Traveling Safely and Legally with Guns and Ammo on Airlines
Airline Travel with Your Guns and Ammo
Surprisingly many gun owners don’t know that it is legal to transport a firearm and ammunition in checked baggage on commercial airlines in the United States. It is legal and usually relatively easy if you are prepared and have the guns and ammunition stored properly. The process for transporting firearms varies from airline to airline but all involve the same basic requirements. I have personally transported firearms (pistols and rifles) on commercial airlines all around the United States (except New York City). It usually has gone without any issues and very routine. I liken the first time you check in at the counter with a gun to the same feeling you had when you carried concealed for the first time in public area.
As with many other aspects of being a gun owner you must familiarize your self with the rules. I recommend you look at the Federal Firearms Owners’ Protection Act (FOPA) Title 18- Part 1- Chapter 44- s926A that specifically concerns Interstate Transportation of Firearms. It states in plain English what your rights are. However, some cities (including the Peoples Republic of New York City) openly ignore the Federal Firearms Owners’ Protection Act (FOPA) Title 18- Part 1- Chapter 44- s926A. New York City has arrested and prosecuted people who were legally transporting firearms under the FOPA, so be warned.
So that is the bad news…here is the good news! Transporting your guns and ammo on an airplane is pretty simple.
So here we go!
All firearms, ammunition, and firearm parts may ONLY be transported in checked baggage.
The TSA website has some good information, but a lot of it was general and did not address some specifics. Also, these gun travel rules change FREQUENTLY, so check for current updates when you fly with guns. Also, there are certain limited exceptions for law enforcement officers. Here is the website address for you and some of the information I got there:
1. Travelers may only transport UNLOADED firearms in a locked, hard-sided container as checked baggage. All firearms, ammunition and firearm parts, including firearm frames, receivers, pepper spray, clips and magazines are prohibited in carry-on baggage. (I knew this.)
BB guns, pellet guns, replica guns, starter guns, flare guns, & parts of guns MUST also be checked.
Place your hard-sided case inside of your locked SUITCASE (with TSA-approved lock.)
2. Realistic replicas of firearms are also prohibited in carry-on bags and must be packed in checked baggage. Rifle scopes are permitted in carry-on and checked bags.
3. In addition to TSA security rules on transporting firearms, airlines, as well as state, local and international governments have additional rules that may vary by location. Please check with your airline and with states, cities, and countries you will be traveling to and from to become familiar with their requirements and ensure you are compliant with their laws.
Here are some Guidelines to help you in packing your firearms and ammo for travel:
ALL firearms MUST be DECLARED up front to the airline during the ticket counter check-in process.
The firearm MUST be UNLOADED including the MAGAZINE.
As defined by 49 CFR 1540.5 – “A loaded firearm means a firearm that has a live round of ammunition, or any component thereof, in the chamber or cylinder or in a magazine inserted in the firearm.”
The firearm MUST be in a HARD-SIDED container that is LOCKED, as required by Federal Regulation 49 CFR 1544.203.
A locked container is defined as one that completely secures the firearm from being accessed. Locked cases that can be pulled open with little effort cannot be brought aboard the aircraft.
It can be a hard plastic gun case and that a combination lock or keyed padlock is acceptable for the gun case (does not have to be a TSA lock.)
Travelers with firearms MUST sign the Form saying that the firearm(s) are checked as baggage, are unloaded, and packed in a hard-sided locked container.
Then the Agent must also sign the Form.
I recommend you get a Pelican Storm Case or a GunVault Nano Vault. As for me, I fieldstrip my gun and then place it and its empty magazines in the Pelican box just because I’ve seen TSA agents who were not the brightest in the box get a little excited so I believe this helps…but you don’t have to. It just leaves no doubt in anyone’s mind that the gun is truly unloaded.
When I walk up to the ticket counter I just tell the airline agent I have a firearm to declare. They then give me their specific form and while I fill it out they usually call over a TSA agent to verify that it is unloaded. I set the box on the counter and open it for them (when they ask me to) showing them the unloaded gun and the magazines. Both the airline agent and the TSA agent watch me put the signed airline form in the case and lock it and then the TSA agent tells me to put it in my checked luggage. Once the airline has done their weighing and such the TSA agent takes my bag and scans it.
DON’T LEAVE YET!
I ask the TSA agent something like “Are we good?” and when they say “Yes” then I tell them I’m going to my gate.
As for ammo, understand that while TSA regulations DO allow ammo to be packed in the same locked container as the unloaded firearm, NOT all airlines allow this. Put them in a separate locked Pelican Box and you do the same procedure as the firearm. Travelers MUST securely PACK any ammunition in fiber (such as cardboard), wood, or metal boxes or other packaging specifically designed to carry small amounts of ammunition. I carry mine in the original manufactures box. I suggest taping your ammo boxes shut to prevent any accidental spillage. TSA prohibits black powder or percussion caps used with black-powder. (ammo boxes in case pic here)
The airlines are VERY SERIOUS about these requirements and will detain and delay you if any questions arise, especially if firearms are not properly declared or packaged. If a locked gun container alarms during screening and is not marked as containing a declared firearm, TSA will cut the lock in order to resolve the alarm. Also, it helps to take a picture of the firearm in it case so that if it comes up missing you have something to show the investigating officers. You had better have the serial number on you too otherwise…its lost forever!
Rifle scopes are not prohibited in carry-on bags and do not need to be in the hard-sided, locked checked bag.
You can look all of this up online but, if you still had questions you can call the TSA at 1-866-289-9673. The TSA agents I have talked to have been very friendly and repeated the above information and gave me some other information.