Flying With Firearms By Abner Miranda
I have to travel with firearms on a regular basis, and from time to time I have to contend with a TSA agent that figures they’ll just make things up as they go alone. This used to make for very confused moments until I learned the rules and memorized them cold!
Over the years I’ve gone up against a couple of TSA agents that were power hungry simpletons. I prevailed by using a calm tone of voice, and quoting TSA regs to settle the argument. There is great power in asking for a supervisor, in a controlled voice, and standing your ground. There is even greater power in handing your tablet to said supervisor and asking them to read the regulations from their own website. Folks, this works, I’ve done it. The key is that you must know the regulations, by heart, and you mustn’t waver from them. Please also remember that the vast majority of TSA agents truly are good people who are trying to fulfill a tough mandate, and deserve to be talked with, not talked at.
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Fortunately, the rules of traveling with firearms are few and very simple to understand. I’m going to break this down for you and show you where people get mixed up between the TSA regs and their Airline’s regs. Keep in mind that the airline regs are sometimes more heavy-handed than TSA regs. But ultimately federal law supersedes everyone’s rules, regs, and most importantly - opinions.
You may transport unloaded firearms in a locked hard-sided container as checked baggage only. Declare the firearm and/or ammunition to the airline when checking your bag at the ticket counter. The container must completely secure the firearm 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.
In a nutshell, what these TSA regs mean is that your best bet is to invest in a small pelican case for your pistol. Lock the pistol into the case, and drop it into your luggage along with the “Firearm(s) Unloaded Declaration” tag. The more inclusive way to do this is to buy a larger Pelican case that can double as a firearms case, and a piece of luggage. Keep in mind that you sacrifice weight capacity this way, however, if you travel light you’re golden. If this is the way you’re going to go then all you have to worry about is making sure your weapons are unloaded and being sure that the declaration tag is readily accessible should the TSA feel the need to get into your luggage. Yes they have, and yes they do. It’s life, get over it. When I’m traveling with my small Pelican case as a piece of luggage, I insert my pistols into their holsters, drop them into the Pelican case, and place my ammo, and unloaded mags, into a separate container that also fits into the pelican case.
The transportation of firearms is actually easy to understand. The transportation of the ammo is a bit trickier. The TSA regs are mirrored by most airlines. This is them in a nutshell.
(8) Small arms ammunition for personal use carried by a crewmember or passenger in checked baggage only, if securely packed in boxes or other packagings specifically designed to carry small amounts of ammunition. Ammunition clips and magazines must also be securely boxed. This paragraph does not apply to persons traveling under the provisions of 49 CFR 1544.219.
My airline further adds their own caveat to that by stating:
“In the original packaging from the manufacturer or in packaging specifically designed to carry small amounts of ammunition (made of fiber, wood or metal). Ammunition is not accepted in magazines or clips.
Simply put, you can’t have loose ammo banging around, nor can you have loaded mags. I transport my Glock 17, 1 Glock 17 round mag, 3 Magpul PMAG 21 GL9 mags, a Maglula, and 80 rounds of ammo in a Pelican iPad case with two padlocks. I pack the ammo in a Lowepro 10 Newport camera case because it’s small and well built. I then fold my DOS Holster into my jeans to keep it from banging around in my luggage. It’s a simple way to travel with a self defense pistol that removes all the drama from the check in process.
Here’s the flip side of the coin; if you go places where guns aren’t welcome, you might just consider not having a gun with you at all. Yeah I bet that was a huge “WHAT?” for some of you. Ok, let me break this down for you. When I happen to fly to either a state, or a trade-show venue that’s really strict on weapons possession I don’t bring a gun. I do, however, bring my Bravo Concealment DOS holster, four unloaded mags, and my TDI/Hinderer “Hell Fire” Knife. I do this just in case something ugly occurs, on a national level, that locks down air travel. If I have to get back home, by ground travel, I can always procure a Glock in any number of ways - and now I have a holster for it, don’t I? I know that this seems odd to some, but, keep in mind that, in a pinch, you can usually get your hands on a gun and ammo, and that’s the beauty of the freedoms that we enjoy in America. Let’s be sure to keep it that way shan’t we?
As always, God bless you all, get those guns out and practice. Have a good one!
~Abner Miranda is a former Police Officer, an FBI trained Hostage Negotiator, a First Responder, and Spanish Interpreter. He is currently a Firearms Instructor, an Armorer, and a regular contributor to our industry of both written and digital media. You can see more of Abner’s work on his YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/daddycop3
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The copy I have from TSA says that Ammo can be stored in the magazines., do this has changed?
But I noticed that Alligent says NO.
Some additional precautions I take when flying with firearms and in the case of these additional precautions, handguns. First, I print out the TSA regulations (current) from the website and highlight the sections that dictate whatever protocol is current. I keep a copy of that in the firearm case and another copy on my person. I print out the airlines regulations regarding the transportation of the firearm and do the same with the two copies. And yes, I have had to pull out the airline regulations before when I declared my firearm. I don’t get cocky or confrontational if they tell me I am not following a policy, I just pull the highlighted printed copy out out and say, “I read this on your airlines website. Here is a copy of what your airline says I need to do. Did I miss something here? Please help me out.” In one case the gate agent checking me in, read the copy and said, “Hold on let me get a supervisor.” She returned with them and they both read the information and then she said, “You are right. This is our policy. No problem.” In this instance the issue was having the ammunition in a separate case from the firearm. Yes there are some airlines that require that. So in that instance I had two cases locked inside my luggage, one for the firearm and one for the ammunition. Be sure you read the airline’s policy as well as TSAs. Carry a copy of the regs, as ‘seeing is believing’ for most people.The dedicated suitcase I take when transporting firearms is a hard-sided one, with no zipper closure. Be careful as some newer hard-sided cases have a zipper closure. You want the old school aluminum frame lock up on your suitcase. Samsonite still makes one to fit the bill, the Samsonite Cruisair DLX Hardside Spinner series. Of course you can get an all-metal suitcase, but you will pay oversized luggage fees for that. The Samsonite is hard sided but made from a lighter weight polycarbonate construction with the all-important aluminum frame.
You also want one in RED, as this suitcase is much easier to spot, and much less likely to go missing than a black one. I then drill two holes and using security fasteners to mount an INSIDE metal handle along the aluminum frame channel. This allows me a place to cable lock the separate handgun case to the installed metal handle INSIDE the hard-sided luggage. What you are doing is trying to make anyone who might be inside your luggage (aka a dishonest employee) realize that it is going to take extra time to remove (take or even inspect) your gun case. Inside the handgun case I place a GPS tracking device. The handgun case I use is as suggested in Abner’s article, but I drill a little bit larger holes to allow for the use two (2) ‘American Lock’ Series 6200s. I learned this from a friend of mine who works at Applied Ballistics and flies a-lot with firearms. These are the same locks used by the US military. Finally I sit over the luggage bay on the right side of the plane in a window seat, and select priority one boarding. This allows me to view the luggage being loaded both on and off the plane. You will see your red suitcase stick out like a sore thumb. Yes, all of these precautions can be defeated, but the goal is to make them think, “This is unusual and I might get caught trying to steal this one.” Once that thought gets in their head, mission accomplished.
I work for the American Airlines you can fly with your gun it has to be in a secure lock box no ammo in the clips or magazines the ammo has to be in the original packaging or in a certified ammo case you can travel with up to 11 pounds of ammo it has to be checked in at the ticket counter so it can fly underneath the plane in the cargo hold you have to declare it for it to fly
This is the most accurate post I’ve read on the topic of flying armed. As an LEO, when ever I travel in the US, my Glock is always in my checked luggage. Always keep in mind the state you are traveling to. In my experience, Las Vegas isn’t very LE friendly in many of their establishments as they almost all don’t allow you to carry inside. It doesn’t matter if you’re a badge/credential holding off duty officer/agent or someone with a concealed carry permit, they absolutely won’t allow it. But as Abner said, ain’t nothing wrong with having a nice knife and having holster ready just in case.
Stay safe everyone!
Excellent article. Thank you for sharing this information.