In the old days, transporting firearms across state lines was as easy as slipping your 6-shooter into its holster, saddling your horse, and heading west.
But these days, the bureaucratic mishmash of state laws and federal regulations involved make it a confusing endeavor that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
They may seem overwhelming, but the regulations were put in place with good reason.
Though ignoring them may sound like a convenient option, it’s a really bad idea for law-abiding citizens who prefer freedom to incarceration.
If that’s you, read on.
Unless you’re an outlaw or gun-runner, chances are you’re moving your firearms for lawful purposes.
Peaceable Journey Laws were signed into legislation to simplify the process and to make it easier to stay in compliance during the transportation of firearms to your new state.
In 1986, after a number of high-profile prosecutions of well-intentioned citizens by the ATF and federal prosecutors, FOPA was signed into law to afford gun owners more protection.
In short, the federal code states that as long as firearm owners can legally own and carry their weapon (or weapons) in the states they’re moving from and to, they’re free to transport them through the states in between as well.
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If you’re looking to save a few bucks and move yourself, it’ll be up to you to make sure you don’t run afoul of the law.
In addition to federal laws, each state has its own regulations regarding how guns and ammunition must be transported, so you’ll need to do your research before heading out.
- Start by making a list of the states you’ll be driving through.
- Then look into their firearm laws individually.
- Write them down—or better yet, copy and print the information directly from the official state website.
- Make sure you understand them inside and out, keep them on-hand while traveling, and follow them explicitly.
Some states have different restrictions for rifles and shotguns than they do for handguns, so consider how they apply to your situation.
Others require that you have a permit, even if you’ve never lived there or don’t plan on stopping.
Some like Vermont and Texas have relatively lax laws.
Others like Maryland, California and New York have tough ones.
In the ultimate twist of fate, these states don’t typically have laws protecting travelers transporting firearms—even though their penalties for non-compliance are among the harshest in the United States.
Additional items worth noting:
- Guns should never be transported while they’re loaded
- Guns and ammunition shouldn’t be within easy reach of the vehicle’s occupants (driver and passengers)
- Put them in the trunk or the cargo compartment of the moving van—not in the glove compartment or under the seat
- Some states require that you pass through without stopping
- In others you can stop for gas, a meal, a restroom break, or an overnight stay in a hotel
- It’s illegal to transport firearms through Washington DC for any reason, so avoid it altogether
- Additional restrictions may apply for those with criminal records, histories of mental illness or domestic violence, illegal aliens, persons who’ve renounced their citizenship, and service men and women who’ve been
dishonorably discharged, so if you fall into any of those categories, you may not be able to transport firearms at all
Moving companies are legally permitted to transport firearms in accordance with state and federal laws.
But whether they actually will is another question altogether.
They generally decide on an individual basis if they’ll pack and move their customer’s guns based on a few factors.
It usually boils down to liability and safety, but from a nuts and bolts standpoint, moving guns isn’t exactly rocket science.
Guns without ammunition are no more dangerous than nightstands and dining room chairs.
As long as they’re unloaded, properly packed, and recorded correctly on the paperwork everything should be fine.
If your mover accepts your guns as part of your shipment, complying with all relevant state and national laws becomes their responsibility.
It’s also important to note that ATF regulations dictate how guns packed in boxes and crates must be labeled during the moving process.
Oddly enough, they’re not allowed to be marked as ‘guns’ or ‘firearms.’
Instead, they should be labeled as ‘sporting goods,’ or ‘outdoor gear.’
Some customers make the big mistake of hiding their guns and ammo inside intentionally mismarked boxes to be loaded onto the moving van without the crew knowing their true contents.
This is a horrible idea for a number of reasons.
First, ammunition is explosive and is therefore strictly prohibited from being included in household goods shipments.
If you’ve pulled the old switcheroo and the aforementioned ammo explodes inside the moving van on a hot summer day in South Texas, it’ll mean big problems.
So don’t do it.
If you’ve got ammo move it yourself, and if you want your mover to move your guns, tell them during the screening process.
Remember, if a moving company does agree to move your guns, it’s not something you’ll generally pay extra for.
Though this isn’t meant to be a comprehensive list of regulations, it should give you a good idea of what’s involved.
Laws change constantly, so familiarizing yourself with the ones that apply to your particular situation is a wise use of pre-move planning time.
The last thing anybody needs on their record is a firearm charge.