I’m going to start this by saying I have the utmost respect for professional law enforcement officers. Professional law enforcement officers keep their composure and use deadly force as a last resort.
Police And Gun Owners
Some states require you to notify a law enforcement officer if you are armed and pulled over, or have a police encounter. This can be a very tense interaction or it can be smooth and simple. A lot depends on the situation, your attitude and the attitude of the officer. Even if you do no nothing wrong during the interaction you can still be legally killed. You may claim that’s total BS but the courts have repeatedly sided with the police on this, just accept it. If there is any doubt as to anything that occurred during the interaction that subsequently prompted the officer to shoot you, the benefit of such doubt will go to the officer. I say all this not to complain or bash police but to make it explicitly clear that your safety depends on you. You may know you’re not a threat but the officer doesn’t.
How I Interact With Police
I act with police the same way I do with a stray dog. I mean that with no offense, I just can’t think of a better analogy. If I run across a stray dog I talk to them calming and nicely, I don’t make any sudden movements, and largely let them set the tone of our interaction. I don’t startle them or give them any possible reason to view me as a threat. Which is exactly how I interact with police.
You can’t control which officer is going to pull you over. He may be a young rookie and you’re the first person he’s pulled over that is armed. You cannot rely on him to have composure of a seasoned officer who has encountered many armed people. I remember reading a story on a forum where a guy was pulled over and told the officer he had a gun in his glove box, which was also the location of his registration. The officer said “OK” and stopped, which he took as clearing him to retrieve his registration. He quickly found himself facing the muzzle of her gun as she anxiously called for immediate backup. Once backup arrived he was then pulled out of the car and cuffed while the scene was secured.
Did he do anything wrong? Not really. To him, and probably most people, “OK” meant he was good to go. The problem was the officer didn’t give him any direction, he was left to assume and she lost control of the situation. The officer should have said something like “OK, keep your hands on the wheel and ___insert direction here___.” But she didn’t and had she filled him full of lead I have no doubt it would have been found legally justified.
Traffic Stop While Armed
I’ve had a handful of interactions with officers while armed and it’s always been a fine experience. Here’s what I do:
- Upon seeing flashing lights I immediately turn on my emergency lights and pull over when possible.
- While stopping, if at night I turn on my interior light. If it’s day and I have tinted windows I lower them part way so my car is fully visible.
- As soon as I’ve stopped I grab everything I may possibly need. Wallet, insurance card, registration. I don’t want to have to reach for anything.
- The alternate is to not do anything until the under the direction of the officer. I do not prefer this approach and will explain below.*
- When the officer approaches my window I have everything ready to hand them in my left hand (typically hanging out the window) and the right hand is on the steering wheel.
- The stack I hand the officer consists of my carry license on top. It’s the first thing I want them seeing, I don’t like telling an officer I’m armed.
- When they go to run my information my hands stay in the same place, left hanging out the window and right on the wheel. I don’t move again until they hand me back my papers.
*The reason I don’t like this approach is it invites miscommunication, which can quickly lead to bullets. The only time I’ve ever done this is when I knew I couldn’t get my IDs and paperwork together before the officer got to the window and my was firearm in plain view. I kept both hands on the wheel, told the officer I was armed, and then told him specifically what I was going to do and waited for his confirmation. “My wallet is in my left pocket, I’m going to reach in with my left hand and get it.” He says “OK” and I slowly retrieved my wallet. “My registration and insurance is in my glove box, I’m going to reach with my right hand to get it.” He says “OK” and I slowly fetched the documents.
Most people probably don’t realize this but many people have been shot by officers after the officer told them to get their wallet and they reached it. I don’t want to be one of them. That’s why I now keep everything possible in my wallet or within quick reach, like tucked in the visor.
Like I said above, I don’t like telling an officer I’m armed. I don’t mind informing them with my CHL, I just don’t like telling them. It’s like saying hijack on an airplane, whatever the context all people hear is “hijack!” Same with “I have a gun”. If I’m forced to tell an officer I typically say something like “I’m required to inform you I’m armed”.
Just like when I’m approaching an unfamiliar dog I let them know I’m coming. Surprising a dog is a quick way to get bitten by an otherwise perfectly friendly animal. An on duty officer is likely going to be in a heightened state of awareness and popping up next to them unexpectedly won’t win you any friends. With the attacks on police over the past couple of years fresh in officer’s minds, one can suspect they’re more apprehensive than normal.
If I need to get an officer’s attention I make sure they see me coming from a distance. If they’re sitting in their car, which is a very vulnerable spot for police, I circle around and slowly approach from where they can see me. All the time keeping my hands visible in front of me. I also keep my distance to give the officer breathing room.
This isn’t a commentary on right or wrong in policing. This is strictly about your own personal safety. An officer is always going to do what they feel is necessary to protect themselves, even if they’re the ones that created the bad situation. The courts have and will continue to side with the officer in all but the most egregious cases. Law enforcement officers are generally good people looking to make a positive impact, but they can make mistakes and panic just like anyone else.
Update: I received this feedback from a career law enforcement officer who gave permission to share his comments.
I’ve made literally hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of traffic stops. When I am calling in the tag, location, vehicle make and model and number of occupants, I light up the car with my deer spotter light. I am watching all the movement you are doing. In my head, I’m thinking “What’s he doing? Is he getting his info? Is he trying to hide something?” Sometimes this will heighten the senses. It also depends on the area I’m working in. If it’s a high crime area where I’ve had a ton of rough encounters, my “OH ****” factor goes up. if its a slow residential neighborhood where rough encounters are minimal to nothing, it may not affect me as much.
I personally prefer the occupant to keep both hands on the steering wheel, wait until I get up there, then tell me where everything is and that they are reaching for it. Just keep in mind that either method is ok. I’ve got 22 years on, most of which was in the DC metro area, so I’m more experienced than some, so I act and react with a little more control and poise. But nobody would know this when I pull them over.
He also had this to say which I think is extremely smart.
As an LEO, the best advice I can give to anybody is this. Be polite and do what the officer tells you to do. If you feel that the orders or direction given are wrong or unconstitutional in some way, do it anyway and file a complaint later. If you argue or fight, it will end bad for you, the officer or both.