal. Penal Code §§ 16850, 25400, 25610, 25700; Fla. Stat. §§ 790.001(17), 790.25; 520 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/2.33(n); 520 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/3.5(c); 720 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/24-1.6; 730 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/5-4.5-60; Mich. Comp. Laws § 28.425f(3); N.Y. Env't Conserv. Law § 11-0931(2); N.Y. Penal Law §§ 265.00(15), 265.03, 400.00; Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 21, § 1289.7; Tex. Penal Code § 46.02.)