Flying with a gun isn’t as complicated as one might think, but there’s a right way and lots of wrong ways to do it.
Yes, You Can Fly With a Gun
There’s a significant misconception that you cannot fly with a weapon, that’s simply not true. Any legal gun within the United States can be flown with the passenger but without access to it. For the avoidance of doubt, guns cannot be transported on your person nor in carry-on bags. They also cannot be brought on board in a locked case. This extends to magazines or clips, but not necessarily all attachments for a weapon (like scopes.)
Despite this restriction, every year since the formation of the TSA in 2001 following the September 11th attacks, TSA agents still miss 85-95% of guns that are brought through by testers. This number got better during COVID, but there were also fewer travelers and fewer things to do at checkpoints – when just dozens of travelers are passing through each day, no less than 100% of guns should be detected.
That, Most Definitely, Will Need to Be Checked
There’s no question that ammunition, clips, and guns will need to be checked by gun owners traveling with firearms. There are specific federal laws that come into play when transporting weapons as personal luggage and it means that travelers can’t simply put it in their checked bags along with their swimsuits.
Gun owners who carry weapons everywhere for their protection sometimes completely forget that they are carrying a weapon with them and leave it in a carry-on bag, only to (rarely) be discovered by TSA. For them, it’s not as simple as returning to the check-in counter and putting it in the cargo hold.
Process and Costs to Flying With a Gun
To comply with the rules and regulations of 49 CFR 1540.5 here is how to fly with a gun in the United States.
- Locked hard-sided case
- Pelican or similar but does not have to be specifically a “gun case”
- Must use a TSA-Approved lock
- Must have padded interior
- Firearms must be unloaded
- The weapon need not be disassembled
- Firearms and ammunition should be separated but can remain in the same case
- Replica guns must be checked though they need not follow these procedures (toy guns)
- Airsoft (BB guns) follow the same procedures
- Accompanying equipment and attachments must also be locked in the case as well, though rifle scopes can be transported individually in carry-on bags
- At check-in, a declaration card from the TSA will be given to the traveler at which point the traveler will open the case to place it inside the pistol case and close, lock it again
- More than one firearm in the same case is permitted so long as it is closeable and locked
- Each firearm must be declared, each direction of the trip (once checked you do not need to notify anyone else)
- Flying abroad may or may not restrict the transport of firearms or add additional requirements. Check with CBP prior to departure for more specific information.
Failure to properly secure the weapon, declare it and check it in per TSA regulations can result in a federal misdemeanor charge. Obviously, finding the weapon at a checkpoint will cause alarm for security personnel and fellow travelers, however unintentional it may be from the sportsman.
This helpful video from 2017 remains valid today:
Costs for most US airlines are the same as if the weapon case were a checked bag. When those fees apply, it’s typically $20-30 so long as the case weighs 40-50 lbs (overweight bags incur additional costs.) If a traveler is checking two bags prior to the weapon case then an “excess baggage” charge may apply.
Traveling with a firearm doesn’t have to be complex. Following the rules such as ensuring it is completely unloaded, separated from the magazine and ammunition, properly declared inside the case, transported in a hard-sided (interior padded) case specifically designed to carry such weapons with a TSA-approved lock will ensure safe transport. It must be checked in and most components must be locked away too.
What do you think? Have you flown with a firearm? Have you made mistakes when flying with a gun?