In your day to day owning a firearm, you are likely comfortable and familiar with carrying and securing your firearm at home. But what if you want to take your firearm with you for something like an event, competition, or a hunt? Taking your firearms across state lines is not something to be taken lightly, and air travel with firearms requires very specific steps you need to prepare for. In any case of traveling with firearms, know before you go.
First things first, reciprocity. Does your destination recognize the firearms permit you have? This should be the first thing you confirm before you decide to travel with your firearms. Laws and regulations for long guns and handguns are often very different so always verify the laws and regulations on the specific type of firearm you are planning to travel with. Be sure to know and follow all applicable laws and regulations concerning the carrying, possession, use, transport, and storage of your firearms and ammunition wherever you may go.
Now from here on out we will be talking specifically about air travel. All of the things we are going to cover here are requirements as set by the TSA and you should be sure that you are familiar with all of the regulations that they have put in place. Additionally, you should always cross check the regulations listed by the airline you plan to travel as each carrier has the right to layer additional restrictions on top of the TSA regulations (including quantity limits on ammunition).
The first key to a successful trip is placing your unloaded firearm in a locked hard-sided case. Ammunition may be transported in the same hard-sided, locked case as a firearm if it has also been separately packed in a cardboard (such as the box it came in from the manufacturer), wood, plastic or metal box specifically designed to carry ammunition. You cannot use firearm magazines for packing ammunition unless they completely enclose the ammunition. When you arrive at the airport and make your way over to a special services or ticket counter, you will need to inform the agent that you would like to “declare an unloaded firearm” and any ammunition. This phrase can be very helpful at setting the agent’s mind at ease as you have let them know that you have brought them a locked case and that the firearm inside is unloaded.
Once you have informed the agent of the firearm and ammunition you would like to declare they will give you a fluorescent “Firearm Unloaded” card that you will both sign to certify that the firearm is unloaded and place in the case. From there, each airport and airlines procedure may vary, regardless, the next step is for your unloaded firearm in locked case with the “Firearm Unloaded” card to make their way through a large-scale scanner so you can then receive the OK from TSA. From there, the airline will see to it that your firearm is loaded on to your flight.
Once you have made it to your final destination, you’ll find that your firearm will not come out on the standard baggage claim carousel. You will need to make your way to the airlines Baggage Services area where you will be able to pick up your firearm with the Baggage Claim Check ticket you were given at check-in and your driver’s license. When your cased firearm is returned to you, you’ll leave the airport with an oversized zip tie wrapped around it ensuring that the case will remain closed until you leave the airport’s facilities.
If the process sounds overwhelming, I can assure you it is not. The most difficult thing about traveling with a firearm is understanding the reciprocity, and other applicable laws and regulations, of your destination and completing any prep to ensure you will be compliant prior to your departure.
View Ken’s latest Vlog where he takes you through traveling with his firearms from Atlanta, GA to Springfield, MA.
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Ken’s travel guns & gear:
Smith & Wesson M&P®12
Smith & Wesson Performance Center M&P 9 SHIELD PLUS
Vaultek LifePod 2.0
Pelican Vault Case