Now, more than ever, people want to travel. For firearm owners, traveling by air can be uncertain and stressful. Nothing can ruin a vacation more than an unnecessary run-in with authorities or law enforcement.
But relax - we're here to help with up-to-date information on how to fly with a gun and ammunition.
TSA Rules and Regulations
Let’s begin by covering the TSA’s rules on traveling with firearms in the U.S. to find the hard-and-fast rules that citizens need to abide by.
According to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), guns must be unloaded and stored in a locked, hard-sided container and only stored in checked luggage. The container is to secure the firearm from easily being accessed. The owner of the gun must either have a key or combination to the gun case lock.
You should know that parts of firearms, including firing pins, bolts, clips, and magazines, are prohibited in carry-on luggage according to TSA regulations. Replica firearms, including toys, are also not allowed in carry-on luggage. You will also have to use checked baggage for both replica firearms and firearm parts. The only gun-related item that is permitted in carry-on baggage is a rifle scope.
In addition to guns, ammunition is also not permitted in carry-on luggage. It is essential that both loaded or empty firearm ammunition clips and magazines are boxed securely or inside of a hard case. The firearm must be unloaded.
The ammunition of small arms, such as .75 caliber and shotgun shells of any gauge, have to be placed in fiber like plastic, cardboard, or metal box designed to carry ammunition. It is essential that you declare it to your airline.
Ammunition can be transported in the same hard-sided, locked case as your firearm, but only if you store it appropriately, as mentioned above. You cannot use firearm magazines or clips for packing ammunition unless they enclose the bullets entirely. Whether they are loaded or empty, firearm magazines and ammunition clips have to be boxed or included within the hard-sided locked case you carry your gun in.
The TSA suggests that you check your ammunition limits with the airline you're traveling with. You should also check if there are any fees associated with traveling with your gun in your checked baggage.
Finally, remember to declare each firearm every time you have it transported in your checked luggage. You need to check-in at the counter rather than curbside check-in as that is the only way to declare your firearm and get the form you need for the TSA inspection.
Steps To Take
Now that we’ve covered the TSA’s regulations, let's walk through how to fly with a gun.
When flying with firearms, the first step is to buy a secure case for your firearm. The best cases have foam linings that you can customize to fit your gun - just make sure the foam is rust-friendly if you plan to store it in the gun case for an extended period.
The case should be lockable, as you can see below with our Double Tap 2 case, which allows for external locks.
Make sure you don't cut openings for ammunition since it is illegal in some places to have ammunition packed with your weapon.
Use non-TSA-approved locks for your case. It may seem counter-intuitive, but TSA-approved locks are illegal for use on your firearm case according to 49CFR 1540.111, which governs the transportation of firearms in the United States. TSA officers have a master key that opens approved locks, and the person traveling with the gun is the only one who is supposed to access the firearm in the case.
Your firearms must be unloaded. Pack your ammunition separately in your checked bag or the gun case as long as you have ammunition that is .75 calibers or less. Remember to check your airline for their limits.
What To Do at the Airport
Once you arrive at the airport, you'll want to head to the check-in counter for your airline. You don't want to use curbside check-in because you need to tell the staff that you have a gun to check.
Complete a declaration form and obtain a baggage tag for your gun and any other checked baggage. The TSA inspector will receive your weapon for the next step.
The TSA agent will inspect the packing and the content of the gun case. Once the inspection is complete, be sure to lock the case and secure your key if you're not using a combination lock.
Before you plan to travel to a foreign country with your gun, it's a good idea to check the rules for U.S. customs as well as the laws in the country you will be visiting. For example, American Airlines warns that firearms, clips, magazines, and loose ammunition are not permitted when traveling to or from the Port of Spain in Trinidad and Tobago.
Mexico and Guatemala are the only other countries aside from the U.S. where citizens have the constitutional right to bear arms.
If at all possible, you should plan your international travel using direct flights. While you can save money when you have connecting flights, you want to avoid lost baggage or any problems when flying with firearms in a country that isn't your final destination.
Before you go on your flight, you'll want to get a U.S. customs form number 4457 and get it signed in person by a customs officer before leaving the country. This completed form will help you avoid paying duty on your gun when you bring it back into the country.
We highly recommend getting all the necessary forms that you need for your destination country. If you need assistance, call the embassy for the country you plan to visit, so they can advise you on what you need to do and what the laws are regarding carrying it on your person.
Airline Specific Details
According to the Federal Aviation Administration, each passenger can carry 11 pounds of ammunition. You will have to contact the airline you are flying with to confirm how they want the bullets packed. If you are traveling internationally, you will have to check what the country's laws are since South Africa, for example, doesn't permit ammunition to be packed in the same case as the gun regardless of caliber.
Here are some links to specific airlines' rules and regulations regarding travel with firearms and ammunition.
Interesting Airport Facts
Even though the number of people flying in 2020 was significantly lower than average due to the pandemic, it was the year where the TSA recorded a higher number of illegal firearms per million people. In 2019, the average was five guns per every million people through an airport; in 2020, this number jumped to 10 guns per million people. It's troubling that 83 percent of the firearms seized were loaded.
Ten airports top the list of seizures in 2020. Below is a list ranked by the number of guns seized.
- Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport – 220 guns seized
- Dallas Fort Worth International Airport – 176
- Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport – 126
- Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport – 124
- Denver International Airport – 104
- Nashville International Airport – 94
- Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport – 87
- Orlando International Airport – 79
- Las Vegas McCarran International Airport – 72
- Salt Lake City - 71
The guns seized were found either on the person or in their carry-on bags or luggage. They could have avoided having their guns seized if they had stored their guns in their checked baggage. It's not worth trying your luck and experiencing the pain and hassle that may very well come from ignoring the rules and regulations of authorities. Take the precautions listed above, and you shouldn't have any problems traveling with your gun regardless of what airport you're flying into.
Do Your Due Diligence
It's essential to do your due diligence when considering flying with your firearm. Depending on where you are traveling to, you will have to check in with a few different places, including the airline you're traveling with and the state or country you're planning to visit.
Each state has specific laws regarding gun possession. Make sure you know what the rules are in the state you're traveling to so that you don't run into any problems. Remember, ignorance of the law isn't a justifiable defense.
If you're planning to travel abroad, make sure you get a declaration form signed by a customs officer, so you don't have to pay any duties when you return to the country, especially if your gun is foreign-made. You'll also want to check to see if there are any forms you need to complete before entering your destination country.
When traveling with firearms and ammunition, the goal is to do what you can to make the process as smooth as possible. You want to make sure you are clear on the documentation you need to provide at the airport and ensure that you pack your gun in an appropriate case with a suitable lock. You'll also want to make sure that you know what your airline's ammunition limits are, and you pack them as needed as well.
There is a lot to cover when planning how to fly with a gun. Follow our guide, use gun cases that meet TSA regulations, and please do your homework.