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How To Fly With A Gun; A Comprehensive Guide

By Maria Paiz October 23, 2023

 How to fly with a gun

*This post contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links, but it never influences our product selection process.

 

 

Introduction

Traveling by plane is exciting, but it can also be a bit nerve-racking for gun owners. Navigating airport security, understanding TSA's rules, and ensuring compliance with airline-specific regulations for firearm transportation can be a lot to handle. But fear not; I'm here to help you through it!

In this article, we'll break down the process of flying with a gun and ammunition. From securely packing your firearm and ammunition in a locked hard-sided container, navigating the ticket counter and checked bag process, understanding TSA's rules for transporting firearms, and finally retrieving your belongings at the baggage carousel, we'll guide you through every journey.

Whether you're a law enforcement officer, a hunter, or a responsible gun owner, we have the information you need to travel confidently and stress-free with your firearm. So, buckle up and read on for a smooth journey with your trusted sidearm.

 

Can You Fly With a Gun?

The common misconception is that you cannot fly with a firearm in the United States. However, this is only partially accurate. While you can travel with a legally owned gun, specific regulations are in place to ensure safety for all parties involved.

Firstly, firearms cannot be carried on your person or in your carry-on luggage. They must be checked in and stored in a locked, hard-sided container. This includes not only the firearm itself but also any magazines and clips. However, some weapon accessories, such as scopes, may be allowed in your carry-on baggage, depending on the airline's rules and policies (different airlines will have different rules).

It is important to note that despite these regulations, there have been instances where TSA personnel have failed to detect firearms brought through security by testers. Reports indicate that between 85-95 percent of firearms have been missed in such tests every year since the TSA's inception in 2001, following the September 11th attacks.

What Items Need to Be Checked?

There's little doubt that gun owners traveling with firearms must check their ammo, clips, and guns. Certain federal restrictions apply when traveling with guns as personal luggage, meaning that tourists cannot simply pack them in their checked bags alongside their bikinis.

Gun owners who carry firearms around for protection may forget that they have a weapon with them, only to be detected (occasionally) by TSA.

It's more complex for them than removing it from the carry-on bag and returning it to the check-in counter to place it in the cargo hold.

TSA Rules and Regulations

Let's start with the TSA's guidelines for traveling with weapons in the United States to identify the hard-and-fast rules Americans must follow.

Guns

To transport a firearm, you must be at least 18 years old. According to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), firearms must be unloaded and securely placed within your checked luggage in a locked, hard-sided container. The container, or metal box, should be designed to prevent easy access to the firearm. Only the gun's owner should have the key or combination to the locked case.


TSA regulations state that parts of guns, such as firing pins, bolts, clips, and magazines, are prohibited in carry-on luggage. In carry-on luggage, BB guns, toy weapons, and replica firearms are not permitted.

Checked luggage is also required for both replica firearms and firearm parts. The only firearm-related items allowed in carry-on luggage are rifle scopes.

The following items may be included in your regular baggage allowance, with excess charges applying for additional pieces of baggage: one rifle case with rifles, scopes, one shooting mat, noise suppressors, and small tools; one shotgun case with shotguns; or one pistol case with pistols, noise suppressors, one pistol telescope, and small pistol tools.

There is no limit to the number or type of firearms per case, and different firearm types may be in the same case as long as each type is packed correctly. The container must not hold dangerous goods or prohibited items, such as loose ammunition, flammable liquids, black powder, primers, or bear spray.

Ammunition

You can not carry ammunition with you in your carry-on bags while traveling. Full and empty rifle ammo clips and magazines must be securely packed or stored in a rigid container, and the guns you pack on your checked baggage must be unloaded.

In terms of packing ammunition, small-arms ammunition, such as.75 caliber and shotgun shells of any gauge and ammunition clips must be stored in a fiber-like plastic, cardboard, or metal ammo box. You must notify your airline if you are carrying ammunition.


Ammunition can be transported in the same hard-sided, secured case as your firearm, provided it is stored properly, as previously specified. You can only use handgun magazines or clips to carry ammo if they completely encapsulate the bullets.

Firearm magazines and ammo clips must be packed or included in the hard-sided secured case you carry your gun in, whether loaded or empty.

The TSA recommends double-checking your ammunition limits with the airline you're flying with. You should also check for any fees for flying with your gun in checked baggage.

Finally, remember to declare each firearm when transported in checked luggage. You must check in at the counter rather than at the curb because that is the only way to declare your firearm and obtain the form required for the TSA inspection.

Packing Ammunition Checklist

  • Ammunition is prohibited in carry-on baggage but can be transported in checked baggage within weight allotments.
  • Ammunition must be securely packed in the original manufacturer packaging or a container designed for ammunition.
  • The packaging should protect the ammunition from accidental crushing or discharge.
  • Loose ammunition in a box, bucket, or manufacturer packaging will not be accepted.
  • The projectile must be no larger than 11/16" in diameter—the size of a dime.
  • Ammunition may be checked with or separately from the firearm.
  • Shell casings that meet the same acceptance criteria as live ammunition are allowed in checked baggage.

Procedures to Follow

Now that we've reviewed the TSA laws let's go over how to fly with a gun.


What Kind of Case Should You Use for Your Firearm?

The first step in traveling with a firearm is to purchase a secure case for your pistol. The best cases contain foam linings that you may adjust to fit your pistol; however, if you plan to store it in the gun case for an extended period, make sure the foam is rust-resistant.

Make sure you don't cut any slots for ammunition because having ammunition packed with your firearm is banned in some regions.


TSA TSA-approved locks or non-TSA-approved locks?

For your situation, use locks that are not TSA-approved. TSA-approved locks are not permitted to be used in firearm cases, according to 49 CFR 1540.111, which controls the transportation of firearms in the United States.

TSA officers have a master key that opens TSA locks, and the person traveling with the gun is the only one who should have access to the firearm in the case.


How Should You Pack Your Firearms and Ammunition?

You must have your firearms empty. If you have ammunition, pack it separately in your checked bag or in the gun box of .75 calibers or fewer. Remember to verify your airline's restrictions.

What Should You Do at the Airport?

As firearm owners, proceed to your airline's check-in desk when you arrive at the airport. You don't want to use curbside check-in since you must inform the staff that you have a firearm to be checked.

Fill out a declaration form and get a baggage tag for your firearm and any other checked baggage. Your weapon will be handed over to the TSA inspector for the following step.


The TSA agent will inspect the packing and contents of the gun case. When the inspection is finished, lock the case and safeguard your key if you aren't using a combination lock. 

What to do in Case of International Travel?

Before traveling to a foreign nation with your gun, verifying the requirements for US customs and the country's laws is a good idea. For example, American Airlines states that weapons, clips, magazines, and loose ammunition are not authorized when flying to or from Trinidad & Tobago's Port of Spain.

Aside from the United States, Mexico and Guatemala are the only other countries whose citizens have the constitutional right to bear weapons.

Organize your international travel to include direct flights. While connecting flights can save you money, you want to prevent lost baggage or complications when flying with firearms in a country that isn't your final destination.

Before you leave the nation, you must get a U.S. customs form number 4457 and have it signed in person by a customs officer. If you fill out this form, you can avoid paying duty on your gun when you bring it back into the nation.

We strongly advise you to obtain the appropriate forms for your destination country. If you require assistance, contact the embassy of the nation you intend to visit so that they can advise you on what you need to do and the regulations governing carrying it on your person.

Here is a list of other things to consider when traveling internationally with firearms:

Handguns cannot be transported to or through Canada or Mexico.

  • Non-restricted hunting rifles or competition firearms don't require special documentation in Canada.
  • A consulate-issued permit is required for any firearm transport to Mexico.
  • Firearms and ammunition are not accepted to or from Belize and Costa Rica.

Airline-Specific Details and Airport Facts

Each passenger is allowed to carry 11 rounds of ammunition, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. You'll need to check with the airline you're flying with to see how they want the rounds packed.

If traveling internationally, you should examine the country's legislation because, for example, South Africa does not allow ammunition to be packed in the same case as the gun, regardless of caliber.

Here are some links to specific airline laws and regulations concerning guns and ammunition travel.

Despite the number of individuals traveling in 2020 being substantially fewer than the average due to the epidemic, the TSA recorded more illicit firearms per million persons.

In 2019, there were five guns for every million persons passing through an airport; by 2020, this figure had risen to ten guns for every million people. It's concerning that 83% of the weapons seized were loaded.

Ten airports are at the top of the list of seizures. The list below is ranked by the number of guns seized.

  1. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport – 220 guns seized
  2. Dallas Fort Worth International Airport – 176
  3. Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport – 126
  4. Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport – 124
  5. Denver International Airport – 104
  6. Nashville International Airport – 94
  7. Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport – 87
  8. Orlando International Airport – 79
  9. Las Vegas McCarran International Airport – 72
  10. Salt Lake City - 71 

The firearms recovered were either on the suspects' person or in their carry-on baggage or luggage. They could have avoided having their guns confiscated if they had kept them in their checked baggage.

It's not worth it to take a chance and risk the pain and inconvenience that may result from disobeying authorities' rules and regulations. If you take the above procedures, you should have no trouble traveling with your gun, regardless of the airport you're flying into.

 

Perform Your Due Diligence

When considering traveling with a firearm, completing your homework is critical. Depending on where you're going, you'll need to check in with a few different places, including the airline you're flying with and the state or nation you'll visit.

Each state has its own rules surrounding gun ownership. Ensure you understand the regulations in the state you're visiting to avoid any complications. Remember that ignorance of the law is not a valid defense.

If you want to travel abroad, make sure you acquire a customs declaration form signed by a customs officer so you don't have to pay any fees when you return, especially if your gun is made in another nation. You should also check to see if any forms are required before entering your target country.

 

The Best TSA-Approved Gun Cases

Traveling with a firearm has always been a difficult task. Several regulations must be met, and any weapon must be declared in advance to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

Whether you're flying with a vintage rifle or a professional handgun, it must be stored appropriately. There are severe consequences if you don't, so you only have one chance to get it right. If you wish to travel with your long guns, consider investing in a high-quality gun case.

Here are top-rated TSA-approved gun cases.

1. Pelican 1170 Case 

 

Pelican 1170 Protector Case

 

We recommend the Pelican 1170 Case with foam if you require an all-rounder waterproof gun case (IP67) that is dustproof and crushproof for your handguns. This case is ideal for protecting your guns, GoPro, and cameras. Owing to the reputable manufacturer, there's no need to worry about the case breaking down. 


Interior choices include padded partitions, trekPak, and pick & pluck foam. Alternatively, you may place your firearm on the foam and easily choose from the right-sized foam mold for your weapon. If you want to store ammunition and magazines right by your handguns, you can do that as well, thanks to the dedicated compartment. 


You get a generous level of padding inside that helps protect your precious belongings from shocks and accidental falls. A watertight O-ring seal is inside, which is handy when it’s raining. 

Those in law enforcement, fire safety, and the military have all given positive remarks and swear by this case's versatility and unique design. 


The main drawback is its size, which sometimes runs short if you do not check beforehand. 

 

  • Protection against water (IP67) 
  • Crush and dust-proof 
  • 100% Money-Back & Replacement Guarantee 
  • A Reputable Brand 
  • Approved by the TSA. 
  • Dividers Without Padding 

2. 5 Pistol 18 Magazine Doro Gun Case

5 Pistol 18 Magazine Doro Gun Case with Custom MyCaseBuilder Foam Insert - Waterproof, Heavy Duty - Tactical Firearms and Ammunition Holder, 18 x 14 x 7 Inches


This Doro Gun Case can store 5 handguns and 18. Magazines. It is made using special foam. Its outer covering is weather, impact, and crush-resistant, protecting your firearms. Despite its robust design, this gun safe is portable and easy to move about.


You can stack up several weapons, magazines, and other firearms in the dedicated compartments. Military-grade foam and oil and chemical-resistant polyethylene foam make up the inside of the Doro pistol case foam. 


Foam rapidly absorbs oil, making cleanup a cinch. The foam plugs are cut to accommodate shorter magazines so that the carrying capacity can be completely customized. 

The foam within the enclosure is also meticulously measured to ensure it fills the gap precisely. Heavy-duty hard plastic makes up the outside of the casing. 


On top of this, this hard-shell case has an IP67 rating for water resistance and is TSA-approved for traveling with firearms. A lifetime guarantee backs the Doro gun case, which comes in various colors. The only downside is its high price. 


  • Protection against water (IP67) 
  • Lightweight and sturdy 
  • TSA-approved
  • Five pistols at your disposal. 
  • Multiple Items Can Be Stored
  • Military-Grade Foam


3. SnapSafe Treklite Gun Safe

SnapSafe Treklite Gun Safe Lock Box with TSA Combination Lock

 

Consider the SnapSafe Treklite Gun Safe if you need a TSA-approved, affordable, and durable handgun case for a singular firearm. This item takes up the least amount of space and is highly versatile. If you don't have a rifle, you may keep other things like jewelry, medication, and cash. 


Thick layers of protective foam line the inside of the container, ensuring that any nicks or dings don't occur during transport. This item has a 1500 kg 4-foot steel security cable to ensure your box's safety. You can lock and unlock the device with the accompanying combination lock and keys. 


The unit is also recommended because it is made of polymer solid construction and has been authorized by the Department of Justice in California. The small pistol case makes traveling in a vehicle or truck easy. The only downside is that there are no pre-drilled holes.


  • Easily fits in a briefcase due to its small size 
  • Heavy duty 1500 lb security cable 
  • With a TSA and DOJ-approved gun safe, valuables are protected from dents and scratches. 
  • Waterproof 

4. Cedar Mill Fine Firearms Hard Pistol Gun Case

Pick & Pluck Pistol Case

With a two-locking mechanism, this durable pistol gun case from Cedar Mill Fine Firearms can accommodate a full-sized handgun. The foam can be quickly adjusted/pressed to match your exact requirements. The manufacturer has tested comprehensively to guarantee the device meets current TSA firearms regulations. 

An egg-type foam layer is on top, with a pluck and picks foam layer below it, making up the inside of the unit. Also included are tools for sniping the foam to suit your weapon. In this case, you need not worry about dust, water, and any incoming hazards coming our way. 

Polypropylene carbon fiber reinforced with DS2TeK has been used to make the pistol casing as strong as possible. When under pressure, the case will flex and spread the pressure across a larger surface, lessening pressure on one side, thus avoiding damage.

  • Generous capacity 
  • Superior quality foam
  • TSA approved

5. CASEMATIX Hard Case for 2 Handguns

CASEMATIX 13" Two Gun Hard Case for 2 Handguns - Waterproof & Shockproof 2 Pistol Hard Case, Double Handgun Case with Accessory Storage for Multiple Magazines, Ammo Box and Other Accessories

An impact-resistant polymer material is used to make the CASEMATIX gun case, which can accommodate two handguns vertically. Aside from being waterproof and dustproof, this unit is also airtight and includes two layers of custom foam. Two layers of customized foam inside the handgun hard case assist in keeping moisture out and prevent dents and scratches. Customizable foam may also create individual sections for your ammunition, magazine, two weapons, etc. 


The case's exterior is composed of impact and drop-resistant polymer plastic, ensuring the safety and security of the weapons. To ensure gun safety, padlocks may be attached to the two padlock rings. 


  • Hard Polymer Plastic Construction
  • TSA Approved 
  • A padlock ring for extra safety
  • Can store two guns handguns at once

What You Should Know Before Purchasing a TSA-approved Gun Case?


Combination of keys or locks

Any gun bag used for air travel must meet various TSA requirements. The most critical component of these requirements is having the key to the gun case or the lock's combination. There can also be no live ammo in the gun case; even replica guns must be stowed away.


Look For Cases depending on the firearm.

Not all firearms will fit in the same gun case. Long rifles and sidearms, for example, are substantially diverse, so their case needs will be as well. Packing small guns in a foam-lined briefcase is the best way to travel them. Other weapons, such as hunting rifles, readily fit inside a much longer specially constructed case.


TSA regulations

Purchasing any gun case for travel will not suffice because strict requirements must be satisfied. Incorrect firearm storage can result in a $2,000 punishment, which can be increased to a maximum of $10,000. The case must be hard-sided with a key or combination lock, firearms must be unloaded, and the case must always be locked.


What Quality to Look for in a TSA-Approved Gun Case?

Padding

Because handguns and rifles are expensive, you want to keep them as safe as possible. Ample foam on the inside will protect your guns and make overall confinement safer. A good gun case will have thick foam cushioning on the interior and, depending on the weapon, pre-cut compartments for each gun.

Hard-sided

A hard-sided gun case is both necessary and preferable. However, the cost of a case is frequently proportional to its quality. Avoid purchasing the cheapest case that fits the standards. Better solutions will last many years, typically necessitating investing a little more upfront.

Alerts

Although it's the last thing you want to see when flying, a top-quality gun bag will have open-alert latches. When your gun case is open, an alarm will sound. In most circumstances, your gun case will have been inspected by TSA personnel and should be fine, but it is still a good idea to know when you have been inspected. 

 

How Much Should You Budget for a TSA-approved Gun Case?

The typical price of a gun case is determined by numerous factors, including the case's size and the manufacturer. A small handgun case can cost between $20 and $30. A much larger case is suitable for long guns that cost between $120 and $250.

 

FAQ Guide (What Readers Want to Know)

Can you keep ammunition in your gun case?

Yes, but only if the gun case has been checked in. Ammo cannot be stored in your carry-on luggage, even if locked in your carry-on gun case. You should also check with the airline to see if they have any ammunition restrictions.

Is there a distinction between a polymer and a stainless steel case?

Both cases offer the same level of protection for your firearms and should meet TSA regulations. It's up to you whether you want black or stainless steel, although the polymer will endure longer in the long run.

Final Thoughts

Traveling with firearms and ammunition doesn't have to be a daunting task. The key is to make the process as smooth as possible by understanding the necessary paperwork, packing your gun in an appropriate case with a suitable lock, and being aware of your airline's ammunition restrictions.

Here are four simple steps to ensure you're following the rules for domestic travel and avoiding any issues:

Place your unloaded firearm and ammunition in the checked baggage.

Use a hard-sided case designed explicitly for firearm transport.

Declare your firearms at the check-in counter.

Secure your firearm case with a non-TSA-approved lock, and ensure only you know the combination or have the key.

As people return to the habit of traveling, gun owners like you want to travel securely and comfortably with their weapons and ammunition. Choosing the proper gun case is crucial to avoid any run-ins with law enforcement or TSA agents. An adequate case will keep your firearms and ammunition in checked baggage.

By following these steps, you'll be well on your way to a hassle-free travel experience with your firearm. Happy flying!


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