When a police officer has reasonable suspicion that an individual is armed and dangerous, the officer may frisk the individual and confiscate any weapons or other contraband they find. This brief investigatory seizure is referred to as a Terry stop. During a Terry stop, an officer may detain a person to investigate if they have reasonable suspicion that the person has committed or is about to commit a crime. During a Terry stop it does not matter if the person is legally entitled to possess a weapon. A weapon may still be confiscated if it is legally possessed.
With this knowledge in mind, many gun owners tend to wonder; why, during traffics stops, do officers often take control of legally owned firearms, and even go as far as to remove the magazine or disassemble firearms entirely – simply because these firearms are present in the vehicle? Many traffic stops are the result of small, non-criminal infractions that do not present dangerous or criminal activity, yet officers routinely take control of legally owned weapons in these situations. Is it legal for them to do so?
This is a very difficult question to analyze due to a myriad of cases that have produced contradicting answers. However, the most relevant case, which was decided in 2017, sheds some serious light on our questions of legality. In United States v. Robinson 856 F.3D 694 (4TH Cir. 2017) the court reasoned that a “danger justifying a protective frisk arises from the combination of a forced police encounter (1) and the presence of a weapon (2).” The court essentially concluded that an armed citizen is a dangerous citizen in this context. Additionally, a court case from 2017 in North Carolina titled State v. Bullock, 370 N.C. 256 (2017), indirectly gives further potency to the holding in Robinson. In State v. Bullock, the court granted police officers a more liberal authority when commencing a frisk during a traffic stop. If a police officer does not feel comfortable relying on these cases for authority, the police officer may instead consensually ask for the weapon to be handed over. By doing this, the officer could bypass any Fourth Amendment concerns. If a police officer requests for your consent in handing something over, you have every right to politely decline the offices request.