April cover story: Risky Business

Carolyn Magner | April 13, 2011
Firearms in a truck are always controversial.

”Notwithstanding any other provision of any law or any rule or regulation of a State or any political subdivision thereof, any person who is not otherwise prohibited by this chapter from transporting, shipping, or receiving a firearm shall be entitled to transport a firearm for any lawful purpose from any place where he may lawfully possess and carry such firearm to any other place where he may lawfully possess and carry such firearm if, during such transportation, the firearm is unloaded, and neither the firearm nor any ammunition being transported is readily accessible or is directly accessible from the passenger compartment of such transporting vehicle:

“Provided, that in the case of a vehicle without a compartment separate from the driver’s compartment the firearm or ammunition shall be contained in a locked container other than the glove compartment or console.”

However, the federal law is not the issue. According to Allen Smith, author of Truth About Trucking (www.truthabouttrucking.com), truckers have two major hurdles to overcome on this issue: Being legal and not violating any city, county or state law of any place they will be passing through and abiding by company policy.

You have to follow the laws of the jurisdiction you travel through, including city, county and state laws. Most major trucking companies don’t allow firearms in vehicles, and many shippers and receivers absolutely forbid firearms. You can’t transport a firearm across the Canadian border and you can’t take them onto military bases.

Smith frequently addresses this topic on his Internet radio show and website and says many drivers will argue the Peaceable Journey Act protects them from violating city, county or state laws they are passing through. Smith contends local law enforcement doesn’t see it this way. They are “not interested in federal law,” Smith says. “They are only interested in upholding the laws within their jurisdiction. Furthermore, not all states recognize a concealed permit. California and New Jersey do not recognize a concealed permit to carry from Florida, and if I’m caught in California or New Jersey with a legal firearm in my truck, I’m in violation of their laws. Between restrictive company policies and a wide range of varying state and local laws, there’s a lot for a trucker to consider.”

The restrictions don’t deter some truckers. In a recent etrucker.com online poll, 31 percent of respondents said they carry a firearm for protection. Armed truckers interviewed for this story say they are proficient with their weapons, carefully research the laws of the states/cities where they drive and respect law enforcement.

Chuck Winborn, an owner-operator from Birmingham, Ala., has a Concealed Carry Weapon license and says he’s a responsible gun owner. The 51-year-old has been driving for 26 years and says he carries either a Glock or a Taurus 9mm or 40. He runs a dedicated route from his home state through Mississippi, Tennessee. and Arkansas, all states that have reciprocity with Alabama. He says he follows the law and keeps the gun unloaded and out of reach while driving.

“If you understand that you can only use deadly force if you are in fear of your life due to a break-in or attack, generally you will be justified in protecting yourself.” He reiterates what many truckers say, “I’d rather be judged by 12 than carried by six.”

While Winborn feels safer with his weapon, he’s also an advocate of the common sense approach to security. “I park in well-lighted areas that have truck parking and never on highway ramps or secluded areas in truckstops. I always use a small ratchet strap and hook it on both door handles to prevent someone from busting my glass and opening the door. I also cover my windshields with chrome bubble insulation so no one can look inside.”

Dan Tuck, an owner-operator from Molalla, Ore., hauls high-dollar cargo but believes he’s safer using his brains rather than a weapon and says he’s always on high alert. “I am extremely aware of my surroundings, alert and careful. I think being proactive rather than reactive is what keeps you safe,” Tuck says.

Sandy Long, who is a gun owner, agrees with Tuck and doesn’t consider the hassle and potential danger of carrying a weapon in her truck worth it. “I believe that if you educate yourself about the potential dangers out there and act in a way that’s both street smart and defensive, you have the best chance of arriving alive,” she says.

Have you ever been the victim of a crime while on the job?