By Don Cadden, Guest Contributor
In most states in the U.S., RVers have the option of carrying a firearm. Though not everyone is interested in carrying a firearm for personal protection, for those who are, I’d like to share advice and points to consider when making your decision.
I am a certified instructor and have a considerable amount of firearms training and experience. I’ve also been involved in fighting for our Second Amendment rights since the 1960s, so the advice I mention in this article is based on hard-gained knowledge and personal experience. Even if you’ve been shooting a firearm “since you were a kid,” this doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve been shooting correctly or safely. Hopefully, if you’re a gun owner, you are willing to learn new and helpful information.
Where can I carry a firearm?
Before we discuss how to carry a firearm, let’s explore where you can carry one in the lower 48 states.
The U.S. has a patchwork of gun laws. Currently, there are bills before Congress to establish national reciprocity, but until these bills pass, each state law must be considered separately. When planning an RV trip with a firearm, an Internet search of state gun laws is imperative. Searching “gun laws by state” online will turn up several good sites; however, I prefer the NRA-ILA (National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action) site at www.nraila.org. This website is easy to navigate and lists the laws by state in easy-to-understand language.
As a quick reference, forget taking a firearm into Mexico. And, while Canada might allow a rifle or shotgun, study their rules carefully before approaching their borders.
What do I need?
If you intend to carry a handgun, it is wise and important that you obtain a carry permit from your home state. Many states recognize reciprocity with each other so that your home state permit serves as a legal permit in many other states. Even so, each state has different laws pertaining to places where you can and cannot carry a firearm, so be sure to research the laws of each state you plan to visit. Most states are far more accepting of having the gun in your vehicle, as opposed to carrying it on your person (concealed or not concealed) in public. For this article, we’ll cover the issue of carrying a gun in your vehicle or RV.
Why should I carry a firearm?
I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up the question of why it might be wise to carry a firearm while traveling. I’ve had numerous law enforcement officers tell me that “when seconds count, the police are only minutes away.” So, it’s no wonder why many of us feel that our safety, and the safety of our loved ones, is our responsibility. We wear a seat belt in our vehicle and have a fire extinguisher in our home and vehicle, and we hope that we never have to use either. It is the same with a gun.
The Second Amendment to the Constitution states, “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” This does not give us the right to be armed; it assumes that defending oneself is an innate birthright and that right “shall not be infringed” by any government.
If you have made the decision to travel with a firearm, let’s look at what to carry and how to safely do it.
What type of firearm should I buy?
Handgun: Handguns are the easiest weapon to conceal and to access when needed. To be efficient, they also require the most training and practice. Even if you pass the requirements to obtain a carry permit, you may not be safe or competent with your gun. Having trained and trained alongside many well-intentioned folks, I strongly recommend all gun owners seek professional guidance and spend sufficient time on the range to become proficient with your handgun of choice. I cannot emphasize this enough. Those of you who have been in truly stressful situations in the military, or in civilian emergency situations, know that when stress overpowers, you revert totally to your training. Proper training can save your life.
Shotgun: Let’s assume you are not comfortable with a handgun but want to carry a firearm for protection. My suggestion would be a shotgun. Many manufacturers now make shorter shotguns specifically made for self-defense, but within the federal law on length (18-inch barrel, 26 inches overall). This size shotgun is easier to handle and will have a mental effect on the intruder should it have to be deployed.
One common myth about a shotgun is that you can simply point it in the general direction of the target and the fired shot will splatter everything in range. However, at the range it would likely be used in an RV, a shotgun would probably throw a pattern of eight inches or less in diameter. So, as I stated before, it is imperative to practice and train. A shotgun is also more difficult to deploy and easier for an assailant to wrestle away, so it’s important to know what you’re going to do ahead of time.
My personal choice is to carry a semi-
automatic pistol loaded with a round in the chamber. My wife, Pam, and I pull a travel trailer, and I always have the handgun in a holster within close reach in my truck. At night, I move it into the trailer, along with a reliable, strong flashlight. Both are placed by my bed, and then replaced in the truck before we leave the next morning. My wife understands safe gun handling, so she can move, or use, the pistol, if necessary.
Photo above: Bird shot (#8) fired at 21 feet from a 12-gauge shotgun. As evident from the small diameter of the pattern, shotguns are not exactly “point and shoot” as many people imagine.
Photo by Don Cadden
Firearm Safety for Children
If we have one of our grandchildren along, I remove the round from the chamber but leave the magazine in the pistol. I have taught my children and grandchildren gun safety to remove any mystery to the firearm that would attract them to it. And, without a round in the chamber, they would have to be strong enough, and knowledgeable enough, to pull the slide back and charge the weapon in order to fire it.
No matter how you might feel about guns, you never know when children will encounter a gun in someone else’s home. The NRA Eddie Eagle program has been successful in teaching children gun safety. They simply teach them that when they see a gun, they should immediately do three things: Don’t touch, leave the area and tell an adult. These are actions that are simple, easy to remember and effective.
Training and Practice
With any type firearm in your home or RV, you must always keep in mind what is behind and around the target at which you might be shooting. A pistol round or shotgun pellet will easily penetrate an inside wall and probably the exterior wall of an RV. I recently saw a test where a 9mm pistol round went through nine pieces of half-inch sheet rock. A missed shot at an intruder can mean putting others at high risk. This is another reason training and practice are so critical.
Four Basic Rules of Safety
Safety with any firearm cannot be over emphasized. At Gunsite Academy in Arizona, I trained with some of the top professionals in the country. There they have four basic rules of safety that everyone should adhere to every time they pick up a firearm.
1. Every gun is always loaded.
2. Never let the muzzle point toward anything you are not willing to destroy.
3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.
4. Always be sure of your target.
In class, I constantly repeat to my students when we are on the firing line, “Where’s my finger; where’s my muzzle?” To assure the safety of yourself and others, you should have the muzzle pointed in a safe direction, and your finger off the trigger until you are ready to fire. Even if you draw your weapon and think there might be a deadly threat, your finger should be off the trigger and alongside the gun frame until you are sure of your target and intentions.
Traveling with a firearm is a serious decision and should be well thought out. Simply buying a gun and sticking it in your vehicle or RV is not using sound judgment. While I believe fervently that we have the right and the responsibility to protect ourselves and our families, we must do that in a manner that doesn’t endanger others. Again, training and practice are critical.
Don Cadden is an NRA-Certified pistol instructor, has trained at Gunsite Academy, achieved the Master level in both pistol and carbine at the NRA Whittington training center and qualified with numerous weapons in the military. He and his wife, Pam, live in the mountains of Alpine, Texas. They are retired and enjoy traveling and RV camping in their Lance bumper-pull trailer.