Flying with firearms is feasible if you know your legal rights, responsibilities, procedure, and airline policies. Read on for more thoughts and insights on flying with firearms!
In this article:
- Know the Laws for Flying with Firearms
- Going Above and Beyond
- Why Do Travelers Have Problems in the First Place When Attempting to Fly with Their Firearms?
- Urban Camouflage
- Unload All Firearms and Accessories and Transport Using a Hard-sided Case
- No More Than 5 Firearms Per Hard-sided Case
- Live Ammunition
- TSA Pre-check
- Know Your Permit to Carry Reciprocity, NFA Items, Special Paperwork
Flying with Firearms | Above and Beyond as a Gun Owner
Know the Laws for Flying with Firearms
As a personal protection coach, I have been lucky enough to serve clients all throughout the United States and the world over my past decade of experience. When I was starting my firearms training business two years ago, several ‘experts’ attempted to discourage me from even attempting to fly with my guns due to the perceived risks associated with flying with firearms.
Specifically, I was told the TSA will ‘take yer guns’ for no particular reason. Due to the nature of my business, I have ended up flying into a variety of international airports and road tripped cross-country with my firearms unmolested by authorities, TSA, and airline personnel.
I see articles and stories all the time shouting about the injustices gun owners feel like they are subjected to because they want to travel with their firearms. The fact is, every time a TSA agent has confiscated a firearm, it is because the irresponsible gun owner wasn’t following the local or federal law.
I label those cases as irresponsible gun owners because any responsible and reasonable person will agree it is paramount to familiarize yourself with the local laws and statutes relevant to the state (or country) you are traveling to.
As a former Military Police officer myself, I know that ignorance of the law is never an excuse, and yet these gun owners want to claim an injustice has been committed simply because they were unaware of the laws they were breaking. The truth is, this is all avoidable.
Going Above and Beyond
I’ve been asked so many times how I travel so frequently with firearms that I decided I may as well put everything into this three-part story, so you’ll have a well-rounded piece of advice when it comes to flying with firearms.
While I am not a lawyer (nothing I say should be taken as legal advice), this article will advise you to not only act within the guidelines set forth by local and federal law enforcement. It will also empower you to go above and beyond those standards to ensure we are all portraying the gun owner’s community as responsible and self-policing.
We know that as Permit-to-Carry holders and gun owners, we are already subject to more statutes than the average citizen. Responsible gun owners should be only using that as a baseline. If all you are doing is the bare minimum because you are more concerned about your 2A rights than being a responsible member of the gun owner’s community, then this article is for you.
Gun owners are a very small percentage of the population. Especially when we travel, we may be one of the few gun owners regular people ever come across. Isn’t it better if we go above and beyond that low standard set forth by the government and instead, policed our own to a higher standard? This is a tenant being taken directly from my Marine days, and policing our own is how the Marines got the reputation of professionalism that we have.
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You can apply that to the gun owners community as well, to the ends of elevating the esteem we are all held in. So buckle in. We’ll explore what it takes to be a responsible gun owner before, during, and after your flight. Additionally, I know that flying may not be for everyone, so I will also talk about overland travel in the third part of this series.
Why Do Travelers Have Problems in the First Place When Attempting to Fly with Their Firearms?
Simply put, when someone has their firearms or weapons seized at the airport, it was due to a lack of preparation. Every story I’ve seen claims the gun owner was unfairly treated are based more on the premise that the rules were unfair or unreasonable in the first place. That in and of itself displays pure ignorance of the law, and ignorance is not an excuse.
If you don’t like the rules, I suggest you begin writing letters and lobbying to your senator for the rules you feel will make it easier for those flying with firearms. Until then, we have to follow TSA firearms policy to continue to give the gun owners’ community a good face.
When I first began flying with firearms, the YouTube videos and articles put out by the TSA and bloggers had me paranoid. You can review the small amount of guidance presented by the TSA and see why we need to go into such detail with this series. With that lack of clarity last year, I was calling the airline within 36 hours of my flights to make sure they knew I was coming with my firearms.
I believe that was on a blogger’s advice, and it seemed to do nothing more than cause me to “waste electrons” (as Erik Prince puts it) on the phone with a customer service rep that rarely knew what I was asking for and when they did, I ended up just getting a scripted lecture about how to transport my firearms. I want to save you the time and that kind of frustration, hence this article. So, what are the conditions? They’re relatively simple, and I’ll lay them out here.
Going above and beyond the bare state and federal minimum means making a few of your own rules. Urban camouflage is one of those techniques I personally use and recommend to keep a low profile while presenting a hard target for opportunistic criminals. This really boils down to applying Situational Awareness.
When I travel with my hard-sided firearms case, most cab drivers, concierge, and bellboys think I’m just a Latino keyboard player. This is because I handle myself and my gear not like a conspicuous gun owner, but just like anyone else that has a bulky piece of luggage to travel with.
Even though my gun case has pictures of hunting dogs and shotguns molded into the plastic, I also slapped a few stickers from local businesses and causes I care about on the outside.
This is actively applying urban camouflage to display myself and gear as inconspicuously as possible. As gun owners, we should attempt to emphasize the fact that guns aren’t for everyone. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, and it’s up to us to act within reason to do what we can to alleviate the nervousness that some people develop around firearms.
Unload All Firearms and Accessories and Transport Using a Hard-sided Case
This includes the magazines. Travelers have been jailed overnight for having loaded magazines in their legal containers because of this rule. It seems pretty reasonable that you should be traveling with unloaded firearms in the first place, and this rule just re-iterates that importance.
Secondly, but perhaps more importantly, firearms must be in a hard-sided case and secured at all locking points. Take note to use only TSA approved gun cases. Most hard-sided gun cases have two or more locking points where you should be securing your own padlock.
TSA locks are actually not allowed on firearms cases. This is likely self-explanatory, but firearms cases are the last thing that should be secured with a low-security mechanism like a TSA lock. Use keyed or combination locks, whatever you already use along those lines will work best for you. If using a keyed lock, make sure you keep those keys on your person during this entire process.
No More Than 5 Firearms Per Hard-sided Case
This means any variety of firearms. I’ve personally traveled with a mix of handguns, rifles, and shotguns all in the same case. If you’re a responsible and well-rounded gun owner, you should be competent enough to be able to disassemble your firearms as well. A good friend contacted me once because he wanted to get his three AR-15s in the same Pelican case to save baggage fees but thought it was impossible.
When he texted me a photo of what he was working with, I noticed that all three AR’s were still fully assembled. After pointing out that breaking down the guns will make them smaller, he was able to fit all three in the case. The same technique works for handguns and accessories, as well.
- Holds up to two rifles or shotguns or a single rifle/shotgun with plenty of room for magazines and accessories
- Premium black textured ABS laminate panels
- Features customizable "DIY" foam made up of 1/2" squares so you can make the perfect shape for any gun or a million other uses
You are within your rights to travel with live ammunition, in accordance with TSA guidelines. Live ammunition must either be in the manufacturer’s box or a reloader’s box. If your self-defense ammunition is so old that you no longer have the manufacturer’s box, it’s probably time to shoot that off anyways and buy some Speer Gold Dot.
Just like keeping the guns unloaded, you cannot keep that live ammunition in the magazines, tubes, or any other location other than the manufacturer’s box. Similarly, that live ammunition cannot be just loose in the case either. Items have been seized just for unsecured ammunition within the hard-sided case.
Whether you’re a frequent flyer or just a weekender, invest the extra time and money to get a TSA Pre-check qualification before flying with firearms. This not only expedites your processing through security, but it is also another way you can show that you are acting in good faith with the local and federal authorities.
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Know Your Permit to Carry Reciprocity, NFA Items, Special Paperwork
Unfortunately, several travelers have had their firearms seized and spent the night in jail (especially in New York) for arriving in a state that they did not have carry reciprocity with. While you are still likely acting within the legal parameters of being a “legal transporter” of firearms with that secure, hard-sided case, you must further ensure that you have a right to possess those firearms in the state you’re traveling to.
Running a simple reciprocity search on USAcarry.com will show you your current reciprocity, illustrating where you can carry with your current permit. It is more than worth your time to familiarize yourself with local firearms transportation laws, use of reasonable force, and use of deadly force laws when flying with firearms.
The same goes for traveling with suppressors, short barreled rifles, fully automatic firearms or any other item requiring special paperwork. Atomic Tactical, a Minneapolis-based specialty gun builder, will be collaborating with me on a future story specific to flying with NFA items.
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Watch this video from Fox 10 Phoenix for TSA’s demonstration on how to properly fly with guns:
For now, this is the most that I can share while keeping your attention on flying with firearms. Check gun transportation laws by state, TSA and airline policies, and you’re good to go.
Already have a few questions or experiences of your own that you’d like to share? Post it in the comments!
Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for informational purposes only. Please read our full disclaimer here.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on October 8, 2017, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.