How to Properly Transport Your Legal Firearms by Motor Vehicle in North Carolina

When you are packing up your pickup or SUV preparing to do a little hunting or target shooting, do you know how to carry your firearms so that you will comply with NC law during your trip?   Since this can be a tricky question, understanding our NC firearms vehicle transport laws in advance can help you keep your interaction peaceful should you be stopped and questioned by a law enforcement officer.

WITHOUT A CONCEALED CARRY PERMIT

North Carolina allows legal firearms owners to transport their firearms in their vehicles.  But where firearms are being transported in a motor vehicle by a driver who doesn’t have a concealed carry permit, it is illegal to transport a firearm which is both 1) concealed; and 2) readily accessible to a person (including all passengers.)

So how does this work in practice?  If your vehicle has a trunk, a closed pickup bed, or an open pickup bed, it’s OK to carry your firearms there, even if they are in gun cases or otherwise concealed, if they are not readily accessible to any vehicle occupants.

It gets a little trickier for vehicles with no easily discernable trunk area, such as SUVs or vans.   If a firearm is concealed near, in close proximity to, or within the convenient control or access of an occupant (including a passenger), which would allow the occupant to use the weapon quickly, then the occupant is likely violating the law.

It is, however, legal to transport a firearm, which is openly displayed and not concealed, even if it is within reach.   The practical problem, though, is that a law enforcement officer who approaches the vehicle may not know the purpose of the firearm or the intent of its owner, and may conclude that the officer is at personal risk upon seeing an unexplained firearm.  Thus, the driver should immediately notify an approaching law enforcement officer of any firearm within the vehicle, and communicate his peaceful intent.

Another practical problem with transporting open firearms in a vehicle is that such firearms may easily be viewed by potential thieves, particularly where such firearms are left in plain view when the occupants leave the vehicle.  No legal firearms owner wants a criminal in possession of his firearms.

Bad Places to Transport Firearms (Without a Concealed Handgun Permit)

  • Glove compartment, center console, or any closed compartment within reach;
  • Under the seat;
  • Concealed in the back seat within reach of an occupant;
  • In a gun rack hidden behind the seat;
  • In a closed gun case within reach of an occupant;
  • Concealed or hidden anywhere within the reach of a vehicle occupant.

Legal Places to Transport Firearms

  • In an open gun rack within the vehicle;
  • In a locked trunk out of reach of all occupants;
  • In a pickup bed, out of reach of all occupants, which is either covered or uncovered (guns may be either in a case or open);
  • In a locked gun case out of reach of vehicle occupants;
  • Open and in plain view on a vehicle seat, or in an open carrying area of a SUV or van (remember to alert any approaching law enforcement officer.)

WITH A CONCEALED CARRY PERMIT

A valid NC concealed handgun permit, or a recognized out-of-state concealed handgun permit, may allow recipients the ability to carry concealed handguns in vehicles.  Such permits refer to handguns only; it is not legal to conceal other weapons such as long guns within reach, even with a concealed handgun permit.

Note:  It is unlawful for a permit holder to carry a concealed handgun while consuming alcohol, or while having alcohol or any illegally obtained controlled substance within his body.