Flying With a Gun: The Basics

photo from SouthBendTribune.com

With stricter airport security over the past 14 years or so, many gun owners don't want to go through the bother of flying with their firearm or are uncertain of the rules for doing so. But there are hunting trips to go on, and competitions to enter, and rendezvous with old friends to make that wouldn't be complete without some shooting—and who wants to use their buddy's "old gun."

The fact is, you are allowed to travel with your gun, provided you follow the Transportation Security Administration's rules, of course.

According to this story posted by the South Bend Tribune, the TSA discovered 2,212 firearms at U.S. airport checkpoints last year. That's a record. And according to Mark Howell, a regional TSA spokesperson, in 99.9 percent of the cases there was no harm intended, travelers just didn't follow the rules.

"A common misconception is that we don't allow firearms at all," Howell said. "We don't want to infringe on anyone's right to take a firearm. We just want to make sure they do it properly."

Here's what you have to do when flying with a firearm:

  • The gun must be unloaded and packed in a locked, hard-sided gun case. Don't cheap out on the case; it will be worth it in the long run.

  • The detachable magazine, if the gun has one, must be removed and placed separately in the locked case.

  • Ammunition must remain in the original packaging or be placed in a cardboard, wood, or metal box. Small arms ammo smaller than .75 caliber for a rifle or pistol, and any shotgun shell, can be packed inside the firearms case. Anything bigger has to be locked in a separate case.

  • You must declare the gun at the airline ticket counter and check it with other checked luggage. When you do this, TSA agents will examine the gun and you will fill out a declaration form. It's the same process if the weapon is a handgun, rifle, air gun, or a knife. If the gun case is too large to fit in luggage, be sure to ask what the airline's retrieval process is at your destination, since firearms don't get put on the luggage carousel with everything else when they're packed on their own.

That last one's really important. Don't forget and take your gun to the security checkpoint, because that's when things can get sticky.

"Then it can become a criminal issue. That depends on the local law," Howell said. When TSA agents discover an unchecked or undeclared gun, they call local law enforcement, who can issue a citation or even arrest the offender. In any case, the TSA will give a civil penalty, which can be as high as $7,500 for a first offense, according to the story.

Remember, every airline has its own rules, so be sure to check the company's website before you get to the airport so you can be prepared.