U.S. Law Shield Independent Program Attorney Matt Kilgo:
How should you handle a law enforcement encounter during a traffic stop? Do you have to show your weapons carry license? Do you have to tell the officer that you’re carrying a firearm? And what if police want to search your car?
Well, the goal of any traffic stop is for you to leave with your life and your liberty intact. If you’re stopped by a law enforcement officer, pull over as quickly as possible. Put your car in park and turn it off. Before you do so, roll down your windows. Turn on your dome light if it’s night. Show the officer that he or she is free to look in your car from outside, but don’t necessarily give them access to your vehicle. Do what you can to make sure the officer knows that he or she has nothing to fear from you.
Now, must you tell the officer that you’re carrying a firearm? Absolutely not. Georgia law does not require you to let a police officer know you have a firearm. If it’s in the glove box or it’s in the center console, if it’s somewhere where the officer cannot see it and there’s no reason for you to display it, then you have no obligation to inform that officer. Now, if it’s strapped to your hip and that’s where you keep your wallet and you’re going to have to get to your wallet in order to get to your license, let the officer know. Officer, I have a firearm. I am a lawful weapons carry license holder. What would you like me to do? Follow the officer’s commands. Don’t just tell him, Hey, I’ve got a gun and then reach for your wallet. That’s how people get hurt. If the officer’s going to see the firearm or if it’s laying out openly, let them know you have one. Let them know you’re a weapons carry license holder. Keep your hands at the 10:00 and 2:00 position have nothing to fear from you. And I think you’ll find that you will leave that traffic stop with your life and your liberty intact.
So, you don’t have to tell them you have a firearm. But if they can see it or it will come up when you’re looking for your wallet, you might want to let them know. You do not have to tell them that you have a weapons carry license. But if they see the firearm, you may want to say, By the way, Officer, I am a lawful weapons carry license holder. Officers do not have the right to search your car unless they have probable cause to believe there’s contraband inside. Same thing goes for a motorcycle. Now, there is something called the automobile exception to the warrant requirement. Usually you have to get a warrant to search somebody or somebody’s home. A car’s a little different. A car has four wheels and can drive evidence away. So, a police officer can search a car without a warrant so long as he or she has probable cause to believe that there’s contraband or evidence of criminal activity inside.
So, to sum up, keep your hands where they can be seen. Don’t make any quick movements. Let the officer know he or she has nothing to fear. You do not have to tell them you have a weapon. You do not have to tell them you have a weapons carry license. But if doing so will aid them in protecting you, then I would consider doing that. They have no right to automatically search your car unless they have some reason to believe you’re carrying contraband.