Whether you’re a brand new gun owner or have been around firearms your entire life, it’s important to remember there are very specific rules to follow when it comes to flying with guns. While this may seem like common sense to some, evidence suggests quite a few people haven’t gotten the memo, given how frequently TSA discovers firearms and other restricted items in passengers’ carry-on bags.
Can I Fly with My Guns?
High-profile incidents of people attempting to carry guns through TSA security (including a notoriously anti-gun Chicago politician, a Florida congressman, and an Iowa state senator) highlight a significant issue: some people are failing to keep track of their guns. And while this article focuses specifically on firearms, the TSA finds all sorts of strange things at security checkpoints, including a python in a hard drive, fake bombs, an inert mortar round, wedding-themed fake hand grenades, and a live cat!
While these incidents seem to defy common sense, it underscores a point Psychology Today made nearly a decade ago that “Common Sense Is Neither Common nor Sense.” With that in mind, it’s a good idea to become familiar with the rules of traveling by air with a firearm. Here are a few do's and don'ts to flying with guns to help make your travels safe and law-abiding.
According to TSA:
"You may transport unloaded firearms in a locked hard-sided container as checked baggage only. Declare the firearm and/or ammunition to the airline with your other checked bags at the ticket counter. The container must completely secure the firearm and prevent it from being accessed. Locked cases that can be easily opened are not permitted. Be aware that the container the firearm was in when purchased may not adequately secure the firearm when it is transported in checked baggage."
This means if you’re going to travel with a firearm, it must be in a hard-sided case that you can lock. If the case you happen to be securing your firearm in is small enough to fit inside a larger, soft-sided checked bag, just make sure you declare it at the ticket counter. It’s also important to remember that ANY firearm parts aside from rifle scopes are prohibited in carry-on bags and need to be checked. What about inert training aids, like airsoft guns, SIRT pistols, or Blueguns? You need to check those as well! Although, it’s a bit unclear as to whether you need to declare their presence at check-in. When in doubt, verify with your airline.
You should also note that TSA has very specific guidelines for flying with any type of defensive spray; all sprays are prohibited from anything other than checked bags. Confusing the issue even more is the fact that many airlines may have their own limitations and procedures to follow in addition to federal TSA regulations.
Mistakes when flying with guns can be costly, and you could face both civil and criminal charges. Per TSA: “… local and state governments, and other countries, may have their own rules on firearm possession or transportation. As a result, prohibited items may result in both a TSA civil enforcement action and a criminal enforcement action.” TSA “may impose civil penalties of up to $13,910 per violation per person,” and repeat violations have even higher penalties. Anecdotally, it appears that quite a few of these instances are left to the discretion of the responding law enforcement, as well as TSA investigators.
The Do's & Don'ts
Whether you travel by air all the time or this is your very first flight, it’s important to have a solid plan in place for flying with any type of firearm or self-defense accessory so you can avoid problems once you get to the airport. Most issues seem to stem from travelers not being aware of the regulations in place for people flying with guns, ammunition, and other firearms or self-defense accessories. It's crucial to do your own research and familiarize yourself with all the guidelines surrounding the transportation of whichever item(s) you plan to pack.
One tactic we recommend is to have a separate set of bags and luggage that you use strictly for air travel. By keeping an entirely “sterile” set of luggage that is NEVER used for quick trips to the range or as part of your EDC setup, you’ll remove the possibility of forgetting about a prohibited item in a rarely used pocket of a backpack or bag.
If keeping a sterile set of bags for air travel isn’t something you’re able to do, make sure you completely empty and inspect each bag you plan to travel with before you start packing for your trip. Following these simple guidelines can help you avoid making a mistake that lands you in hot water or even on the "no fly" list.
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