Knock on wood, but I have not received a speeding ticket since 1997, but I have been pulled over several times for equipment violations (no front plate, no headlights, no seat belt) and once for running a red light after the signal pattern changed. This can be a very stressful time for you as a driver; assuming you are armed, it can be doubly so. Just like training for IDPA/IPSC competition or planning for a blackout or wilderness survival, having a plan and mentally rehearsing it can reduce your stress and improve your performance greatly.
The 1st thing you need to do is quickly and safely find a place to pull over. Place your turn signal on alerting the police officer on your intention to stop and then look for a place that you can stop without placing the officer at undue risk. You should be far enough off the road that the officer does not need stand in traffic and if you are asked to step out of the vehicle you are not at risk of being struck by a passing car.
Once stopped roll down your window, turn off your vehicle, turn off your radio, turn on your interior lights and place you hands in clear view on the steering wheel. I do not recommend reaching into your glove box for insurance papers or grabbing your ID at this time. From behind the vehicle, you would not be able to tell if they are grabbing papers or a handgun from the glove box.
As a police officer the 3 most likely places to be killed are at domestic violence calls, driving the patrol vehicle and at traffic stops. While an experienced officer may have conducted thousands of stops, approaching a vehicle with a frightened or anxious driver should always be done with caution.
Before the officer approaches your vehicle they will likely run the plates to determine if the person the vehicle is registered to have a record, outstanding warrants etc. At this point the officer will likely know that you have a concealed carry permit. Many CCW permit holders believe that this should be proof that they are an upstanding member of society, and to some officers it is, but until the officer has confirmed who you are they should not assume that the driver of the vehicle is the registered owner. The car could have been stolen!
The is a chance that officer may not immediately approach the vehicle and is waiting for back-up. As posted yesterday, an officers primary safety concern is for themselves. If they are out numbered by the occupants of your vehicle, or if they are of a different gender they may choose to do this to mitigate their risks and they are completely prudent to do so. As soon as the risk has been determined to be low, the second officer may leave.
The officer will also likely take measures to increase their reaction time should you show signs of being a threat. 2 of the more common techniques are 1) to shine their spotlight into your rear view mirror and 2) approaching the vehicle from an angle that makes them difficult to see without large obvious motions.
The goal of the spot light is partly to add additional light to the cabin of the vehicle, but its main goal is to destroy the night vision of the driver and make it impossible to see the officers movements behind the light.
When the officer approaches they may come from either side. Approaching from the driver’s side, they will likely stop behind the driver’s door, this allows them to keep a small degree of cover between them and the driver, it makes it easier to communicate due to the close proximity and requires a large motion by the driver to point a weapon at them.. Approaching from the passenger side gives them a good view of the entire passenger compartment, keeps them out of traffic and makes for a difficult shot for a right-handed shooter.
When the officer finally makes contact they will attempt to do so with some measure of authority, they want to let you know that they are in control of the situation. For a sheepdog, this aggressive posture tends to make us uncomfortable as we see it as a threat. This is our problem, not the officers! If you respond with similar aggression the officer will rightly take steps to protect themselves.
This is also the point when in many states, like North Carolina, CCW permit holders are required to notify the officer of the existence of their permit. It is a good idea to commit a rehearsed phase to memory for this notification. Mine is something like…
“Hello. I am required to notify you at this time that I have a North Carolina permit to carry a concealed firearm.”
It may not matter, but I like to start with a friendly word and avoid the use of the words “Gun” or “Weapon.”
During my last stop the conversations proceeded as follows:
Officer: “Are you currently armed?”
Me: “Yes, sir.”
Officer (Looking for the gun): “Where is it?”
Me: “In a inside the waistband holster behind my right hip.”
Officer: “Fine, leave it there.”
Me: “Yes, sir.”
Officer: “May I see your license please?”
Me: “Yes, sir. Before I reach for it I would like to inform you that it is in my wallet in my back, right pocket.”
Officer (now with a look of concern): “OK, tell you what, take you gun out slowly and place it on your dash.”
Me (still with my hands on the steering wheel): “Would you mind if I remove it in the holster. I am not particularly keen on having a loaded firearm in my hand in the presence of an officer.”
Officer: “Yes, that is fine.”
At this point the traffic stop proceeded normally with my gun remaining on the dash for the duration of the stop. (Including when the officer turned his back to return to his vehicle.)
If the officer wishes to disarm you, carry your firearm back to their patrol car and run a check on the weapon, they are completely within their rights to do so. They may even return your weapon to you unloaded. This is so that you are not in possession of a loaded weapon in their presence and so that you need to reload it before it become a risk to them. Remember they want to return home safely and this helps them ensure that they do.
At a traffic stop your goal is to a) not get shot by the police officer and b) minimize the financial impact of the ticket.
I recommend a few things to minimize your risk of being shot by the officer:
- Be polite. A traffic stop is stressful for you AND the officer. Being polite and taking actions to demonstrably reduce their risk will show that you are a good guy and put them more at ease. If you have to, walk them through the process of securing your firearm like I did above.
- Avoid movements that may be confused with reaching for your firearm. It is your responsibility to not give the impression that you are drawing your gun. Don’t let the officer give you commands that make look that way either.
- Minimize weapon handling by both you and the officer. We have all heard stories about police officers that have asked how to apply the safety on a revolver or how to open the cylinder. Unfortunately, not all police officers are “gun guys” and many are less than proficient with firearms. Therefore, I will not carry a pistol in public that cannot be removed without removing my belt. I do not want access to the trigger in the presence of a police officer, nor do I want them to have access to my trigger. Had the officer asked me to surrender my weapon I would have said… ”Yes sir. Can I hand it to you in it’s holster? Additionally, I don’t mean any disrespect but, since I do not know your experience with a firearm… if you manipulate the weapon in any way, can you do it by your cruiser to minimize any risk to me.”
The last thing to remember at a traffic stop is a CCW permit is not a get out of jail free card. Supportive officers MAY give you a break because of you have demonstrated that you are an upstanding citizen. Do not expect special treatment.
For the stop I referenced, the police officer got off of his hand-held cell phone to give me a ticket for no seat belt. I was given the ticket, which I deserved, what upset me is talking on a cell phone, while speeding, is a far greater risk to himself and others than my not wearing a seat belt.
If you have any interesting story about being stopped while armed, post it in the comments below and if you think it would be beneficial to someone you know, please feel free to share it on Facebook, Twitter or by e-mail!