As a gun owner, you may be hesitant to travel without your gun. That’s understandable. A gun can help you defend yourself and others against crime.
According to GunFacts.info, guns prevent an estimated 2.5 million crimes per year (or 6,849 every day), of which 400,000 are life-threatening violent crimes.
But traveling on an airplane with a gun can be tricky. There are different rules and regulations you must follow. If you neglect them, it could lead to civil and criminal charges, not to mention hefty fines.
So if you’re getting ready to fly with your gun, here are steps you should take:
1. Check gun policies
Before you do anything else, you need to know the gun laws of your destination state (or country). Laws concerning permitted guns, ammo, and magazine sizes can vary widely. The same goes for open and concealed carry laws, as well as laws regarding using force and deadly force.
So research the gun laws wherever you plan to go.
If your flight itinerary includes a layover somewhere, make sure to check its laws, too. There’s a chance you could get stuck there and need to be put up in a hotel for the night. In that case, you should use extreme caution when taking possession of your gun (a non-stop flight is ideal).
You should also know the gun policies set by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the specific airport you are flying in and out of. Print them out just in case the TSA agent you interact with isn’t familiar with the rules (e.g., they may not have had to deal with firearms very often).
If you’re unsure about any of the gun air travel policies, call the airport ahead of time to get clarification. It’s better to play it safe.
2. Pack your gun (and ammo) correctly at home
According to the TSA, “you may transport unloaded firearms in a locked hard-sided container as checked baggage only.” That means you must get the right case to pack your gun in before you travel with it. Make sure it’s made of hard, heavy-duty material and not something someone could easily cut through (e.g., a fabric case that came with the gun). The gun case should also be durable—enough to withstand bumps and bangs by baggage handlers.
The TSA also states that “the container must completely secure the firearm from being accessed. Locked cases that can be easily opened are not permitted.” That means the lock you use matters. Don’t use a TSA lock designed to allow security authorities to open it. This is actually illegal since it increases the risk of an unauthorized person accessing your gun. Nobody should be able to get into your gun case without you present.
With that in mind, it’s best to pack your gun at home. That way, you can ensure the gun isn’t loaded. All ammo must be packed in a separate box or container. If it’s floating around in the gun case, you could face serious legal charges. Packing your gun at home also saves you the hassle and stress of packing it right at the airport.
Keep in mind that all firearm parts—including magazines, clips, bolts, and firing pins— must be checked. The only exception to this rule is for rifle scopes. They are “permitted in carry-on and checked baggage.”
Lastly, weigh your gun case (and ammo) to ensure it doesn’t exceed the airline’s weight limit. Most airlines only allow you to check bags that weigh up to 50 lbs.
3. Know what to do at the airport
Once at the airport, the first thing you should do is check in at a full-service counter. Tell the airline worker that you would like to “declare a firearm.” Don’t just say, “I have a gun,” since this could elicit a very different response.
The airline worker will have you sign a declaration document and confirm that the firearm isn’t loaded. You will most likely then be directed to an oversized luggage check-in area. Stay with your gun case for the entire screening process to ensure it makes it through. In some cases, your gun case will need to be inspected. Arrive at the airport early to give yourself enough time for this process.
When you arrive at your destination airport, you’ll likely need to pick up your gun at the “oversized baggage” area. In some cases, you may be asked for your baggage claim ticket as well (so hold onto it).
Gun rules regarding air travel can be strict. But as long as you know what they are, you should be fine.
If you’re worried about your gun getting damaged or stolen, take pictures of your packed gun case before and after you fly. If there’s any noticeable damage or anything missing, you can report it to the airline and police authorities if necessary.
Whatever you do, don’t neglect any of the three steps listed above. If you do, you could end up facing costly legal charges.