Traveling between two dots on a map would become less worrisome for travelers transporting firearms if Congress listens to what U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) is offering. He’s introduced H.R. 225, a bill that would remove the legal pitfalls for interstate travel with firearms.
The legislation couldn’t be more timely. America saw its strongest year for background checks ever, with 21 million clocking in throughout 2020. Over 8.4 million people purchased a gun for the very first time, according to National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) survey estimates.
It was also a year that saw a rise in hunting license sales and activity as shooting ranges as many sought outdoor opportunities across the board to beat being bored during coronavirus quarantine protocols.
Those gun owners are going to travel and, with a confusing patchwork of laws between the states, it’s time that firearm transportation laws caught up.
The difficulty for gun owners traveling with their firearm is that each state regulates firearm possession differently. Some states ban modern sporting rifles, posing a travel obstacle to those firearm owners who need to pass through that state to get to another. This is a real concern for firearm owners who must drive or even stop on flights in states like Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Delaware or Maryland.
Traveling with a modern sporting rifle or standard magazines might not be an issue in New Hampshire but traveling with firearms through the corridor of those strict gun control states means navigating more than just road hazards. It’s weaving through legal hazards too.
This common situation unwittingly turns law-abiding Americans into instant criminals, often times without their knowledge or intention. The case of John Filippidis of Florida gained national attention. Filippidis was pulled over for speeding in Maryland while driving with his family. Police suspected he had a firearm in the car and spent over an hour searching his vehicle, his family scared and watching.
It happened to Army 1st Lt. Augustine Kim. He was traveling from his parents’ home in New Jersey to his own home in South Carolina. While en route he stopped at what was then called Walter Reed hospital in Washington, D.C. in 2010 for a medial appointment.
He consented to an officer searching his car for firearms. He told them he had a modern sporting rifle properly locked in the trunk. The problem was modern sporting rifles are banned from possession in the District of Columbia.
The Army officer was handcuffed and hauled off to jail, facing 20 years, $20,000 in fines and four felonies. He ultimately pleaded guilty to a reduced misdemeanor charge and spent the next two years fighting to get his rifle returned. It took the intervention of U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, both Republicans from South Carolina.
This circumstance is common with those in the trucking and transportation industry too, not just private citizens traveling across state lines.
Similar situations arise when hunters travel with their firearms on hunting excursions in other states. Should they be delayed at airports and required to stay overnight away from home, they may be vulnerable to similar inquiries and confiscation by local law enforcement enforcing the very strict gun laws of those states.
U.S. Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) spoke about this exact situation describing why he supports the effort to pass the firearm interstate transportation law update. House Republican Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) has led the charge in the House of Representatives before as well.
Congressman Griffith’s bill would protect lawful gun owners from falling victim to strict gun control laws in other states should the owner find themselves traveling through or temporarily required to stay over. It’s a commonsense fix that should be a bipartisan law Congress could agree on. It’s not requiring states to change or adopt new standards. It just allows a traveler who is passing through to do so without fear of jail time. This is legislation that should be voted on in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Larry Keane is SVP for Government and Public Affairs, Assistant Secretary and General Counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.