Flying with a Handgun Isn’t As Complicated As It Sounds

Flying with a firearm adds some complication to your travels but it can be done as long as you are traveling where your gun is legal.

Flying with a Handgun Isn't As Complicated As It Sounds

I hate flying. Well, in truth, I don’t mind actually flying on the plane; rather, it is the airport experience that proves a miserable experience. When checking luggage, you can expect to add even further time in lines and in dealing with airline personnel. Travel with a firearm, and you make things even more complex. However, as long as you are flying to locations that honor your rights, you can travel by air and bring a gun along with you, but you need to do it right.

Know The Law in The Vicinities You will Travel

The first order of business, if considering flying with a gun, is to know the law where you are landing, taking off from, and everywhere in between. The state law governs your legality at the airport, and everywhere else you may roam with your firearm. For example, maybe you live in a shall issue state and you have a permit, but you plan to fly out of the neighboring state that does not reciprocate your permit. Checking in your handgun that is perfectly legal in your own state can get you arrested. A lot of good people have run into extensive legal issues through simple ignorance of the law, but ignorance is not seen as an excuse.

Likewise, know the laws governing where you land. You simply do not want to fly with a handgun into restricted states in which you do not have a carry permit that is honored. While you may be flying to a destination, consider your activity once there. Will you be crossing into other states by vehicle? If so, know your legalities in all of your destinations. Once you ensure that you will be legal in all of your destinations and departures, you can proceed with your plan of flying with your handgun.

General Guidelines for Flying with Firearms

Every airline has a unique policy for checking in and transporting firearms. Occasionally, these policies change as well. Therefore, my advice is to verify the most current airline information on this process on the provider’s website before traveling. Also, check the TSA’s website for additional information. Generally, however, the following rules will be in place:

  1. All handguns must be unloaded and packed in checked-in luggage ONLY. You cannot take a firearm to the gate and board a plane with it in carry-on luggage. You will get arrested if you attempt to do so. You must be sure that the handgun is unloaded and in checked baggage when you enter the airport.
  2. The firearm must be declared when checking in your bags. You must let the airline personnel at the desk know that you are declaring a checked firearm.
  3. The firearm needs to be in a case that can be securely locked so that it cannot be pulled open by hand. I have run into issues with this, as having a case that is locked yet the lid can be lifted even slightly can cause a zealous airline employee or TSA member to not allow your gun to be shipped.
  4. Most airlines require that ammunition is packed separately from the gun and that magazines remain unloaded.

Likewise, know the laws regarding the firearm in the airport where you land. In most states, accessing and loading the gun while still in the airport is illegal. The temptation to go to the restroom and arm up before exiting the airport may be understandable as having your defensive firearm at the ready when traveling a strange city makes good sense, but this is not advisable, especially in a state that forbids loaded firearms in the terminal.

Practical Considerations

Some consideration needs to go into the case in which you pack the handgun. Generally, airlines require the use of a hard sided case that can be locked. Be prepared with the key to the lock so that you can open the case so that airline personnel can check the status of the gun, which they are supposed to do at the counter. Some are more particular than others concerning the security and strength of the container, so I suggest investing in a strong box made out of metal. I like those that accept a padlock on each side to thus make it even more robust and immune to malicious access.

When flying to a vicinity where I can legally be armed, I opt to take a handgun even though it makes clearing the airport more complicated. I find that, due to the constraints of flying the gun and supporting gear, I like to keep it simple in my travels. For example, my preferred handgun for traveling by air is a revolver. The reason is that, upon arriving at my first opportune destination to arm up, such as a hotel room, dropping a cylinder full of ammunition into the gun and safely holstering it allows me to arm myself in less time, with less complication and hassle, and also less possibility of a negligent discharge while in a hotel room. A small revolver and a couple of speed strips usually fill my self-defense needs when I need to fly.

While revolvers are not for everyone, you may find that using a stripped down assortment of gear makes packing and transporting your essential items much easier. A smaller gun may serve you better in your travels than a full-size service pistol, simply depending on your anticipated environment and activity. Likewise, keeping your other gear simple will make packing and transport easier. Flying with a handgun will add some time to your airport experience, but it is perfectly manageable and legal as long as you travel to and from destinations that honor your carry permit and right to be armed.

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Salvatore is a firearms instructor, competitive shooter, and life-long practitioner of the concealed carry lifestyle. He strives to serve as a conduit of reliable information for the ever-growing community of armed citizens and concealed carriers. You can contact him at his website Reflex Handgun.
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