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We Asked Experts What the Perfect Traffic Stop Looks Like When You're Legally Armed


cop stop
Getty - Rob Kerr

Since the shooting of Philando Castile by a Minnesota police officer last week, details surrounding the firearm he was carrying have been murky.

Independent Journal Review reported that Castile, who died from his wounds, appears to have had a license to carry a concealed weapon. Castile's girlfriend, Lavish Diamond Roberts, explained on her live stream video that she told the officer that Castile had a gun:

Image Credit: Official public record courtesy of Castile Family via CBS News
Official public record courtesy of Castile Family via CBS News

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that the officer who shot Castile said, through his attorney, that the presence of a gun led to the shooting.

Though the horrific event is still being investigated, there's one thing that's crystal clear: based on what we know at this point, Philando Castile and Lavish Roberts legally never needed to say a word about the gun.

Jason Short, known as the “Gun Guy,” is an Oregon defense attorney and CCW instructor. Short told Independent Journal Review that people are only obligated to respectfully give a cop personal information and leave it at that:

“The only thing you’re required to do is hand him your details such as license and registration. You’re not even required to tell him how fast you were going when he asks. People get nervous, so they think they have to answer all their questions and allow a search of their vehicle.”

He says his CCW is his own business and nobody else's — not even the cop's. So, when an officer runs your information through the database he'll find out anyway, but you're not obligated to tell. And here's why that's smart:

"I’d rather keep it a secret to everybody because you don’t know what a person's reaction will be. Sometimes people want to disclose and that's fine. I just don't.

I had an officer come back up after running my information one time who told me 'I see you have CCW and, you don’t have to tell me, it’s none of my business, but thank you for having it and thank you for doing it.'"

Short says when he teaches his CCW classes, he usually tag teams with a cop and they sometimes have differing opinions:

“Most conservative cops are fine with people not saying anything because when they run your info they find out.”

Retired Portland, Oregon, police officer Tom Pohlman teaches CCW classes and NRA personal protection classes and told Independent Journal Review that he always wanted to know if somebody had a gun:

“I personally prefer knowing if someone has a permit or a gun. Permit holders have at least had a background done somewhere along the line. If someone is carrying, I consider it a courtesy to let me know — but not mandatory.”

But he said it depended on the type of stop he was making:

“If it's a routine traffic violation, I was always comfortable regarding guns. But those matching the descriptions of criminal suspects warranted caution. And as cliche as it sounds, I followed the signs like the hair standing on the back of my neck. There were probably 100's of times I walked up on cars in the dark with an unholstered gun by my leg.”

Casey Gleason, a retired law enforcement officer and the author of the book series, “Tales From the Beat,” told Independent Journal Review:

“If I pulled someone over, chances are it was for reasons other than or in addition to the traffic offense. Full-on profiling. A perfectly legitimate law enforcement tool. And by that I don't refer to racial profiling, but instead refer to activity, proximity to high crime, drug trafficking houses, etc... In those stops, you bet your ass I'm asking if there are weapons in the car.”

Gleason added that, like Pohlman, he generally didn't bother asking unless things looked hinky:

"So, for a routine traffic stop on some regular Joe that wasn't doing anything that raised my suspicions, I would be very unlikely to ask anything about weapons, and if he was a CCW holder and told me he had a gun, I'd straight out tell him that unless I ask, I really don't need or want to know that.

Now, if I was going to ask him to get out of the car, like for DUI FSTs [Field Sobriety Tests] then I'd need to know, but I'd probably ask before he stepped out, but if I didn't, he'd be wise to tell me he was packing, on his person or in the car."

Pohlman advises his NRA and CCW students to follow these steps if they're stopped by police:

  • If it's dark, stop as soon as it's safe to do so.
  • Turn off the car.
  • Roll down the windows.
  • If possible, have license, registration, and insurance out so you don't have to dig for it.
  • Turn on interior light.
  • Keep your hands on the wheel.
  • Take a deep breath and relax.
  • Let the officer know if you're carrying.
  • Follow the officer's instructions respectfully.

But, attorney Short reiterates that police may ask and you may choose to tell them about your gun, but you are not required to answer unless you're arrested. He puts his advice for police stops on the back of his business card:

Image Credit: Jason Short
Jason Short, with permission

It reads:

"I have been advised never to waive a Constitutional right protecting my liberty. In respect of the wisdom of our founding fathers who knew well the dangers of a dictatorial government, I hereby invoke my rights as guaranteed by the 4th, 5th, 6th and 14th amendments to the United States Constitution.

I hereby invoke my 4th amendment right and do not consent to a search of any kind, my 5th amendment right to remain silent, as well as my 6th amendment right to an attorney. I will remain silent until my attorney is provided.

If you question or interrogate me in the absence of my attorney, you are hereby advised that I will take all possible legal actions against you personally as well as against your employer."

The attorney urges people to carry the card with them — just in case they need it.

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