Traffic Stop While Carrying a Handgun in Virginia

As more and more Virginia motorist avail themselves of the law to lawfully carry a handgun in their vehicle, as the above video provided by the Fairfax County Police Department points out, it is important to be prepared should you encounter law enforcement during a traffic stop.

According to Virginia law, vehicle carry of a loaded handgun is allowed in a secured compartment, or plainly visible without a permit. As of July 1, 2010, a concealed handgun permit is not necessary when carrying a handgun while in a personal, private motor vehicle and the handgun is secured in a container or compartment in the vehicle.

The Virginia Attorney General issued an opinion on May 25, 2012, in which he stated “for a handgun to be secured in a container or compartment, such storage tool need not be locked.”

According to U.S. Law Shield Independent Program Attorney Mitchell M. Wells, this matter has been adjudicated in the courts recently. In particular, Wells refers to a decision handed down by the Court of Appeals of Virginia in February, 2013 in the case Doulgerakis v. Commonwealth, 61 Va.App. 417, 737 S.E.2d 40 (2013).

“In that case,” said Wells, “Doulgerakis was charged with carrying a concealed weapon after a handgun was found in the glove compartment of the car he was driving. The glove compartment was closed and latched, but not locked.”

“The Court determined that ‘locked’ and ‘secured’ were not synonymous, and therefore, a weapon did not have to be in a locked container within the vehicle to be lawful,” Wells added.

We asked Wells for some advice for Virginia drivers.

“If you drive in Virginia with a gun in your car,” said Wells, “you need to know how to deal with law enforcement should you ever get stopped for a traffic violation—for your safety and that of the officer.”

“When you get pulled over, it is important to realize that the officer approaching your window does not know who you are or what evil intentions you may have. He or she is going to be extremely cautious and observant of your every move,” cautions Wells.

“Remember,” Wells warns, “These roadside encounters – sometimes at night, sometimes in unfamiliar surroundings – combine all sorts of unknowns. Add to these assumptions, fears, and more people carrying firearms, there is the chance for miscommunication and worse.”

In Virginia, concealed carry gun owners are not required to voluntarily tell a police officer that they have a gun. But most police officers have said sharing that information with them at the start of a traffic stop is a courtesy they would like concealed carry owners to extend.

“It is not required by law to let an officer know that you have a concealed carry permit unless asked or that you are actually armed,” said Wells. “It is a courtesy thing, letting them know that you do have a firearm on you or in your vehicle [and] letting them know where it is as well.”

“In Virginia,” Wells went on to say, “concealed carry permits are linked to the DMV database, so when the officer runs a check on a car registration or operator’s license, it should flag the concealed carry permit.”

Section 18.2-308.01, of the Code of Virginia, requires you to be in possession of the permit whenever you are carrying a concealed handgun and to display the permit and a government-issued photo-identification upon demand by a law-enforcement officer.

Loudoun County Sheriff Mike Chapman has provided some helpful hints to drivers when carrying concealed handguns.

  • Tip #1: Know your local and state laws
    The State of Virginia does not require you to inform a law enforcement officer you are carrying a concealed handgun, but we ask that you use your best judgement when you are interacting with police. (Code of Virginia 18.2-308.01)
  • Tip #2: Hands 10 & 2, Dome light on
    The moment a law enforcement officer pulls you over s/he can and will notice any movement inside of your vehicle. We ask that you put your front windows down and remain calm with your hands on the steering wheel in plain sight, until the officer says its ok to reach for your license and registration.
  • Tip #3: Advise the Officer
    Our recommendation is to let the officer know that you have a firearm on your person and its location. A phrase that is commonly used is: “Officer, I want you to know that I have a concealed handgun permit and currently have one on my person. How would you like me to proceed?”
  • Tip #4: Display Identification, move slow
    Let the officer advise you when it is okay to reach for your license and registration. Remember move slow and again, before reaching for your driver’s license and permit, advise the officer of the location of your firearm. We ask that you provide your concealed handgun permit at the same time as your identification.
  • Tip #5: You are not being treated like a criminal
    Remember the officer has no idea who you are and with the nature of the job, there are inherent risks associated with it. It’s better to be safe than sorry and because of this, we feel that the above information is relevant to drivers with concealed handguns and concealed handgun permits.

Remember, getting stopped can be a stressful situation for you as well as for the officer involved. Try to remain calm, stay in your vehicle, and turn off the engine so the officer does not have to worry about you driving off.

DO NOT MAKE ANY SUDDEN MOVES! Wait for and follow the officer’s instructions and everyone goes home happy.

Well, maybe not so happy if you got a ticket.

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