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Can You Fly With A Gun? 10 Tips On How To Fly With A Gun

Can You Fly With A Gun? 10 Tips On How To Fly With A Gun

Home » Travel Safety » Can You Fly With A Gun? 10 Tips On How To Fly With A Gun

If you are a recent gun owner, you may wonder: can you fly with a gun or how to fly safely without too much hassle. In this post, I will give you 10 tips on how exactly you can travel safely with your firearm. When you fly the friendly skies, you’ll experience more invasion of privacy, groping, and unwanted scrutiny than ever before. Just walking through the TSA checkpoint to check guns in your baggage is an eye-opener.

I fly enough that the majority of currently employed TSA agents are intimately familiar with every square inch of my body. But groping aside, I’ve found checking guns by following the rules to be a simple and straightforward process – as long as you carefully follow the rules.

Be aware there are always two sets of rules: those set by the TSA and those set by your airline. In a perfect world, they will be consistent with each other, but be aware, that doesn’t always happen.

Let’s review a checklist for hassle-free flying with guns.

1. Buy Or Borrow A Lockable Hard Case.

Can You Fly with a Gun? Buy or borrow a lockable hard case

Per the regulations, you can use a hard case with integrated combination locks, but I prefer a case with multiple holes for heavy-duty padlocks of my choosing.

Do NOT use TSA locks on your gun case. This is a misunderstood area of the law and, technically speaking, it’s illegal for you to do so. Per the letter of the law, as discussed in the footnotes of this article, you alone must maintain possession of the keys or combination to open your gun case. You cannot lock it in such a way that others have access.

By using TSA locks on your gun case, lots of people, just about anyone in fact, technically have access to your guns. TSA locks are NOT secure, and not even TSA agents are supposed to have access to your case, once cleared, without you being present to unlock the case.

One more thing about cases. If you travel with a pistol, you might want to get larger than necessary case. You can legally place other items besides your gun in the case, like cameras or computer equipment.

2. Check Your Airline’s Website To Review Their Policies.

While most airline policies are essentially the same, they don’t have to be. Print out the policy page to bring with you. With all that ticketing agents need to know, not every agent will have a complete understanding of their airline’s gun policy.

3. Review The TSA Policy Website For The Latest Information.

It can, and does, change. That’s your tax dollars at work folks. Print this out also, as different TSA agents have different understandings of their own policy. Really.

4. Unload Your Gun And Magazine

Complete this step while still at home! Check the chamber to make sure it is empty. I like to pack my guns in a case with the cylinder or action locked open so it’s very apparent the gun is in a safe condition. That’s not required, just good manners.

5. Weigh Your Gun Case And Ammunition.

Most airlines will allow up to 11 pounds of ammunition. And, like any luggage, the charge is more for any baggage weighing more than 50 pounds. This sounds like a lot, but when traveling to a gun competition last year, my case with shotgun, rifle, pistol and ammunition tipped the scale past the 50-pound mark.

6. You Can Pack Ammo In The Same Locking Case.

Here is another misunderstood area full of internet myths. Your store ammo in some type of safe container but not loose. Technically, you can keep ammunition in magazines, but I wouldn’t recommend it. It meets the letter of the law storage requirement, but too many airline and TSA agents will give you grief.

Use a plastic ammo box or original cardboard packaging and you’ll be fine carrying that in the same lockable case as your gun.

Read Next: The 3 Best TSA Approved Luggage Locks For Safe International Travel?

7. Carry Your Gun Case In The Closed And Locked Condition Into The Airport Until You Meet The Ticketing Agent.

You can’t do curbside check-in, so prepare yourself to go inside to your airline counter. When checking in, calmly tell the ticketing agent that you have a firearm to declare. It helps if you don’t yell something like “I’VE GOT A GUN!!!” Unless you live in one of the Republik states, the agent won’t even bat an eye. They deal with this all the time. The agent will tell you what do to and when.

Some airports call TSA straight to the counter. Others have an airline agent escort you to a TSA checkpoint with your luggage. Just do what they say and you’ll be fine. At some point, they will have you fill out an orange declaration card and place it in your gun case.

8. Hang Out And Chill For A Bit.

Don’t rush from the ticket counter to the gate. Once your gun case leaves your possession, there is still a chance TSA will need you to re-open the case. Most airports will tell you to wait for a bit in case they page you.

The subtle message here is to always be sure to arrive at the airport plenty early if you plan to check a firearm. Time is your friend and the whole process will be a lot less stressful.

9. Make Sure You Bring The Padlock Keys In Your Carry On Luggage.

I left mine in the car once and dropped them in my checked baggage another time. Fortunately, I figured out my error in time to correct it, or else TSA would have been more than happy to cut my locks off.

10. Be Prepared For Surprises.

Yes, TSA might clear your gun case upon your departure. Yes, some other TSA agent may cut your locks off somewhere between your departure gate and your final destination. They’re not supposed to without a really good reason, but it happens. Again, that’s your tax dollars at work. You can yell, scream and stomp your feet, but you won’t win that battle. Accept the cost of new locks as part of doing business.

On the other hand, if your guns are missing, I personally would tell the airline and destination TSA agents that I was calling the FBI immediately to report an interstate theft of firearms. That ought to get you some attention.

I’ve flown many, many times with one or more firearms and have never had a serious issue. Yes, some airports act differently, but I’ve never lost a gun or had a serious run-in with TSA agents.

The key is preparation and attention to detail. If you do everything right, your trip will be uneventful for both you and your guns.

Some Extra Footnotes

Here are a few things to be aware of that you may or may not encounter.

First, some airports can violate federal law. That’s a harsh statement, but it’s true, or was, the last time I traveled with guns. The TSA folks asked for my keys so they could inspect my gun cases in a secure TSA backroom area. I was not allowed to accompany them.

According To The Code Of Federal Regulations:

Title 49: Transportation, Part 1540 – Civil Aviation Security: General Rules, Subpart B – Responsibilities of Passengers and Other Individuals and Persons, 1540.111 (c) (iv) - The container in which it is carried is locked, and only the passenger retains the key or combination.
Title 49: Transportation, Part 1544 – Aircraft Operator Security: Air Carriers and Commercial Operators,  Subpart C – Operations, 1544.203 (f) (iii) The container in which it is carried is locked, and only the individual checking the baggage retains the key or combination;

Basically, I, the owner, MUST not surrender my keys or combination to anyone. From a practical perspective, good luck with that. When fighting with the federal government over obscure details like this, you will not win in the short term. You may win in the long term, but odds are you won’t make your flight at the scheduled time. So choose your battles carefully. You can be right all day long and still not make it past the TSA checkpoint.

If you’re traveling with optics that you don’t trust with the baggage handlers, you can take those as carry-on baggage. Obviously, you have to remove it from your gun first! But it’s no problem to carry on a scope onto the plane as long as there is no gun attached.

Video On TSA Rules To Fly With A Firearm

How do you fly with a gun? Well, here are a few tips and tricks to make it easier.

Avoid Connecting Through New York

Avoid connecting through New York. Yes, this is another harsh statement, but too many folks have spent too many nights in jail and spent too many tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees.

If you are legally allowed to have a gun from your departure point, and legally allowed to have it at your destination, under federal law, you are supposed to be able to travel from point A to point B without interference.

Unfortunately, some places, like New York, realize that they have more lawyers than you can afford, and choose to harass law-abiding travelers anyway, knowing full well there’s not much you can do about it.

However, most times, if you have a connecting flight through New York, you’ll be fine. Your checked gun case will get moved on to the next flight and all will be well.

The gotcha occurs when the travel gremlins arrive. If your flight is canceled or delayed, and you have to spend the night, now you are taking a gun from the airport baggage claim to the hotel and then back to the airport again. And given ridiculous laws like the new SAFE Act, your gun is most likely illegal in New York. You may meet Officer Friendly when arriving at the airport the next morning. Welcome to the pokey and I hope you get along with your cellmate.

I won’t schedule an itinerary through there for exactly this reason. It sounds far-fetched, yes, but tell that to the folks who have been arrested and harassed. Unfortunately, it happens.

Read Next: What Is Luggage?

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Jay Neill

My name is Jay Neill, a travel lover and luggage enthusiast. I will be your travel luggage guide here. The intention of this site is to help you choose the best travel luggage for your individual needs.

8 thoughts on “Can You Fly With A Gun? 10 Tips On How To Fly With A Gun”

  1. Hey thanks for taking your time for writing this post. I hadn’t a clue that guns were actually allowed to be flewn with.

    I think I need to take down some notes just for reference even though I don’t think I would be traveling with a gun with me. It’s just for curiosity that I came across this post. Of course it should be unloaded, that’s common sense however the other rules should be remembered.

    Reply
  2. Hi Jay, and thanks for your detailed information on traveling with guns. We have done our share of traveling, however without guns. It is good to be aware of the ever changing laws with travel, and I like the idea of carrying a copy of the airline’s policy with you.
    You can understand New York City is not going to be quick to welcome guns inside its borders. It is true, that sometimes you can unfortunately have some authority figures that can be difficult to deal with. From our travels in New York City, we did not find it the most welcoming place to be.
    I do prefer the attitude of those in “Friendly Manitoba”!

    Reply
  3. Thank you for this post. Yeah, we should be prepared for surprises. A few months ago a friend called Daniel Dhers, went to Russia to compete at an event for BMX riders. He won the first place in the competition. The prize for the first place was a gun. He says it was very weird because he had never owned a gun in his life. So, when he was returning to his country, at the airport they didn’t let him take the gun. He explained it was the prize he won at the  BMX tournament. But they didn’t let him take the gun so he simply had to leave them his prize. What options did he have, being a prize won in an important competition? And why would the organizers of the tournament not take this into consideration knowing that most BMX riders would have to return to their own countries after the tournament?

    Reply
  4. Thanks Jay.

    You’re obviously well versed in travelling by air with firearms within the United States. It got me to thinking about how someone goes about that here in New Zealand. It would be interesting to find out. Being ex-military I have handled firearms on many occasions but have never had the responsibility of having to travel with them.

    Have you ever had the need to travel internationally with them? That must be next level interesting.

    All the best.

    Reply
  5. Jay,

     I found your article very enlightening because I wasn’t really up on any of those laws. I rarely travel anywhere without a gun even to the local grocery store in a small town. I do live in Montana which is a bit easier to deal with people when guns are concerned. When traveling by automobile or private aircraft I always carry a weapon. And I can guarantee you that it will be close at hand. Of course, it’s not wise to break any kind of law that might attract the scrutiny of the Gestapo.

    I have very little tolerance for the idiocy of this nation when it comes to firearms since I was raised a different way and our gun safety was taught in the local school gymnasium. And you had to attend that if you wanted to be a hunter. There was no room for error, You were expelled instantly if you made a silly mistake handling a weapon

    your article taught me some things that I didn’t know and I’m glad I read it, 

    Other than a couple of grammatical errors I found it very well done. 

    I will be linking to your site anytime I have a reason to speak about flying public and weapon handling.

    Please correct me if I’m wrong but I believe it’s still legal to ship a weapon from myself to myself at the destination. But I cannot send it to someone else. So I could ship it to my destination UPS store and retrieve it with proper identification.

    I’ll try to remember to PM you a story about getting caught with 22 long rifle shells in one of my computer cases that had been forgotten. The only reason I got away with it is that I was a Montana native. Of course, I lost said cartridges.

    Thank you for your dedication to the people at WA

    Your friend

    Steve

    Reply

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