The Lack of Uniformity in Gun Laws Can Cause Problems for Gun Owners

Gun laws vary greatly from state to state, and even within states at the city and county level.  These differences can cause a gun owner serious legal problems.

There is a great degree of uniformity in many areas of law, so that a person can easily travel within a state or between states without worrying that they will inadvertently violate the law.  For example, an Illinois driver can be confident that their car’s headlights are suitable under Illinois law and also Iowa law (and every other state).  An Iowa driver can rest assured that their truck’s mudflaps meet the vehicular codes of their home state of Iowa as well as Illinois (and every other state).  Indeed, there have been numerous court cases over the decades where the Federal courts have struck down laws that made interstate travel and commerce more difficult, as such restrictions were improper restrictions upon the right of Americans to travel between the states and engage in interstate commerce.  A leading example related to an improper attempt by a state to require a certain shape of mudflap on trucks, which if allowed, would have made it virtually impossible for truck drivers to cross state lines without breaking the law (or stopping to change mudflaps at each state’s boarder).

Sadly, there is not a similar protection for gun owners traveling within a state or between states.  Instead, gun laws in the United States are a patchwork of tens of thousands of laws at the federal, state, county, and city level.  Some states allow concealed carry or open carry and issue permits readily, while other states impose significant restrictions upon permits.  Some states allow one type of carry (e.g. concealed carry) while ban others (e.g. open carry).  There are bans on so-called assault weapons in some states, cities, and counties.  In some states, transporting a firearm without a permit to carry means that the firearm should be out of view and in a case, while other states require that the firearm by in plain view.  That is a common issue for Missouri residents who travel in Iowa, not recognizing the difference in state law as to transportation of firearms.

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Adding to those difficulties is the ever changing nature of gun laws in the USA.  New laws are passed and repealed by legislative bodies at the national, state, and local level every month.  Interpretations of those laws by the various state and federal courts also add another layer of complexity.  Decisions by political appointees (often a state Attorney General) can make an out-of-state permit to carry valid one day and invalid the next day.  It is thus possible for a person who has exercised their due diligence as to gun laws to be caught off guard and in violation of a law when that law changes.

On a positive note, there is a federal “safe harbor” when it comes to transportation of guns, although it is quite limited in nature.  A person who is transporting a lawfully owned firearm across state lines in a broken down and non-functional state is able to travel through areas that have a local anti-gun law that would would prohibit the firearm from being possessed in that locality.  Again, this exception is rather limited in nature and so it does not solve the problem.

Until such a time as gun laws in the United States are more uniform (which does not appear to be something that will happen anytime soon), a person who is traveling with a firearm is well advised to know and understand the applicable laws.  Doing so is vital to both preserving their gun rights and avoiding criminal charges.