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ost of us conceal carriers understand the responsibilities of carrying a firearm on our person, but do you understand how those responsibilities change when you enter your vehicle and drive across town or across state lines? Have you practiced or even tried to draw your conceal carry pistol while seated behind the steering wheel and buckled in? There was once a time in rural areas when it was common to see a rifle or shotgun in a rack on a pick-up truck’s rear window. But is it legal to carry a loaded rifle or shotgun in your state and county? Traveling with a firearm in your vehicle makes as much sense now as it did then. Many of us commute daily or drive in isolated rural places. Needless to say we spend a good amount of our time behind the wheel. I recently rethought my compact 9mm pistol setup when I saw in the distance a big black dog on the side of the road at the border between Jones and Onslow counties. As I got closer to that “black dog,” I soon realized it was a North Carolina Black Bear. If you break down on the side the road you could seem like easy pickings for a criminal. There may come a time when you are sitting in a parking lot of a big box department store or refueling at a gas station and that knock on the driver side window is the muzzle of gun held by a car jacker. It only makes sense that we need to have a plan to defend our self when we are in our vehicle. That plan might mean more than the subcompact 9mm pistol you conceal carry in your IWB holster. It could mean a long gun like a rifle or shotgun being carried on board. Clicking a seatbelt around my waist and chest prior to driving provides a level of safety, but it also literally ties you to that seat. How many of you practice shooting from the seated position? In the event of a gunfight that seatbelt, which is an asset when driving, instantly becomes a liability. Trying drawing your conceal-carry handgun from your IWB holster while strapped in behind the steering wheel. Its like trying to get out of a sleeping bag that has a stuck zipper. Here are six tips on vehicle carrying strategies and defense tactics.

1. Know State Laws

It is imperative to understand your state laws about conceal carrying in your vehicle. In my newly adopted state of North Carolina it is perfectly valid for me to carry a concealed pistol, but I must also carry my permit and a valid form of identification at all times. Open carry is different. No permit is required to carry a handgun openly in North Carolina.

I also know that if I drive north into Virginia or south into South Carolina, my NC permit will be honored in those states. But know, you are subject to the laws of the state you are visiting and are responsible for learning those laws. The issues that are fuzzy are the accessibility of the firearm and if the gun is concealed.

Extra care must be taken regarding these two issues when transporting a firearm in a vehicle to ensure that the gun is not concealed and/or within the ready access to an occupant of the vehicle. A loaded rifle or shotgun behind the seat in a pickup is considered concealed and readily accessible in most states.

A rifle or shotgun carried openly in a vehicle would not be concealed, but there are other considerations. The principal drawbacks are the ability of the long gun to be stolen, and if you are stopped by LE they have no idea on your intent.

Law Enforcement has a difficult and dangerous job; if you are pulled over for a traffic violation make it easy for them. In NC you are required to disclose the fact that you have a valid concealed handgun permit when you are approached or addressed by any law enforcement officer.

I carry a long gun the way I do when hunting—in a locked hard cased, locked, and unloaded. I also make sure it is in the back of my SUV and not readily accessible. This is hardly easy access if a dire situation arises, but it ensures I abide by the law, and its better than not having it. Remember, it is your responsibility to understand the law. No excuses allowed.

2. Secure The Firearm

hornady conceal carry case
Hornady makes keyed and biometric safes that can hold a handgun and other small valuables. These 14 or 16 gauge steel safes include a cable so the safe can be secured to the vehicle.Hornady

Since there are situations where you need to disarm yourself prior to entering an area like a church, government building, school, etc. you need to secure your firearm. Having a lockable case attached to the vehicle is a good option.

Hornady makes keyed and biometric safes that can hold a handgun and other small valuables. These 14 or 16 gauge steel safes include a cable so the safe can be secured to the vehicle. The keyed safes use a traditional key to gain access and the biometric safes use your fingerprint as a primary entry access and a keypad as a secondary method.

I loop the cable around the metal seat mount or use one of the steel loops on the back of my SUV that's made for securing a child safety seat. It is important that only you or authorized people have access to the safe. You do not want unauthorized persons to get access nor do you want inquisitive children wondering what’s inside the black box. Since the interior of my car is black, the Hornady safe is relatively invisible.

gun storage center console
This safe from Console Vault converts the center console of your vehicle into a secure vault that can stow a firearm.Robert A. Sadowski

Console Vault is another option that allows you to convert the center console of your vehicle into a secure vault that can stow a firearm, as well as important documents, cash or anything else that should be under lock and key.

Made of 12 gauge cold rolled steel plate, the Vehicle Vault fits inside your vehicle's existing center console without any modification. It features a five-point locking system and a high-security barrel lock with an optional keyless combination lock. Available for many makes and model sedans and SUVs.

hornady truck vault gun storage in the back of a red suv
The author keeps a rifle in a locked case in the back of his SUV, in order to remain compliant with state laws.Hornady

Secure it with TruckVault makes your vehicle a virtual safe on wheels. Constructed of Modular Density Overlay material that is a wood substitute and weather resistant, the TruckVault is basically a drawer designed for use in the bed of a pickup truck or the rear compartment of an SUV. The drawer system can include one or two drawers that can each hold 300 pounds of gear. A push button lock secures the gear plus it also has a key override. The drawers opens smoothly and quietly giving you access to your long arm instantly.

Part of your responsibility is to prevent thieves from stealing your stuff. I would hate to be have my firearm stolen and be used unlawfully.

3. Vehicle Handgun Holsters

A handgun is small and maneuverable. Stealth, speed and surprise can stack the odds in your favor during a car jacking or other vehicle altercation.

Practically speaking a firearm stored in a gun safe is safe from unauthorized hands, but retrieving that firearm takes precious time. There is no pause button to press when a situation goes south fast. Having a gun easily accessible, yet hidden, allows you to quickly defend yourself and take advantage of a situation. There are a number of products for vehicle defense that allow you to mount a holster within easy reach by the driver.

handgun in a gold star under steering column holster
The Gold Star Under the Steering Column Holster fits 90 to 95 percent of the vehicles on the road today.Robert A. Sadowski

Seated behind the wheel of your vehicle can make quickly drawing a pistol on you hip from conceal carry near impossible. The Gold Star Under the Steering Column Holster fits 90 to 95 percent of the vehicles on the road today and does not require any tools to install.

The holster portion is Kydex polymer molded to fit your specific pistol and the rest is a set of two clips and a hook-and-loop strap that adjusts to the panel below and to the sides of the steering column. The holster holds your handgun securely and discreetly while positioning it to give you a natural draw while in the seated position.

concealed carry gun holster strapped to a seat
The DeSantis Kingston Car Seat Holster attaches to the bottom of the seat with the pistol between your legs, close at hand, and with muzzle toward the floor boards.Robert A. Sadowski

I use the DeSantis Kingston Car Seat Holster. The holster is attached to the bottom of the seat with the pistol between your legs and close at hand. The holster itself seats on the forward, vertical part of your car seat, positioned between the legs, muzzle toward the floor boards. It uses a strap, so it can quickly to transferred from one vehicle.

4. Conceal Carry Considerations

using an appendix holster to conceal carry in a vehicle
Appendix carry allows me to draw from conceal cover faster. It also works well when wearing a seat belt. Using an unloaded pistol I practice dry fire exercises deploying my pistol from the seated position and buckled in.Robert A. Sadowski

I’ve been carrying appendix exclusively for a number of years now, because it better fits my daily activities and because I can draw from conceal cover in appendix carry faster. It also works well when wearing a seat belt.

If you carry in a IWB holsters at the 3 or 4 o’clock position you need to lean away from the gun to access it. You could also use the steer wheel to pull yourself away from the seat and access the pistol. In appendix carry I have easy access to the pistol while seated and while wearing the seat belt. Also, with appendix carry, I don’t telegraph movement to an adversary like I would wearing the pistol in the 3 or 4 o’clock position.

Remember to think about your draw if you are in the passenger seat—when you're seated on the other side, the seat belt is worn in the opposite position, and it's important to know how that will affect your draw.

5. Cramped Work Space

As much as like shooting at a range, it is not true training. I practice my in-vehicle training in my parked vehicle inside my garage. My wife thinks I'm crazy in a good way, but it helps me better understand the conditions I will face if accosted in and outside my vehicle.

Using an unloaded pistol, I practice dry fire exercises, deploying my pistol from the seated position and buckled in. Try this yourself to understand your workspace inside your vehicle. What you practice at the range is quite different. You may not be able to use a two-hand hold. In the driver's seat, you mostly likely won't be able to fully extend your arms to take a shot as you would if you were standing. You may need to lean and re-orient your body, then extend your arms and take your shots. You may need to fire with the firearm partially extended or one-handed.

practicing conceal carry drills with a vehicle
Vehicles are not good nor true cover. Think of them as temporary concealment. Note that the only place a vehicle was cover is behind the front wheel and engine compartment.Robert A. Sadowski

Since most of us do not have access to a junk car to train with, or have the opportunity to shoot into and through vehicle glass it helps to understand what you are up against. ConcealedCarry.com is a network of firearm instructors across the country with online learning. I watched the Vehicle Firearm Tactics, a comprehensive course with 24 lessons online covering all aspects from how glass and other barriers like hoods and doors affect bullets to what parts of the vehicles are good cover and what are concealment only.

What I found most enlightening was that the series goes through the process of not just demonstrating how to draw a pistol while seated behind the wheel, but provides instruction on using the car as a weapon, whether to fight in the vehicle or bail out, using the car for cover and concealment, consideration of passengers, and more.

I also practice using my vehicle as cover in side my garage. It simulates a parking lot. Vehicles are not good nor true cover. Think of them as temporary concealment. Note that the only place a vehicle was cover is behind the front wheel and engine compartment. The rest of the vehicle is concealment and take note that bullets can easily penetrate other parts of the vehicle and cause injury or worse. Remember there is a big difference between cover and concealment.

Fighting around a vehicle means you use your same slicing method you would use in your home or a building. If you are a big guy don't think you can conceal yourself behind a small subcompact car. Get low and use the engine block and wheel as cover. Don't be right up on the cover since bullet deflection can take you out. Don't crowd the cover even though that might seem like the right thing to do.

6. Shooting Through Glass

Shooting into the windshield from outside of a vehicle causes the bullet to deflect downward. Shooting from inside deflects the bullet upwards. The idea is to create a hole in the glass and shoot through the hole. Since your first shot breaks the glass and will most likely not hit the intended target due to deflection, subsequent shots use that initial hole to fly true.

If your assailant is moving out side your car, multiple holes may need to be created. You can see why a single stack pistol with limited capacity could be a liability in this situation. Also something to ponder, FMJ bullets will more likely better penetrate glass and vehicle doors than a hollowpoint bullet.

Side window glass is safety glass that completely shatters when broken, making it hard to see out. If the window has tinting there is a film that will hold the shattered glass in place. You will need to use the muzzle of your pistol to knock the glass away and continue shooting.