If you live in Florida or the Gulf Coast, you’ll know we’re in the last two months of hurricane season for this year. Thus far, the Sunshine State has been spared of anything remotely catastrophic, but other named storms have made landfall elsewhere, causing damage. As a major storm approaches, the topic of evacuating invariably comes up. Of course, for us Second Amendment Radicals and armed citizens, the challenges are a bit different, and truth be told, the question of “How To Evacuate With Your Guns?” comes up…
While my experience is with hurricanes and other named storms, the guidance and suggestions presented here can reasonably be applied for other disasters such as wildfires, major snowstorms, and certain instances of impending civil unrest. Of course, with sudden catastrophes like earthquakes, evacuation may not be an option, which is why the first question should be…
Evacuating from a major disaster like a hurricane is a complex decision that only you and you alone can make for yourself. And of course, exercising your Second Amendment right and owning a clutch of AR-15s and pistols can complicate matters.
Certainly, evacuating with two or three guns isn’t problematic. Grab guns and other emergency essentials, round up the crew, jump in vehicle, and get out of Dodge. Done and done.
Where it gets a little more complex for gun owners is when one possesses multiple firearms, especially long guns, and of course NFA items like suppressors, SBRs, and machine guns.
That being said, you can simplify things somewhat by deciding whether you should even evacuate or not.
Sure, you do you, but you have to take the totality of the circumstances into hand.
For example, in Florida, we tend not to even consider an evacuation unless the hurricane has a significant potential of making landfall at our location with a strength of say a strong Category 2 or higher. Category 1 is basically a day or two off from work and maybe cleaning up some yard debris. Truth be told, don’t bother evacuating if the storm is predicted to max out at those levels. Shore up your supplies of food and water, grab some snacks and portable power, and enjoy the ride. Oh, and spot check any guns you rely on for defensive purposes while you’re at it. Give that AR a quick clean, lube up that 9mm pistol. Even in a weak storm, you may need it.
Anything above a strong Category 2? Better consider hitting the road. Have an evacuation plan for yourself, your loved ones, and your guns.
As an aside, one thing worth remembering is that when a governmental entity declares a “mandatory” evacuation, it’s not enforced in most circumstances. What that means is that if you are in a mandatory evacuation zone, government services will not be available to you for the duration of the emergency. So if you choose to ride out that Category 5 monster at home, prepare, and prepare some more.
However, if the disaster is something along the lines of a major earthquake, I’d wager evacuation is risky and extremely difficult, considering the unpredictable nature of such disasters.
Shelter in place the best you can, and keep your wits about you.
Anyway, if you’ve made the decision to get out of harm’s way, there’s some considerations on how to evacuate with your guns.
Of course, one should have a comprehensive plan for any sort of common emergency, but even if you only own a few firearms and some ammunition, you should have a plan to evacuate with them. Of course, there’s practical and yes, legal considerations to cover when figuring out how to evacuate with your guns. We’ll break it down below.
Let’s be honest, if you have more than a trivial amount of guns and ammunition, the bulk and weight of those items tends to add up fast, especially when accessories and carrying cases get involved. A couple of AR-15s, an AK or two, and some pistols – the weight alone starts to add up fast. Oh, and ammo? If you’ve got a stash, it can easily exceed a ton, metric or otherwise, in weight.
Unless you’ve got the vehicular and physical capacity to move it all, you’re gonna have to make some difficult choices if you choose to evacuate.
On your must-bring list should be, for better or for worse, each and every firearm you own. Whether you own one gun or twenty, they all gotta come with you. Part of being a responsible gun owner is ensuring that your firearms don’t fall into improper hands, i.e. common marauding thugs and unscrupulous government employees that tend to proliferate like maggots after a disaster.
Your clutch of AK-pattern rifles and AR-15s? Bring ‘em. Your GLOCK collection? Bring ‘em. The little single-shot .22 LR? Bring it.
It may seem daunting, but with creativity you can bring all your guns along for the ride. Rifles can be broken down into uppers and lowers for easier packing. That two-gun rifle case suddenly can hold six guns and a bunch of magazines if you put your mind to it. A sturdy pistol range bag can easily hold numerous pistols if you just stack them in there. Even things like backpacks and suitcases can hold a gun or two amongst everything else.
Also don’t forget to keep a few firearms ready to use by yourself and members of your evacuation party. Natural disasters bring out the best in people, but also the worst. It would suck to be in a situation, and all your guns are packed up and dispersed throughout your luggage.
Safety Tip: Unless the weapons are holstered on your person or close at hand for defense – ensure any firearms stowed for evacuation are unloaded. If it’s all jammed up in there, it increases the chance of an inadvertent trigger press
The process of evacuation is only part of it though. You’ll also need to ensure you have control of your firearms wherever you plan on evacuating to. For what it’s worth a government shelter is a no-go for a gun owner. There’s no place to put anything, and the communal nature of such facilities means invariably someone will take note that you have weapons, which could be problematic. With a hotel, it’s a bit easier. Be discrete about it, but bring all your guns to your room. Private accommodations? Do what you want. However, don’t leave your guns unattended in your vehicle, whatever you do.
Ammo? To be blunt, unless you’ve got some fairly robust transportation options, you’re going to have to leave most of your ammo behind – if you have a lot of it. Not strewn about haphazardly of course. Take steps to secure it in your residence, whether it’s in a (now-empty since you’re taking your guns with you, right?) gun safe or in a raised part of your home in case of severe flooding.
Of course, bring as much defensive ammunition with you as you can reasonably carry. Have a “combat load“ of ammo with you for each firearm you anticipate on keeping ready for defensive purposes – at the bare minimum. For example, that would mean 210 rounds for your 5.56mm AR-15, loaded into magazines. Bring as much as you can without compromising your vehicle or space for things like people.
It also should go without saying that any NFA items you own must go with you. While you could conceivably roll the dice during an evacuation and your suppressor collection will remain unmolested and secure while you are gone, the odds may not be in your favor. If the disaster is widespread and chaotic, looters will have ample time to explore and perhaps crack your safe and abscond with some prime hardware. Nevermind the unwanted attention from the federal government if your NFA items are stolen.
Along those lines, there are legal considerations, even in a disaster, if you are transporting your firearms in an evacuation. Again, they gotta go with you, by any means necessary. However, forewarned is forearmed, and thankfully in the free-er states of the Union, transporting caches of firearms and ammunition isn’t restricted in any serious way.
One immediate concern is, of course, concealed and open carry during an emergency. In some jurisdictions, having a gun in a backpack on your body counts as concealed carry, for example. Under normal circumstances this may require the bearer to have a carry permit of some sort, but several states with a permit regime, including Florida, suspend the permit requirements during certain states of emergency. So, if you don’t have a carry permit for the state, or one that the state has a reciprocity agreement with, you are good-to-go to carry the firearm, even in a holster, during the state of emergency. Contrary to popular belief, this generally doesn’t alter concealed/open carry distinctions. For example, legally you can’t walk around Miami Beach during a hurricane emergency openly carrying a firearm. Well, actually you could, if you were fishing, or on your way to or from a fishing expedition. Complex, yeah.
FYI – for the legal specifics, always head on over to the amazing folk at handgunlaw.us – it’s the best.
Worth noting is such laws only cover you in the state you may be in at the time. For example, if Florida declares a hurricane emergency and Georgia doesn’t, you will have to abide by Georgia carry laws if you choose to evacuate to the Peach State.
While the idea of a carry permit is an anathema to a Second Amendment Radical, at this point in time, it is a useful accessory, since in a hypothetical Florida to Georgia evacuation, the holder of the permit would be covered by reciprocity agreements and not have to worry about running afoul of Georgia firearms carry laws.
One thing worth noting in the context of hurricanes though is that the states most likely to be impacted by a hurricane tend to have reciprocity agreements and are overall rather friendly towards the Second Amendment. If you’re evacuating from Louisiana to Oklahoma, you don’t need to really worry about the specifics. Pack up your guns securely, and go. Or from Florida to Georgia, etc.
Where it gets tricky of course is if your evacuation destination is an un-free state, or if you live in an un-free state and are going to another. For example, you live in North Carolina, and a monster of a storm is coming your way, and your practical evacuation destination is New York. Things become not-so-simple. Your AR-15 with 30 round magazines is most likely contraband up there, emergency or not.
As I’ve noted in prior posts about the mere act of traveling with your firearms, the un-free states such as New York present a huge problem for gun owners, even if they are just passing through. Even if you live in one restricted state, bringing your guns to another restricted state is generally forbidden unless you’re doing tons of paperwork. New York and New Jersey are fellow travelers in the gun control regime, but woe be unto the person who brings their guns from one to another without asking permission. They don’t even trust each other, it seems.
To be blunt, if you live in a free-er state, and your evacuation options include an un-free state, it’s probably best to just bust out the AMEX and crash in a hotel in an area where you won’t likely be hassled over your traveling gun show.
A Word On Evacuating With NFA Firearms
The wildcard in all this of course, is if you possess NFA items, i.e. machine guns, suppressors, short-barreled rifles/shotguns, destructive devices, and the weird grey area of “any other weapons”.
The good news is, that if the only NFA items you have are suppressors, you don’t have to go through any bureaucratic hoops to move them temporarily, whether it’s for an evacuation, or a vacation out-of-state. Do your thing.
Now, if you have an SBR, a machine gun, or a rocket launcher (ha ha), you have to take some extra bureaucratic steps to move your items, even temporarily, in an evacuation. Note this only applies to out-of-state movement. If you live in Miami and evacuate to Tampa to dodge a storm, nothing is required of you in terms of paperwork. Miami to Blount, Tennessee is another story.
In that case, you’d have to fill out an ATF Form 20 and send it back to them for approval. Now, generally in an emergency, the ATF does the right thing and rubberstamps all Form 20s coming from an affected area. That being said, Form 20s are generally automatically approved for NFA item owners in good standing. Most people in an emergency just fill them out, send them in, and hit the road.
Regardless of the legal and bureaucratic hoops, bringing NFA items along in an emergency evacuation is a must.
You might have the battlewagon from hell all set up by the time you do inventory and load up all your firearms during an evacuation. But, it’s all for naught if you don’t square yourself away with other essentials. You won’t get very far if all you have in the vehicle is a bunch of guns. Things to grab:
Emergencies, by nature, are unpredictable, though they can be classed into broad categories. Have a plan sketched out for likely bad happenings in your area. The worst thing to do is to have to improvise as that storm is bearing down on you, or the very earth is shaking beneath your feet. It doesn’t have to be minutely perfect, but having a plan beats not having one at all.
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