Dear Montana Officer,

I am a member of the International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors.  I also train civilians in Montana to qualify them to apply for Montana concealed weapon permits (CWP).  I have graduated 1,406 Montanans from such classes in the past decade.

That's what I want to hear from you about.  I want to hear from officers who actually work the streets and highways in Montana about what I teach my students.  From this input I will adjust this standard about what is taught to CWP students in Montana.

In my classes, I address how a person with a CWP and carrying a firearm should act if stopped by a law enforcement officer.  I tell my students that law enforcement personnel have sufficiently stressful lives, and that a legal gun carrier should try avoid adding to that stress.  As a courtesy to the officer, I say to my students, the person stopped should offer the officer his or her CWP credential as the least stressful way to cue the officer both that the person has a firearm, and that the person is a sheriff-certified "good guy," having paid to get a background check and personal references checked, and having completed the requisite firearms safety training.

I tell my students that law enforcement officers are supposed to be trained to assume that everyone they stop has a firearm, and that they should expect to see the officer relax somewhat when presented with the CWP credential, because the officer will know that a CWP-holder is no threat at all - not a bad guy.  This, I tell my students, is the kindest and most gentle way to interact with officers when stopped while exercising a CWP.

Here is the specific behavior I recommend to my students for a vehicle stop, about which I welcome your critique and feedback:

1.  If a police car is behind you with emergency lights flashing, pull over at the nearest safe spot to do so.

2.  Stop well out of the lanes of active traffic if possible, but not off onto a side road.  The officer will stop his car a bit closer to the traffic than yours, to afford both you and he some safety.  If you stop right on the edge of the traffic lane, that forces the officer to stop his car intruding into the traffic lane, which may be unsafe.  Get well off the traveled roadway if you conveniently can do so.

3.  After your vehicle comes to a stop, roll your driver's window down so the officer can communicate with you when he comes to your car.

4.  Keep your hands on the steering wheel, at 10 and 2 O'clock where your hands will be visible to the officer.

5.  If it is dark outside, turn on your interior lights so the officer can visualize what is going on inside your car.

6.  Leave your seat belt on so the officer can confirm your seat belt usage when he approaches your car.

7.  If there are passengers in your car, ask them to avoid sudden movements or movements that the officer might think are suspicious.  For example, passengers should avoid reaching for anything on the floor or seats, and ask them to keep their hands in view.

8.  Wait for the officer to approach your driver window.  Do not get out of your vehicle.

9.  When the officer approaches your vehicle, be polite.  When the officer asks to see your driver's license, give him both your license and your CWP credential.  If you are outside the limits of a city or town, your CWP credential is not required for lawful concealed carry, but this overture will help establish with the officer that you are not a bad guy - that you are not a threat.

10.  If your driver's license, CWP credential and firearm are in the same location, such as in a purse or fannypack, tell the officer that before digging for the license and CWP.  Ask the officer how he wants you to go about getting at your license and CWP credential.  Follow his instructions.

11.  If you have a firearm anywhere near where you will need to dig to retrieve other documentation the officer requests, tell the officer.  For example, if your vehicle registration and proof of insurance are in the glove box or console, and there is also a firearm in the glove box or console, you really ought to tell the officer and ask the officer how he wishes you to handle the situation, BEFORE retrieving your paperwork.  Handle this however the officer requests.  Ditto for a gun under the seat.  One of the scariest incidents an LEO can encounter is when a motorist opens the glove box without communication with the officer, a gun starts to slide out of the glove box, and the motorist grabs suddenly for the gun to keep it from falling on the floor of the vehicle.  Absolutely avoid this situation or anything like it.

12.  If the officer asks if you are carrying a firearm - exercising your CWP - tell him if you are.  Also it would be polite to tell the officer approximately where the firearm is, such as right side hip holster, or left side shoulder holster.

13.  If the officer is making an arrest (for example if there is an outstanding warrant for your arrest), he will disarm you.  If the officer has reasonable suspicion, and can articulate that reasonable suspicion with specific facts, to believe that you are an imminent threat to yourself, others or the officer, he will disarm you.  Otherwise, the officer should not take your gun because that would violate the right to bear arms reserved to you in the Montana Constitution.  The fact that you are exercising your constitutional right to bear arms is not reasonable suspicion in Montana to construe the presence of a firearm as an imminent threat.

This is what I teach students about interacting with LEOs while armed.

I particularly want to hear from LEOs who actively work Montana streets and highways about the sufficiency of these instructions.

What have I missed?  What did I get wrong?  Is it OK for the motorist to get their driver's license and CWP credential out before the LEO comes to the car?  Should they place their wallet on the dash in front of the steering wheel before the LEO comes to the driver's side window?  Should the motorist turn on his or her emergency flashers for additional safety?  What about cell phones?  Is there a reason the motorist avoid cell phone use while waiting for the officer to approach the vehicle?  Should motorists exercising a CWP volunteer any information at all about firearm possession to an officer who stops them?

If you have input about this, send me an email at mssa AT (change the AT to @ - done to foil spambots on the Internet).  I'll be pleased to hear from you.

Thanks for your collaboration.

Best wishes,

Gary Marbut, president
Montana Shooting Sports Association
Author, Gun Laws of Montana