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By Richard Douglas

Traveling? Moving? Just passing through?

If you aren’t accustomed to carrying firearms, this can be scary. Every state has different laws, and you can’t stay current on all of them. Let’s talk about how to travel with your firearms safely and legally.

Nothing here is meant as legal advice. This is simply a collection of information available at the time of this writing and is always subject to change.

Interstate transport of firearms in the US is not heavily regulated, and there are protections in place for legal owners to move their weapons across state lines for legal purposes.

The inadequately respected Second Amendment is the foundation of your right to travel with firearms. More clearly, 18 U.S. Code § 926A: ‘Interstate transportation of firearms’ protects someone passing through even states which would not otherwise allow you to possess them, so long as your possession is legal in your destination. (Some states like New Jersey are extremely strict even about meal stops so it is best to plan no stops there at all.)

Concealed Carry Reciprocity

If you plan on traveling with handguns, your concealed carry permit can simplify things. Even if your home state allows permitless carry, it can be useful to have one when in states that reciprocate.

A handgun can remain loaded while carried in those states. Otherwise, its ammunition must be packed separately.

Check out state-to-state reciprocity maps like these that will give you the current run down on carrying in other states, what protections you have and what precautions to take.

Avoid Trouble On the Road

Familiarize yourself with state and local laws where you will be traveling and for your destination. Once you have completed your trip, these are the regulations that you must abide by.

When transporting a firearm (except when carrying legally concealed under state law), it should be unloaded and locked in a case, and as inaccessible to the driver or passengers as possible. If you carry ammunition, it must be in a separate locked compartment. Even a portable gun safe doesn’t allow you to keep the firearm and the weapon together.

The more layers of distance these are from you, the better. In the trunk (or a locked box in a pickup bed) is ideal; in the interior cargo area of an SUV or an open bed pickup is acceptable.

If you can, make the trip without ammunition. It can be simpler just to buy it when you arrive. Ammunition, like guns, isn’t allowed in carry-on luggage on commercial aircraft (it must be checked in a locked container separate from the firearm[s]).

For me, a locked ammo can with ammunition and my normal firearm case, also locked, work well.

The important takeaway is that the ammo and the firearm must be separated, and in general both should be inaccessible.

Different Strokes for Different States

Some localities have their own special restrictions. For more on this, the NRA website on state gun laws has up-to-date information. Here are some gems:

  • Hawaii requires all firearms entering the state to be registered
  • New Jersey has very strict rules for firearm transport; avoid that state if possible.
  • New York state permits are void in New York City; be very cautious.

Each state has its own regulations about where you may or may not carry, how firearms must be secured in a vehicle, and whether you are required to notify officers during a routine traffic stop that you are carrying a weapon.

Study other states’ laws carefully before traveling, just as you studied your own state’s to obtain your permit. Your state’s rules don’t apply once you leave it.

Flying With Guns

Traveling with firearms by air may seem intimidating, but it is actually pretty straightforward.

Ensure that your firearm is unloaded. Check all your baggage for loose ammunition, as that is strictly prohibited.

The firearm must be locked in a hard case of some sort. I’m not talking about a TSA lock here, but a good secure lock, for which only you have the key or combination.

PLANO field locker pistol case TSA
Courtesy Amazon

The firearm must be declared and checked in. That means, tell the person at the check-in counter that you are traveling with a firearm (not “I’ve got a gun!”) and where it is. Occasionally, TSA may pull you aside and ask you to open the case so they can verify the contents. Comply happily, but be sure to lock the case and your bag before you leave it. Obviously, plan to show up early.

Stay alert. Rarely, someone will come looking for you regarding your firearm(s), so listen for your name and keep your key with you at all times. If the bag requires another inspection, and they can’t find you, it doesn’t fly.

Double-check your airline’s specific regulations before you fly. Rules can change.

In Conclusion

It’s good practice when making travel plans to check what rules may have changed on your route and means of travel. There are some very good websites that will tell you more: TSA’s is here, USCCA’s is here, NRA’s is here. For example, the USCCA site makes recommendations for a number of documents to bring along. When in doubt, though, contact a lawyer and/or law enforcement agency in the locality in question for specific information.

There are far too many details about traveling with firearms to cover in one article, but these are the basics of how to proceed safely and legally.

 

Richard Douglas founded Scopes Field, reviewing different scopes and guns on the market. He’s a strong 2nd Amendment advocate and believes in science-backed gun solutions to our nation’s biggest problems.

This article originally appeared at drgo.us and is reprinted here with permission. 

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58 COMMENTS

  1. I rarely fly any longer- don’t like minimum wage people feeling me up. I did fly to Tucson last Sept for the NRA Annual Meeting and took my Sig 365. The airline specified “TSA-Approved” locks for the pistol cases- really a piece of crap, but about 4 for $10 at Walmart. I say real POS because my brother lost his key and it took about 15 seconds with a really bad pair of pliers to break the lock. Good thing they were 4 for $10- had some spares. Otherwise, as in the past, NBD to fly with a handgun.

    Contrast today with 1970- then I flew with a shotgun in a regular canvas case and had to carry it through the Minneapolis/St Paul Airport myself- baggage handlers didn’t want to be responsible. I’d also carried it onboard myself from Moline. Didn’t even raise any eyebrows then.

    • Your comments about TSA approved locks is confusing to me. When I fly with a firearm I have it in a Pelican case and lock it with 2 titanium locks and I keep the key around my neck. Do NOT use the TSA locks on any case with a firearm! NO ONE (including TSA) should have access to your firearm.

      I am not flying these days because I don’t mask. But when I did fly, it was no problem checking my pelican with firearms.

      • TSA can access your firearm anytime they want, either by key or bolt cutters. TSA locks are legal so why would that be a problem as most cases are plastic and easily defeated.

        • Originally the advice was not to use TSA locks because the law specifies only you can have access. Lately the TSA has clarified that TSA locks are OK, because like you said they’re gonna do what they want anyway.

      • Carrier, Craig said “The airline specified “TSA-Approved” locks ” I ran into the same thing several times over the last 8 years or so. I don’t remember which airlines specify that, but some do. Many of the “airline approved” mini gun safes sold at big box sporting goods stores have TSA approved locks built in. The one I have used for many years does.

        In the article “Occasionally, TSA may pull you aside and ask you to open the case so they can verify the contents.” My wife and I have had this happen several times. Most recently, flying back from San Antonio Texas to Philadelphia PA in December 2019. At the San Antonio airport we were taken to a security room. Our checked bag was opened, swabbed for explosives, and gone through extensively. He also used some long device to go over parts of the bag. When I asked what it was he said it was an explosive detector. Not sure if that was real or if he was bullshitting me.

        We typically use a small clear lock N lock container for my spare magazines and ammo when we fly. Several times the TSA monkey picked it up and looked at it then looked at me, and went back to digging through our underwear. It seemed like he didn’t like it, but he never said anything. During all of this he never opened and never asked me to open the small metal pistol safe. After that the bag was taken to the airline and we were sent on to security where I was felt up.

        I never get through security without some kind of extra attention.

        Try to plan your flights so there are no layovers and limited possibility for emergency landings in communist states. There have been cases of people flying out of and too gun friendly places that have landed in NJ or NYC and been handed over to police and charged with crimes for their checked guns.

        When traveling by car I have always used handgunlaw.us to figure out the routes and legal obligations and requirements along the way. Big things to look out for no matter which source you use are reciprocity with your own state, duty to inform, and the rules for restaurants and bars. Coming from PA, where the places you cannot carry are very limited and there is no duty to inform, and going to Texas, where they are much more restricted as far as places that you cannot carry, and you have a very clear positive duty to inform meant that I really needed to keep all that in mind.

        In 2014 We drove back from Texas to PA and I OCed the entire time, except for a brief run through a corner of MD where I complied with FOPA requirements. I had checked the route out thoroughly and made sure it went through all states with PA reciprocity and legal OC. We stopped as soon as we crossed into PA and I went right back to OC for the remainder of the drive home.

        Funny story from that trip. We stopped in an Olive Garden in Louisiana for dinner the first night. We had been on the road a long time and I was not sure of our exact location. So I asked the waitress “Where are we?” She looked funny, and said “Olive Garden”. I said “No, I mean where in Louisiana? We’ve been driving all day and I am not sure what town this is.” We all had a good laugh.

        • San Antonio is notorious for over-inspecting. They take you into a back hallway and make you wait for the inspector to show up, have you open the case, and then sit there while the inspector goes through it visually and with a sniffer. What he’s looking for is not explained. If you ask questions, he ignores you and seems to take even longer. This doesn’t happen in any other airport I’ve been through, even in gun-hater states.

      • TSA locks used to be at least expressly discouraged if not forbidden, but the TSA has backed off that, just as long as you can’t get at the firearm(s) with the latches unlatched but with the locks on. I wouldn’t recommend them but YMMV.

        • But here’s the thing, TSA didn’t write the code of Federal regulations. The TSA website doesn’t recite Federal law, only TSA policy. To obey Federal law, you have to adhere to the CFR which states that only the passenger has access to the firearm. Some airports comply by having the passenger open the case where many others violate the regulations by taking the key away or cutting locks.

        • No- here’s the thing: if you want to fly you follow the carrier’s instructions. They are a private, not government business. Complain all you want, you’ll just get in deeper and you will not get much help for your obstinance or stupidity.

        • Craig in IA:

          Air carriers certainly can be more restrictive than the TSA and often are. A good example is loaded magazines. The TSA allows them but only three domestic carriers do (that I know of).

          That said, air carriers do not deviate from the TSA when it comes to locks or cases. The TSA sets the standards and the carriers go by that.

    • Firearms must be unloaded and locked in a hard-sided container and transported as checked baggage only. As defined by 49 CFR 1540.5 a loaded firearm has a live round of ammunition, or any component thereof, in the chamber or cylinder or in a magazine inserted in the firearm. Only the passenger should retain the key or combination to the lock unless TSA personnel request the key to open the firearm container to ensure compliance with TSA regulations. You may use any brand or type of lock to secure your firearm case, including TSA-recognized locks.

      Ammunition

      Ammunition is prohibited in carry-on baggage, but may be transported in checked baggage.

      Firearm magazines and ammunition clips, whether loaded or empty, must be securely boxed or included within a hard-sided case containing an unloaded firearm. Read the requirements governing the transport of ammunition in checked baggage as defined by 49 CFR 175.10 (a)(8).

      Small arms ammunition (up to .75 caliber and shotgun shells of any gauge) must be packaged in a fiber (such as cardboard), wood, plastic, or metal box specifically designed to carry ammunition and declared to your airline.

      Ammunition may be transported in the same hard-sided, locked case as a firearm if it has been packed as described above. You cannot use firearm magazines or clips for packing ammunition unless they completely enclose the ammunition. Firearm magazines and ammunition clips, whether loaded or empty, must be boxed or included within a hard-sided, locked case

      https://www.tsa.gov/travel/transporting-firearms-and-ammunition#:~:text=You%20may%20transport%20unloaded%20firearms,easily%20opened%20are%20not%20permitted.

      vs.

      49CFR: Transportation
      PART 1540—CIVIL AVIATION SECURITY: GENERAL RULES
      §1540.111 Carriage of weapons, explosives, and incendiaries by individuals.
      (c) In checked baggage. A passenger may not transport or offer for transport in checked baggage or in baggage carried in an inaccessible cargo hold under §1562.23 of this chapter:
      (1) Any loaded firearm(s).
      (2) Any unloaded firearm(s) unless—
      (i) The passenger declares to the aircraft operator, either orally or in writing, before checking the baggage, that the passenger has a firearm in his or her bag and that it is unloaded;
      (ii) The firearm is unloaded;
      (iii) The firearm is carried in a hard-sided container; and
      (iv) The container in which it is carried is locked, and only the passenger retains the key or combination.

      49 CFR § 1544.203 – Acceptance and screening of checked baggage.

      (f) Firearms in checked baggage. No aircraft operator may knowingly permit any person to transport in checked baggage:

      (1) Any loaded firearm(s).

      (2) Any unloaded firearm(s) unless –

      (i) The passenger declares to the aircraft operator, either orally or in writing before checking the baggage that any firearm carried in the baggage is unloaded;

      (ii) The firearm is carried in a hard-sided container;

      (iii) The container in which it is carried is locked, and only the individual checking the baggage retains the key or combination; and

      (iv) The checked baggage containing the firearm is carried in an area that is inaccessible to passengers, and is not carried in the flightcrew compartment,.

    • “… I did fly to Tucson last Sept for the NRA Annual Meeting and took my Sig 365. The airline specified “TSA-Approved” locks for the pistol cases … “

      Craig in IA, where you told that, if I may ask? I’ve never seen it on any airline’s website concerning firearms/ammunition policy, so I would guess the counter personnel told you this?

      I was encouraged by a few counter agents when I checked my firearms that I should use TSA locks (before the TSA changed their policy about those locks) but I was never refused for not doing so. Airline counter folks often just don’t know (a) their own policies, let alone (b) TSA regulations. I have found it beneficial to have current, printed web pages from both in the gun cases to use as references. Most often I’ve used them to correct counter personnel about ammunition storage.

      If it helps I am a professional pilot who flies small aircraft for a private company and frequently fly by airline, most often with checked firearms.

  2. Why deal with chances of encountering a I knowledgeable airline rep and having trip ruined or delayed or gun getting “Lost” in baggage?
    Ship unloaded gun to your Hotel 2nd day air. Pack mags and ammo in luggage. Ship gun back home upon departure. I started doing this years ago when LE instructor who teaches across the US told me about it.

    • Highly illegal to mail a firearm across state lines to anyone other than an FFL, with some exceptions solely for repairs. I’m not saying yours is a bad idea and I definitely agree with you about the risk of your weapon being “lost” by the airlines, but be careful about what you admit to in a public forum

      • Eric (above) is correct. You can ship over state lines from yourself to yourself. Hunters do this all the time. I’ve done it…

        • You cannot, however, us the Post Office to ship a gun of the hand (“Witness”). You need to use FedEx or such.

          I prefer FedEx as the folks in the office seem to understand their rules better than the UPS folks understand _their_ rules (at least where I live).

  3. Nice timely article. Well, the advise about ammo is a little dated. If you don’t have it with you, you not likely to get it at your destination. When I do Ammoseek.com for 6mm ARC it doesn’t even let you search, just says nothing available.

  4. When I travel by air i remove the slide from the pistol in the lock box. LOL the only place I had problems was Ft Lauderdale, Hollywood airport. This is …giggle Boward county…ya know the competence of Barney Fife with the organization of the Three Stoogies….so I arrive…they make me go to a special place where your bag is wrapped in TWO large white bands clearly marking it as a GUN IN BAG

      • It does indeed sound like Delta. They started doing that after the Orlando airport mass public shooting.

        Funny story. I just flew Delta from Augusta to Nashville. There was a baggage employee at the turntable so I asked her if Delta was going to deliver my bag to the BSO (baggage security office, which was closed at the time) or if it was going to be given to her. She said she’d receive it and to wait nearby. Once she got it she proceeded to use zip ties to try to secure my soft-sided luggage’s zippers. My Glock was in a hard-sided pistol case inside of that. After she got one on she asked if there were any other zippers that accessed the interior of the bag. I produced the paramedic shears that I always carry, including in my carry-ons, and told her I could save her the trouble as I would be removing them as soon as she released the bag to me.

        She was highly unamused and a vigorous debate ensued.

    • If that had happened to me, I’d seriously consider exiting the airport property, finding 2 boxes, and mailing my gun back home to myself in two separate boxes …

      • I had a friend who was traveling from Montgomery, Al to Chicago in 2001 before 9/11. He got up during the Atlanta to Chicago leg to get something out of his carry on just to find his pistol in his bag. Security in Montgomery never caught it. He wisely kept his mouth shut and sent it home via UPS as soon as he got to Chicago. He was so paranoid, he drove into Indiana to do it knowing how draconian IL gun law is. I would have given him a lecture about situational awareness and knowing where one’s firearm is all the time, but it was totally unnecessary.

    • In the end, the police did drop the charges.

      The suit you mention is actually this individual suing New Jersey and New York because of the false arrest and inconvenience.

      The supremes said no go, he could not sue, petition denied.

  5. I just stay home and clean my guns one more time.

    I used to travel through Maryland quite a bit and never stopped for gas, food or even piss breaks. Once u was pulled over for speeding and had a trunk full of guns and ammo. Probably 4 pistols, AR, two shotguns and a few hundred rounds. Cop just gave me a warning but if he’d opened my trunk it would of been a shit storm. Maryland is a terrible place to bring guns through, plenty of stories about guns being taken and going to court to get them back. Doesn’t matter where you are from or going to.

    Keep your head on a swivel and don’t consent to a search. Make sure it’s all out of sight. If you have a permit they may find out about it when they run you , there was a case in Baltimore involving a Florida resident a few years ago. Take the bolts out and slides off. I have little brass padlocks I lock all.the cases with so any opening requires them to break the locks. They need a search warrant for that.

    Others can chime in about their experiences but I’ve driven guns through MD many times and stick to what works for me.

    • MD state police are notorious for running out of state plates and if the person ahs a carry license/permit then they pull them over for a fishing expedition.

  6. Even a portable gun safe doesn’t allow you to keep the firearm and the weapon together.

    Surely you mean ‘the firearm and the ammunition…?

    If you can, make the trip without ammunition. It can be simpler just to buy it when you arrive.

    I can tell this article was written some time ago.

  7. If you carry ammunition, it must be in a separate locked compartment. Even a portable gun safe doesn’t allow you to keep the firearm and the weapon together.
    Ahem. I’d love to see a citation that supports this. I live in California and I can tell you that here it just ain’t so. There is no requirement that ammo and firearms be kept separate, only that the ammo must not be loaded into the firearm. Even when flying your ammo can be in the same locked container as your firearm.
    All that is required is that the firearm not be loaded. It used to be that TSA did not allow you to fly with loaded mags, but that the ammo had to be in an approved container like the original box it came in, but I understand that they finally came to the conclusion that bullets are just as safe if not safer in a magazine than in a paper box.
    P.S.: Not an expert. I haven’t flown in years, and never with a firearm. When I did fly, it was to places like New Jersey, New York and Maryland. There was no way I was going to take a firearm with me to any of those spots.

    • Read the rest of my experience way above, but as for ammo, it was in the factory box (Critical Defense 9mm) in the same checked luggage as the locked handgun as specified by the airline. BTW- I’ll take this sort of transport of my EDC over mailing it to myself at some hotel/resort a few days prior to departing. Makes no sense.

    • That’s almost exactly what I was going to say. You do NOT need to keep the ammo in a container that’s separate from the firearm while flying; it CAN be in the same container as the firearm. Separate containers have never been a requirement in all the years I’ve been flying. And now, finally, the TSA rules explicitly mention that one may carry ammo in the magazines, but I would still advise that one print out and carry a copy the TSA rules while traveling, because I have encountered more than a few of the TSA “crack squad” (something more like a squad on crack) that are woefully ignorant of the regulations they are trying to enforce. Even after asking for a supervisor, it sometimes took quite a bit of persistence to get them to comply with their own rules. Of course, they rarely admitted that they were wrong, rather, they acted like they are doing you a favor by “allowing” you to carry the ammo and firearm in the same case.

      They are getting much better nowadays, but I still would recommend getting to the airport very early, just in case.

    • I’d also like to see a citation that says that ammunition and firearms must be kept in separate containers. I wasn’t aware that ammunition need to be locked up, for that matter. This issue seems to generate a lot of contradictory information.

  8. I’ve not had much luck flying with gunms no matter how much I flap them, they work good if you want to play submarine though.

    • The Possums have seen have stubby little legs, how in the hell can they flap them fast enough to fly? 🙂

      Just scurrying out of the way of an F-150 looks hard enough as it is…

      • Buzzards piss me off. F150’s not so much, I can usually hear them rattling down the road long before I see the headlights. Most possums get run over because they dont have situational awareness.

        • I once saw a possum pancake and a buzzard pancake side by side with a shred of coon carcass at a curve in the road. It was clear to me that one of them got whacked while going for the coon hide, but it was not clear which critter got plastered going after the others. Kinda pathetic scene, either way you slice it.

  9. Good rundown for the most part, but I’d add that certain states refuse to honor FOPA, and the New York State Police even announced that if you travel through their state with a firearm or accessory that is illegal there, you WILL be arrested and charged, and even if/when you’re acquitted, good luck getting any of it back. Avoid anti gun states, and if you absolutely cannot then practice extreme opsec. Don’t tell any cops, admit to nothing, and don’t consent to a search. Far too many honest people have made a good faith effort to follow every law and be open, and have gotten jammed up BADLY for if

    • If they ask you to step out lock the car behind you. They won’t like it but that measns they need a dog to fake a drug hit to establish PC or get a search warrant. If open they just start opening doors at will.

  10. Only time I fly is out of the country to Costa Rica and you don’t take firearms there. Period. Also don’t travel to or thru communist inspired states who don’t recognize 2nd A Rights of reciprocity. They have nothing worthwhile to offer. Many years ago I had a friend who lived in Illinoistan. He owned a farm and invited me to come over and do some target shooting. Knowing how Anal the Gestapo over there was about firearms I called the local sheriff to get the proper procedure for transporting firearms and ammo there. To say the very least it was a frustrating and yet comical conversation. After explaining the situation, the first words out of his mouth in regards to my question was. Why do you want to bring a firearm into Illinoistan. Again I explained to situation and requested the necessary info. His response was, Why would you want to bring a firearm into Illinoistan. Seeing I was not going to get a straight answer I thanked him for his time and called the Illinoisan’s Attorney Generals office in Springfield where after being transferred 2 times I finally got a Human who could and did address my questions. As it turned out the whole adventure while frustrating and comical was all for not. I got a case of common sense and decided as my father told me years prior. Nothing good comes from that side of the river and it’s best to stay out of there if at all possible. Sage advise was never spoken more succinctly. Keep Your Powder Dry.

  11. REALLY TRUE LOTS THINK ABOUT LEAVING YOUR STATE WITH WEAPONS AND AMMO .
    I READ LOT ON USCCA , AS HAVE MEMBERSHIP WITH THEM .
    ALWAYS , THANKS FOR INFOR .

  12. “At the San Antonio airport we were taken to a security room. Our checked bag was opened, swabbed for explosives, and gone through extensively. He also used some long device to go over parts of the bag. When I asked what it was he said it was an explosive detector. Not sure if that was real or if he was bullshitting me.”

    San Antonio TSA only do this invasive search on carriers of firearms, nobody else is subjected to this inspection. IF you fly through SA, your firearm / ammo should be the only thing in the case because if you have clothes, other luggage in there, TSA goons will rifle through everything, including pockets, etc. and they’re not very good at folding clothes.

    This is a problem that needs to be corrected at S/A.

    One thing you can do to avoid hassles on the way to the plane, accompany your bag to the TSA screening station and wait for them to scan the bag. They’ll either ask you to open it or give you the thumbs up and you’re on your way. This goes a long way toward preventing locks getting whacked and you paged over the intercom.

    I didn’t see this covered, but, since the airport shooting a few years ago, some airlines have begun tagging firearm luggage “BSO” or baggage security office; this is the new “FIREARM” identifier but it doesn’t violate the law because it doesn’t say firearm. But, if you see BSO on the bag, there’s a gun in there or ammo or both.

  13. While we’re on the subject… any recommendations for as small as possible lock boxes (Ruger LCR, P320)? I travel mostly by motorcycle so space is at a premium. I avoid non-reciprocal states if at all possible, but on some occasions there’s an unavoidable half a mile in Illinois and I don’t feel like taking the chance with the fascists.

  14. Another thing to consider is traveling with cash. Thanks to Civil Forfeiture, the police can confiscate your cash without charging you with a crime.

    I haven’t flown since I left the Army in 1991 and I don’t ever plan on flying again. I am planning on moving from Illinois to Missouri. So once I cross the Mississippi, I’ll be safely back in America.

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