FLYING WITH GUNS
TAKING YOUR GUNS WITH YOU WHEN YOU TRAVEL ISN’T AS DIFFICULT AS YOU MIGHT THINK
Taking your guns with you when you travel isn’t as difficult as you might think.
By Mike Searson
Many states honor concealed carry permits issued in other states. Due to misinformation and the spreading of unfortunate anecdotes, however, the majority of concealed carry holders do not realize how simple it is to fly with their firearms to other states that honor their permits.
Recently, I was talking with a few fellow gun owners about air travel and the transporting of firearms. I was surprised at how some of them thought that flying with firearms was more of a hassle than it is in reality. For decades, flying with guns has been part of my way of life when traveling from point A to point B, whether to attend a trade show, go on a hunting trip, take a class or simply to visit family and friends and wanting the security of my carry guns.
In short, it is about as difficult or complex as you want to make it, so I put together the guidelines with some tips to make your next flight as safe and as convenient as humanly possible. The most important thing is to ensure that your firearms and ammunition are legal in both your point of origin and destination.
You have basically two routes you can go here as far as a container.
Either use a dedicated hard-sided container for firearms or, if flying with a pistol or two, place the pistol case inside another piece of checked luggage.
When I fly, I always go with the first option. You may think that this only makes sense when traveling with a long gun and using a $300 wheeled and lockable rifle case—and that certainly is an option.
However, I found a case that fits not only my needs for flying with a few handguns, but also for transporting other valuables I do not trust to the good graces of a part-time baggage handler. It is the Pelican 1510 Carry-On Case, but do not let the name fool you. Your firearms must travel as checked baggage. Pelican calls it that as it meets the maximum dimensions for carry-on baggage with most commercial airlines: 22 x 13.81 x 9 inches (55.9 x 35.1 x 22.9 cm).
The interior gives you 19.75 x 11 x
7.6 inches (50.2 x 27.9 x 19.3 cm) of secure storage space, and the case can be ordered in a variety of colors (black, OD green, desert tan, orange, yellow, red, gray and green). Additionally, you can configure the interior to how you want it. Most shooters opt for the foam configuration and pluck out the shape of their firearm(s).
I find this wasteful and recommend either the company’s Trek Pak Divider system or the padded dividers. This al-
lows me to use a second internal pistol case with my firearms and gives me plenty of room for other items I like to keep under lock and key, such as cameras, night vision, thermal imagers, rifle parts, suppressors, ammunition and custom knives.
That is the second benefit of flying with a firearm. Because it is transported in a locked case, you can place other valuables with it for their protection. Pelican’s 1510 case is small enough that it is easy to get around, thanks to its strong polyurethane wheels with stainless steel bearings and retractable extension handle. The case is also big enough that a baggage thief cannot secret it out of a secure area within an airport. The padlock inserts are reinforced with stainless steel hardware, and if you use quality padlocks, your guns and gear will usually arrive safe and sound. If you think this is too much luggage to haul around with your other bags and are just transporting a handgun or two for concealed carry, you can place
“...THE MAJORITY OF CONCEALED CARRY HOLDERS DO NOT REALIZE HOW SIMPLE IT IS TO FLY WITH THEIR FIREARMS TO OTHER STATES...”
a small locked pistol case inside another piece of luggage. The pistol case must be locked, but the outer case cannot be. In my opinion, this still leaves your pistol case open to theft as someone can reach in, remove the locked case and get it to a location where it can be pilfered or (if the case is small enough) stolen outright.
“...A STICKERLESS CASE WILL NOT SCREAM ‘I HAVE A GUN INSIDE’ AND WILL KEEP AN HONEST MAN HONEST.”
“United States Code, Title 18, Part 1, Chapter 44, firearm definitions includes: any weapon (including a starter gun) which will, or is designed to, or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive; the frame or receiver of any such weapon; any firearm muffler or firearm silencer; and any destructive device. As defined by 49 CFR 1540.5 a loaded firearm has a live round of ammunition, or any component thereof, in the chamber or cylinder or in a magazine inserted in the firearm.”
On one occasion, while flying through Phoenix International Airport with firearms, a fellow passenger took note of me putting padlocks on my Pelican case and asked me how I was able to do that. He routinely transported high-end electronics and did not trust the security of “TSA Approved Locks.”
I informed him that I was transporting firearms and suggested he could do the same by placing a firearm in his secured case with proper locks. He seemed hesitant, but then relieved when I told him that TSA considers a pellet gun or starter pistol a fully fledged firearm and a $20 non-gun would protect his case’s other more valuable contents.
As a Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL) and Special Occupation Taxpayer (SOT), I do travel with National Firearms Act (NFA) items on occasion. Most often it is a silencer or two, sometimes a machine gun or a short-barreled rifle or shotgun. Because of the FFL and SOT, I need no other paperwork beyond my licenses and forms associated with the articles.
For non-dealers who own NFA items and wish to take them out of state, 18 U.S.C. 922(a)(4) specifies that:
“(a) It shall be unlawful …
(4) for any person, other than a licensed importer, licensed manufacturer, licensed dealer, or licensed collector, to transport in interstate or foreign commerce any destructive device, machinegun (as defined in section 5845 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986), short-barreled shotgun, or short-barreled rifle, except as specifically authorized by the Attorney General consistent with public safety and necessity.”
This does not include suppressors (silencers) and AOWs (Any Other Weapon). In order to comply with 922(a)(4), you will need to apply for and receive permission from the ATF to transport your NFA items across state lines prior to doing so by submitting, in duplicate, a Form 20 (officially known as Form 5320.20). The form allows you to list up to three items and may be submitted for a date range up to 365 days. Most NFA owners who routinely shoot in another state find it easiest to have approved Form 20s for each of their NFA items for an entire year at a time.
When flying with handguns for CCW, I take along about 150 rounds in the original factory boxes. If I am attending a class that requires more (say 500 to 2,000 rounds), I either buy ammo locally or have it shipped to my destination.
Ammunition may be stored in magazines, plastic reloading cases or the original cardboard containers.
If you are flying with a substantial amount, this is where the rules of the airlines come into play as many have specific weight allowances for ammunition.
Oftentimes, ticket counter agents or even TSA agents may not completely know the rules. I would advise printing out copies of the regulations governing firearms from the TSA website as well as the airline’s requirements for the same in advance of your trip to present when difficulties in communication occur.
It is against federal law to place an external marker identifying the contents of the case as containing a firearm. For this reason, I do not advise placing every sticker you picked up at the local gun show for every firearm manufacturer on your travel case. It may not be illegal, but a stickerless case will not scream “I have a gun inside” and will keep an honest man honest.
Some airlines have allegedly been adding zip ties to cases containing firearms. It is a minor annoyance at best. I have not experienced this, personally, but if you plan to take your firearm case into a rest room so you can holster up before getting into a cab or rental car, it might not be a bad idea to have a small pair of scissors at the ready to cut the tie.
AT THE COUNTER
You are all set to go on your trip. Bags are packed, firearms and ammunition are secured and you are at the airport with ticket in hand. Hopefully you added another 30 to 60 minutes of time for the ticket counter in addition to whatever is needed to make your way through screening before the gate.
“I WOULD ADVISE PRINTING OUT COPIES OF THE REGULATIONS GOVERNING FIREARMS FROM THE TSA WEBSITE...”
If you are travelling with NFA items, carry copies of the required ATF forms, tax stamps and even trust documentation relating to those items. Yes, they are tax documents and really only need to be shown to an ATF agent, but it may reassure the TSA inspector if you have them. Or you can cling to your privacy beliefs and potentially miss your flight.
As you declare your firearm, you will be given a declaration form to complete and place in the case containing the firearm. You may be asked to wait nearby for up to 30 minutes as the bag is checked if TSA feels the need to inspect it. If TSA does not arrive, proceed to passenger screening and on to the gate.
When you reach your destination and retrieve your baggage, it may or may not come out on the carousel. Some airports will take secured baggage to an office near the baggage claim or a roped off area in the vicinity. Claim your bags and be on your way. It is that easy.
Above: With the dividers removed, you can store a fair amount of handguns, knives, ammunition and other valuables with the security of real locks. Top Middle: TThe author’s choice of a travelling lockable case is the Pelican 1510. It is compact, secure, rugged and does not necessarily scream “bag with a gun inside.” Bottom Middle:
The author prefers keyed-alike padlocks to combination locks when travelling by air.
Above: The Pelican 1510 is small enough to transport easily, but large enough that no thief can simply tuck it inside a jacket and walk away with it.
Top: When flying with ammunition, it may be stored in the original factory box, an aftermarket plastic reloading box or in the actual magazines. Bottom: Your carry gun can be placed inside a holster with the magazine removed when stored inside the locked transportation case.
Left: The factory case that your firearm shipped in may not meet airline standards as a secure case, but it can be used to safely store your firearm inside a larger lockable case.
Above: The airline ticket counter will have you complete a firearm declaration tag that goes inside your lockable firearm case. These tags are read by the X-ray machines during baggage screening without the need to open the locks.
Above: The author suggests it’s more secure to use a large, dedicated locked case for your guns and valuables.
Flying with guns will be only a minor hassle if you plan in advance and have the proper, secure container.