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.
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