I have good news and bad news for you. The good news is that you can bring along your beloved guns on your flight and have them at your destination. Great! The bad news, however, is that many are still clueless about the rules and regulations ergo they end up getting charged. And I don’t want you to be the next in line.
Are you with me?
In a world of airlines where every drop of liquid is measured, every corner of your pack is checked, and compliance to ever-changing regulations is mandated, it pays to be in the know. So, to help you not end up in the wrong place at the wrong time, we’ll go over the things you need to know and need to do⸺ from packing your gun/s and its ammunition and accessories, to how you should act and behave during the security process.
Ready? Let’s fire away!
Know the rules and fly by the rules
While the United States Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has an established set of rules on the dos and don’ts of traveling with lethal weapons, guns for that matter, the number of lawbreakers is still high. According to TSA 2017 records, 3,957 firearms were discovered in carry-on bags at checkpoints across the country. To put that in perspective, that’s an average of 10.8 firearms per day! What’s more? 84% were loaded. Crazy!
First off, check with the state laws of both where you are and where you’re going. A lot of times you’ll have a gun permit that doesn’t reciprocate with the place that you’re going to. So, understand that rules and laws vary and that you have to adapt and follow accordingly.
Next, as a general guide and to save yourself from committing a crime unknowingly and getting arrested, familiarize yourself with the following TSA commandments:
- When traveling, comply with the laws concerning possession of guns as they vary by local, state, and international governments.
- Declare each gun every time you present it for transport as checked baggage. Ask your airline about limitations or fees that may apply.
- Guns must be UNLOADED and locked in a hard-sided container and transported as checked baggage only. Keep the key or combination to the lock unless TSA personnel request to open the container to ensure compliance with regulations. You may use any brand or type of lock to secure your gun case.
- Gun parts (magazines, clips, bolts, firing pins) and gun replicas (including toys) are prohibited in carry-on baggage but may be transported in checked baggage.
- Riflescopes are permitted in carry-on and checked baggage.
- If you’re traveling abroad, check with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection for information and requirements beforehand.
- Ammunition and magazines (unloaded) must be securely boxed and included in your checked baggage.
- Don’t use gun magazines or clips for packing ammunition unless they completely enclose the ammunition.
- Check with your airline for quantity and weight limits.
"Firearm magazines and ammunition clips, whether loaded or empty, must be securely boxed or included within a hard-sided case containing an unloaded firearm. Read the requirements governing the transport of ammunition in checked baggage as defined by 49 CFR 175.10 (a)(8)." Source: TSA.gov
*Keep in mind that TSA regulations and laws surrounding firearms change all the time. Also, each airline may have its own regulations on top of what TSA requires. Therefore, it’s always smart to stay up-to-date and check both the TSA and airline’s websites in advance.
No fear with the right gear
As you may have already realized, carrying on a gun and its components is a big no-no. With that in mind, let’s now discuss the proper equipment to house your weaponry.
Speaking of “not easily opened”, as much as possible, avoid using regular TSA locks because they’re weak and can be opened by anyone with a TSA master key. In lieu, use heavy-duty (mostly inexpensive) alternatives like a Master Lock. As of now you are not required to use a TSA approved lock for traveling with your firearms, however be prepared to open the lock for airport officials.
If you choose to use a TSA approved lock for items such as ammo, cameras, or other equipment, I would suggest the SnapSafe TSA Padlocks you can trust that they are 10 times harder to crack than 3-digit locks and the all-metal body can endure impact that's unfortunately highly likely to occur during travel.
Going back to the case, it should be able to take a beating (even when tossed around by careless handlers). Other than that, it being dustproof, shockproof, and waterproof is a big plus just like what the Surelock Security SLS-8P Renegade Series offers. It’s 8 inches which is perfect if handguns and compact firearms are your jam.
Traveling with a pistol?
Need something longer for your shotguns and rifles?
Then Surelock Security SLS-53GC1 Renegade Series 53" is worth checking out.
Furthermore, never underestimate the power of wheels. Choose luggage/case with built-in wheels like the Surelock Security Renegade Series Wheeled Waterproof Case to make transporting a breeze (dragging is way easier than carrying).
For every case eyelet, TSA wants you to put a lock on it. Yeah… it’s extra hassle and weight but Surelock cases only have 2 (some have 4 or more) without compromising security.
Packing right for your flight
Packing can be a hassle let alone with guns. But when done right, it can save you big time. Here are some expert tips for you:
- Keep the weight minimal. Get yourself a scale to weigh your luggage at home making sure it’s below the airline’s weight limit. In addition, opt for lightweight yet durable materials like hard leather or Kevlar instead of thick metal.
- Avoid ammunition clutter by storing them nice and tight in a solid container (cardboard boxes can tear easily).
- Keep everything neatly organized. You don’t want TSA personnel and even yourself to have a hard time going through each item which could unnecessarily prolong the process. Worse is they might even think you’re hiding something.
- Unpack your luggage before you pack them to ensure you’re aware of the contents prior to coming to the airport. It might have been a while since you packed it all up and have forgotten the contents. This is crucial because, during the check-in process, you don’t want to provide incomplete or even false information (if that happens, say hello to jail time).
"Only the passenger should retain the key or combination to the lock unless TSA personnel request the key to open the firearm container to ensure compliance with TSA regulations. You may use any brand or type of lock to secure your firearm case, including TSA-recognized locks." Source: TSA.gov
Finish fast but not furious
Now it’s time to go to the airline ticket counter (look for a special line for prohibited items) and declare every gun, gun parts, and ammunition with you. During the process, what you don’t wanna do is to show off your guns and let everyone know you’re traveling a gun. (That’s a good way to cause unnecessary chaos)
They’ll give you a form or slip to fill out and verify that you’ve properly stored your gun and everything with it. They might ask you a thousand times whether you’ve unloaded the gun so just calmly reiterate; “Yes, I did”.
In some cases, TSA agents may wanna look inside the case and even use scanners. So, be patient, comply, and you’re good to go on with your travels.
Finally, once you’ve reached your destination, keep an eye both on the baggage office (which is the appropriate claim area) and the carousel (often misplaced there). Present your ID, see to it that nothing’s missing, and off you go.
Two words…be patient..Sometimes it’s a bit of a process.
Although security procedures and sometimes frantic people around you can be stressful, it’s a good idea to remember that we all have to deal with inconvenient extra steps at the airport. That person behind the counter can either make your day or make your life pretty miserable. So, it can’t hurt to smile and be a good gun ambassador.
Time to travel with confidence
You now know what you should know about flying with guns. You now know what can lead you to that cold jail (or cost you tons of money for bail) and what can lead you to your warm hotel room without a hitch. Given the right knowledge, attitude, and equipment, you can fly with confidence and make security protocols a walk in the park.
Understandably, having the means to protect ourselves is our right. But abiding by the law is our sensible responsibility. These rules were made not just for our own good but also for the people we fly with. So, let’s be considerate. Otherwise, you can kiss your guns (and freedom) goodbye! And surely… you don’t want that, do you?
Travel smart. Keep it legal. And bon voyage!
Visit TSA.gov "Transporting Firearms and Ammunition" for up-to-date security screening requirements for ammunition and unloaded firearms in checked baggage.