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Whether it’s for sport or for personal protection, traveling with firearms across state lines in an RV brings up a lot of questions. Can you legally travel with a gun across the US? Can you carry a gun in your RV? The answer to these questions can vary from state to state and sometimes even city to city.
In this article, I will share what we’ve learned about traveling with firearms and provide resources on the various legalities of traveling in your RV with a gun within the United States. This post will also touch on traveling to Canada and Mexico with firearms from the United States.
NOTE: I’m not a lawyer and nothing in this article should be considered legal advice. I’m sharing my opinions and what I’ve learned over the years. While I might make reference to laws, they are subject to change and my information may not be current. I would suggest you use this article as a basis to do your own research around traveling with firearms and contact a lawyer for any legal questions. There is a lot of personal and legal responsibility owning a firearm and it’s your responsibility to be safe and understand all of the laws. This article also assumes that you are not a prohibited person and can legally own firearms.
Traveling with Firearms
While the process for traveling with firearms can seem daunting with the seemingly endless laws that pertain to them, it’s straightforward once you get a handle on things. One of the best resources to answer many questions is the book, Traveler’s Guide to the Firearm Laws of the Fifty States.
The author, J. Scott Kappas is a lawyer and has put together a handy guide on traveling with firearms. Since firearms laws change each year, he publishes a new version shortly after each new year to keep the guide current. The guide includes federal laws and has a page dedicated to each U.S. state. It’s worth buying and keeping in your vehicle to reference every time you plan to cross a state line.
Why carry a gun in an RV?
Traveling with Firearms for Personal Protection
For RV travelers, there are those times where we want to camp off the beaten path. Many times we don’t have cell service or are so far from a town or city that help might be a long time coming…assuming they could find us. That means if there is a bump in the night, you may be on your own in dealing with the problem until the calvary arrives.
While criminals can be a concern, if you’re camping out in the boonies, you’re more likely to have an encounter with a wild animal who sees you as its next meal. I personally know someone who had a bear tear open their tent in the middle of the night, grab their leg and start to walk off with them. Luckily, their partner was able to think quickly and punched the bear in the nose which made it drop the person and take off.
Just like living in a home, there’s always the risk of someone or something coming in with the intention of doing you harm. Having a firearm and knowing how to use it is one way to help protect yourself and anyone with you.
Traveling with Firearms for Sport
Many people travel across the U.S. to hunt or participate in shooting related events and activities. The types of firearms used for these types of activities can range from American revolution era black powder guns to modern day fully automatic weapons. While some people chose to fly (yes, you can fly with guns in checked baggage but that’s a whole other discussion), many will hit the road and see the sights along the way.
The Legalities of Traveling with Firearms
There are thousands of firearms laws across the U.S. When traveling with firearms in your RV, you need to not only be aware of local and state laws but also federal laws as you’ll most likely be crossing state lines and possibly even across international borders. You need to know and understand those laws BEFORE crossing any state, and in some cases, county lines.
For example, California and New York both have some of the most restrictive firearms laws in the United States. Their laws can also change based on which city and/or county you happen to be in. If you cross into and travel through a state like this, you need to be aware of all state AND local firearms laws.
In other states like Texas, they have state preemption gun laws. This means that no local governments can further restrict or regulate the possession or use of firearms. What this means to a traveler is that you only need to be aware of the state firearms laws.
When an RV is parked in a fixed state (connected to shore power/sewer, awning out, etc), certain states consider the RV to be your domicile. This can change how your firearm must be carried and stored. For example, a state may require that any firearms be locked in a truck or other compartment while traveling, however when you are camping, you may be able to keep that gun unlocked and loaded.
Federal firearms laws add another layer of complexity. One law for example provides exemptions for travelers traveling through a state which may prohibit their firearms assuming they do not stop (this is covered in detail in the Traveler’s Guide to the Firearm Laws of the Fifty States). You’re also subject to federal laws when on federal property such as National Parks or camping on BLM and Forest Service land.
Native American tribes can also have specific laws regarding firearms when you’re within the boundary of their reservation. Each one is different and some can be more restrictive than the state laws.
Can I Get a Concealed Carry Permit?
In short, yes. While in some states it is extremely difficult and/or impossible for its residents to get a concealed carry permit (CCW), some states like Arizona will issue CCWs to non-residents assuming you meet their standards. Many states will offer reciprocity with the state issuing your CCW so when you travel to that state, you can legally carry. Some states also have what’s known as “Constitutional Carry,” meaning that a permit is not required to carry a firearm in some fashion. That said, most concealed carry laws restrict the types of firearms you may legally carry. It’s also worth noting that the CCW laws may vary if you have a resident or a non-resident permit.
While there is a cost to get a permit and in some cases, you’re required to attend a class and demonstrate shooting proficiency, having a permit makes it easier to travel with firearms. In the Traveler’s Guide to the Firearm Laws of the Fifty States, it lists the differences between how a firearm must be transported if you have a permit versus if you don’t.
There are also a number of apps such as the Concealed Carry app which will allow you to select your home state and which permits you have and then the app will show you which states recognize your permit(s). usconcealedcarry.com is another good resource that lists the CCW laws of each state.
Should I Carry a Gun in My RV?
Only you can answer this question. As I mentioned previously, owning a firearm comes with a great deal of responsibility but there is an even greater responsibility when traveling with firearms due to the various laws you need to be aware of.
If you’ve made the decision to own a firearm, then I highly suggest getting training, learning how to be safe and spending time becoming proficient with it. If you don’t think a firearm is right for you, there are other ways to stay safe while RVing. Check out my article on RV Safety and Preparedness.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to train on a regular basis while traveling. Many times you are in areas where you aren’t able to legally shoot and aren’t near any shooting ranges. Also, the prices on ammunition can make it prohibitive to practice regularly. Since ammunition takes up space and weight in an RV you might be limited on how much you can stock up on at a time.
There are training aids from companies like Mantis that allow you to train with your firearms without using ammo. The Mantis X10 Elite for example, has a small device that you attach to your weapon’s accessory rail and an app that let’s you connect via bluetooth to the device. Once connected, the Mantis will track and evaluate your dry fire practice and provide tips to help you improve.
There are also a number of training modules to test speed and accuracy. This gives you the ability to practice in your RV no matter where you are (just make sure to put the shades down so you don’t attract curious onlookers passing by). When you’re ready for live-fire practice, change the settings in the app from dry-fire to live-fire so the firearms training system can continue to track your progress.
When I got my Mantis X10 Elite, I realized that in order to use it with my pistol, I would have to reset the trigger between each shot by racking the slide. The nice thing about the MantisX app is that you can select the type of firearm you’re using (pistol or rifle), select the brand/model of the firearm and then change the shot detection mode from live fire to dry fire and it knows to pick up the “shot” when you dry fire the pistol. To improve my training, I purchased a DryFireMag training magazine which resets the trigger each time you pull it.
The MantisX app provides various types of training modules and provides real-time feedback. I’ve found the feedback extremely helpful with improving my grip and trigger pull. Overall, with the MantisX’s compact size and ability to train anywhere, this is a firearm training system that can be easily taken on the road.
Where Can I Store a Gun in My RV?
When traveling through many states, you’re required to have the gun unloaded and locked in a trunk or vehicle storage compartment that is not readily accessible to the occupants. While this might be easy to do in a travel trailer, if you have a motorhome where the living quarters are always available to the occupants, this can be more difficult. Unfortunately most laws reference passenger vehicles and don’t address RVs.
For motorhomes and other campers where you can access the living quarters while driving, consider outside storage bays which can be used as a “trunk.” While laws may not specifically address RVs, look at how the laws address SUVs and station wagons where the “trunk” area is accessible by the occupants. Many times, the laws will allow for guns and ammo to be in locked containers within the vehicle.
Even in the biggest RVs, you’re limited by weight and space so in most cases a large, standup gun safe won’t work. If you want to lock your firearm in a safe, there are smaller more lightweight safes specific for handguns. Also look for areas in your RV which can be secured.
For example, some RVs have hidden storage areas under beds or dinettes that can be modified to be locked. If you have children or will have children visiting your RV, you’ll need to either keep your firearms locked up and/or attach some type of locking device to the firearm itself. If not, locking up your camper when you leave may suffice, but this will not provide protection if your RV is broken into.
What Type of Firearm Should I Carry in My RV?
Again, this answer depends entirely on you and how you plan to travel. I would suggest looking at a map to see where you want to travel in the United States, then researching restrictions those states have on firearms.
Most states allow travelers to transport any firearm up to and including “assault weapons” (there are specific restrictions to Class III NFA / Class II weapons but that is beyond the scope of this article). That said, there are states, primarily on the east and west coasts, that have banned certain types of guns, have limits on magazine capacity and restrictions on ammunition. If you plan to go into one of these states with something that is prohibited, look for places you can leave the prohibited items behind. You may have friends or family who are able to store the items for you before crossing the border – however check laws to ensure you may do so and that they are legally allowed to possess firearms. There are also gun stores / FFLs who will store the items for a fee.
Specific considerations need to be taken for laws that are designed for RVs. For example, some states will allow you to carry a loaded firearm in your vehicle without a permit as long as it’s in plain view (meaning, when the officer looks into your vehicle, they can readily see the firearm). If you have a taller RV like a Class A motorhome, your gun that’s on a center console or dash may not be in “plain view” if the officer has to look up into the cab of your RV.
If you’re planning to use the gun for self defense, consider what the interior of your RV looks like. A rifle or shotgun may not make much sense in a small camper van where you don’t have the room to easily manipulate that firearm.
Also consider the amount of space you have in your RV and what your vehicle carrying capacity is. A handgun is lighter and easier to store than a rifle (plus all the ammunition and accessories you might want to bring).
Can I Fly with my Firearms?
In short, yes but do not put any firearms, ammo or firearm parts into your carry on luggage. Most airlines will allow you to fly with a firearm and limited amount of ammo in your checked baggage. Each airline has slightly different rules around it so check their website first for the most up-to-date information. Please read all of the airline’s information BEFORE arriving at the airport (you don’t want to find out you have to take something home that you can’t bring). You also need to ensure that it is legal for you to possess the firearm you’re traveling with at your destination. There have been cases where a flight gets diverted and lands somewhere else. While the firearm would be legal at your end destination it may not be at the new destination (like New York city). Make sure you read up on what to do in those circumstances.
Based on my experience, firearms are required to be unloaded in a locked, hard sided case (which can be placed in your soft sided luggage). You may have a loaded magazine in the same case as your firearm but it cannot be inserted into the firearm. When you arrive at the check-in counter simply ask the agent for a firearms declaration form (one per firearm). The agent will then fill it out and give you a copy to be taped on your firearm case. In some cases, they may ask to see that it’s locked. The bag will then be screened by TSA and if they suspect your firearm might be loaded or any other issue, you will be called to unlock it for them for further inspection. In order to help prevent this, I will lock the slide back and put a cable lock through the magazine well. When you arrive at your destination, the bag will come out with all of the other checked bags.
One tip I’ve heard but have not tried yet is to put an Apple Air Tag into your luggage/gun case so you can keep track of where your bag(s) are.
Can I Travel to Canada or Mexico with my Firearms?
You cannot travel to Mexico with any firearms or ammunition. Even an empty magazine or gun parts can get you in trouble. There are stories of travelers getting detained because there was a single loose round of ammunition that they missed when cleaning out their RV.
While traveling through Baja Mexico in our RV, Kait and I regularly passed through military check-points where they would ask us questions and inspect our truck camper. While these inspections were typically brief, other people in our party were given more detailed inspections including the use of dogs. If you plan to travel to Mexico, go through your RV with a fine tooth comb and ensure everything that is not allowed in that country has been removed from your RV.
Now Canada is a bit of a different story. They allow certain types of firearms like bolt/lever action rifles, pump shot guns and semi-auto shotguns that hold a limited number of rounds. Mostly this is for hunters who are heading up to Canada and Alaska. I won’t go into detail here but in order to cross the border you need to provide the appropriate forms and reason(s) for bringing firearms across the border. Self-defense is not considered a valid reason. From what I’ve heard, some people have had no issues and do it on a regular basis while others were turned away at the border. You can read all about the different regulations and what forms need to be filled out on the Canada Border Services Agency site.
If you want to travel to Alaska and bring a handgun, semi-automatic rifle or other prohibited items, there are companies in the U.S. that will ship your gun(s) to Alaska and then back again. You can also fly up there and check the guns, but then that negates the fun of taking an RV to Alaska!
What About Knives, Pepper Spray, Bear Spray and Other Self-Defense Items?
While guns tend to get all of the attention, people tend to forget that there are laws regarding other implements of self-defense. Knife laws, for example, can be even more confusing than most gun laws. For example, in Delaware, carrying a concealed pocket knife with a blade greater than 3 inches is a felony unless you have a concealed carry permit, but you can legally carry any size knife if it’s in plain view (there is much more to these laws so if you’re planning to go to Delaware, do your homework).
In some places, including Canada, carrying a small keychain sized can of pepper spray is illegal. However in many of those same places, including Canada, you can legally carry a large can of bear spray. Also, some National Parks in the U.S., like Yosemite, prohibit entering the park with bear spray.
Speaking of bear spray, knives, bats, etc. Regardless of what you chose to protect yourself with, get training and practice. Bear spray, for example, isn’t as straightforward as it looks. Once on a camping trip with friends, we decided to practice with a can of bear spray that was past it’s expiration. We each took turns spraying it and it was eye opening to see how far it went but also how my recoil there was when sprayed. When one friend decided to give it a second shot, the wind had shifted and blew a small bit back at her. To say she was in misery from that would be an understatement. The lesson is that while you might stop an attacker, you may also stop yourself if you don’t know what you’re doing.
While the focus of this article is on traveling with firearms, whatever you decide to carry with you, ensure that you’re adhering to any laws of the state(s) you’re traveling to.
Depending on which statistics you read, somewhere around 30-40% of Americans own or live in a home with guns. By my estimation, when many of these Americans take their RV out on vacation, some of those guns go with them. So traveling with firearms is relatively common, but the right precautions and planning need to be done in order to do it safely and responsibly.