By Dr. Peter Steinmetz
On a recent family vacation from Phoenix to Chicago and Minneapolis I decided to carry my sidearm, a .45 SIG SAUER 1911, as much as legally possible. I knew from the outset this was likely to be difficult, but as an open-carry advocate, I decided to educate myself and accept this challenge . . .
Many readers will be familiar with the federal McClure-Volkmer Act permitting transport of a firearm when passing through a state. Unfortunately, this act only applies to transportation on the highways in a continuous trip. As recently demonstrated with the arrests of Shaneen Allen and Brian Fletcher, this is subject to considerable variability of interpretation.
In my case, our itinerary took us by car to Flagstaff, Arizona, then by Amtrak train through New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa and into Illinois, staying for a day in that bastion of gun control, Chicago. After a day visiting, we would continue by train though Wisconsin to Minnesota. After a five-day stay, we would return by airplane to Phoenix.
As a native Minnesotan, I have obtained a pistol carry permit in Minnesota for extended visits, so knew that I would be able to carry there. The trip to Flagstaff from Phoenix would of course be no problem, as Arizona is a constitutional carry state, requiring no permit for open or concealed carry by citizens who are not prohibited from possessing a firearm under federal law.
One of the times on this trip when I was glad to have my pistol actually occurred in the motel in Flagstaff before boarding the Amtrak Southwest Chief the next morning. At 3:00 AM two drunks began a physical altercation right outside our window at the Knights Inn. Fortunately it didn’t escalate and come smashing through our window, so a quick call to the police allowed them to detain the individuals involved. Back to sleep for a few hours and then on to the train (which at that point was only 3 1/2 hours late).
Courts have ruled that travel on common carriers is not covered by McClure-Volkmer act, but is instead governed by Amtrak policies. Unfortunately Amtrak has chosen to disarm everyone on their trains and all firearms must be in locked containers and checked in baggage with special control numbers. You must call more than 48 hours in advance to obtain these control numbers. There are no metal detectors at Amtrak stations and normally none of the minions of the TSA, so I don’t know how anyone would know if you had a loaded firearm in your carry-on or checked baggage (or on your hip), but I was going to make this trip in a strictly legal fashion.
Arriving in Illinois with a firearm was definitely the trickiest part of the journey. There is a confusing set of laws governing firearm carriage in Illinois when traveling. If traveling in a car, the federal law applies in principle. There is a separate Illinois law which should permit carriage of a firearm unloaded in the trunk with ammunition separated, but this appears to apply only to transportation by automobile.
For my trip, this definitely did not apply as I was arriving by train and staying for 1 1/2 days. On first blush it would only appear legal to convey a firearm by obtaining an Illinois permit, though these are nearly impossible for non-residents to obtain.
Given all this, several of my friends frankly told me they feared I would be arrested no matter how hard I tried to comply with the law. A check of the very useful reference, “Traveler’s Guide to the Firearm Laws of the Fifty States”, didn’t clear this up as it is a concise reference for all 50 states. I finally had to search Illinois statutes and found 720 ILCS 5/24-1 Sec. 24-1 (a)(10), which states that these restrictions would not apply provided that the firearm was unloaded and disassembled. Thus my pistol was disassembled, with the barrel carried in a separate checked bag from Flagstaff all the way to Minnesota.
Once off the train in Minnesota I was able to re-assemble my pistol and reload it. Open carriage of a 1911 around the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul does produce some curious looks and the occasional comment. People there just aren’t as used to open carry as they are in Arizona.
Mostly people ask if you are law enforcement. This produced several friendly conversations about being a lawfully armed citizen and needing to have a permit versus being in a constitutional carry state. The other time I was glad to have my pistol was when we went looking for some excellent Mexican food at Las Manyanas in the near east side of St. Paul. It’s definitely a rougher neighborhood with some not-so-savory characters on the street, though no problems developed.
The plane trip from Minneapolis to Phoenix should have followed the normal rules for airlines flights in the US. You need to have the firearm unloaded and in a hard-sided locked case to which only you have key. The ammunition must be in a separate hard sided container.
I carried my pistol into the airport and up to the checkpoint. When I unloaded and packed the pistol into its case and placed the case into the baggage, this caused some discomfort for the Delta Airlines employees who then called the police. The officer checked that my Minnesota permit was valid and seemed sympathetic with my view that the place I would most likely need my pistol was probably the airport, given that it’s crowded and almost everyone there is disarmed.
Despite my having a TSA redress number, either the airline or the TSA marked my boarding pass with the “SSSS” mark for additional screening. This considerably delayed our boarding. I’ve seen this many times before so had arrived with plenty of time for all their searches.
Normally one can unpack and carry a pistol at Phoenix Sky Harbor airport. Unfortunately, I can’t do that until November 2016 due to my prior arrangements with the Maricopa County prosecutor. So I waited until I was off airport property to become, once again, a legally armed citizen in Arizona.
As should be clear to readers by now, travelling with a firearm is still way too much of a hassle. While national carry permit reciprocity would be a large step in the right direction, it’s important to remember that there is no clear evidence that any of these restrictions on peaceful armed citizens deter crime. Victim disarmament zones are in fact where the majority of recent mass killings have occurred.
The TSA, despite screening over 9.2 billion passengers over the last 14 years, has never deterred a single terrorist attack. To return to being the land of the free, we need to eliminate all of these restrictions on our natural rights, including our Second Amendment rights to keep and bear arms. One important manner of working to free ourselves is to openly carry arms, both to help educate the public and to remind those in the government of our freedoms.