14 Practical Tips for Traveling With a Gun - gun travel tips 101

Traveling with a gun – 14 Practical Tips to safely travel with a firearm

Traveling with a gun is fairly straightforward. Whether traveling to hunt or simply traveling with a firearm for personal protection there are certain steps you need to take to safely travel with a weapon. In this article we give you everything you need to know to travel with a firearm including practical tips on flying with a gun as well as flying with ammunition.

Guns & Airports

A relative of mine owns a gun shop in Southern California and during a recent visit I got to thinking about a business trip I’d taken to Kansas a few years ago and the process of traveling with a gun.

As I came down the Wichita Airport escalator I noticed scores of hunters retrieving their rifles having just traveled in for hunting season. As a Marine, the sight of guns was not startling. The sight of guns in an airport was. At first, anyway.

Image of man firing a shotgun

It was post 9/11 (maybe 5-7 years afterwards) and folks were still a bit on edge. Of course, these hunters were literally doing nothing wrong and following the approved guidelines for traveling with their guns. Something many thousands of people do every year. But it also got me thinking. What are the rules for traveling with firearms? This article is the result.

Gun Ownership in America

According to the Pew Research Center 3 out of every 10 adult Americans own a gun and 4 of 10 people live with someone who owns a weapon. The US Census estimates there are approximately 327 million people in America and 78% of them are adults. While actual gun ownership is very difficult to pin down, this data suggests that maybe 77 million Americans own guns. Could be much higher.

Interestingly the same report mentions that 7 out of 10 people in America have fired a gun which is, frankly, a stat I personally find a little hard to believe…but that’s beside the point.

The point is, a lot of people own guns in America. It’s one of our great (and important) Constitutional rights as American citizens. People owns guns for a variety of reasons including personal protection and, of course, hunting to name a few.

It only stands to reason that a certain percentage of those gun owners will need to travel at some point with their weapon.

Flying with a Gun – High Level Overview

Guns can be transported safely during your air travel. But, efore we get into the details let’s hit the obvious high points of flying with a gun.

  • You CANNOT bring a gun with your person on a plane (there are a few exceptions related to law enforcement officers and an actual mission where a weapon is needed…but we are not covering that here)
  • You CAN travel with your gun but you need to follow the TSA regulations and you must properly transport it as checked baggage
  • Rules about flying to foreign countries with your weapon vary widely so do your homework first
  • Make sure to check your airlines rules as well as your destination state’s rules

Ok, with that out of the way, let’s dive into the details about flying with a gun.

TSA Gun Rules

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The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) provides guidance on flying with a gun.  TSA gun rules are crystal clear:

  • Firearms can be transported as checked baggage only
  • Firearms must be unloaded (that means not only no rounds in the chamber, but no rounds in a magazine inserted into the firearm)
  • You must store them in a locked hard-sided container
  • You must declare your firearm(s) AND ammunition to the airline when checking your bag at the ticket counter [Note: your airline will have you fill out a form]
  • Your firearm travel container must be fully secure so as to prevent the firearm from being accessed

Example of a Hard Sided Lockable Travel Case for a Rifle / Shotgun (see price)

The TSA notes explicitly on their website “Be aware that the container the firearm was in when purchased may not adequately secure the firearm when it is transported in checked baggage.

A note about locks. The TSA’s guidance notes that passengers should keep their key or combination to the locked firearm travel container private unless requested by TSA personal to open it. Furthermore, they note that any brand or type of lock may be used including TSA-recognized locks. 

The TSA also provides a few other rules regarding flying with a gun:

  • Any gun parts (e.g. magazines, clips, firing pins, bolts, etc) are strictly prohibited in carry-on luggage and must be transported in your checked baggage
  • Replica gun (including toys) must be transported in checked baggage only
  • Rifle scope, on the other hand, are permitted in both checked baggage AND carry-on luggage.

Note: Many of the rules noted here apply to non traditional firearms too. Like BB guns, airsoft guns and even paintball guns (although there is some variance, by airline). Always best to check with your airline!

Flying with Ammunition

Images of bullets

When flying with ammunition there are a few TSA guidelines to follow as well:

  • You must transport ammunition in checked baggage only
  • Magazines (or clips) – either loaded or empty – must be securely boxed and/or included in the hard sided travel firearm case with the obviously unloaded weapon.
  • Small arms ammo, including ammo that does not exceed .75 caliber and shotgun shells may be carried in the SAME hard sided travel case as the firearm

Pro tip: the flimsy cardboard boxes that much ammo comes in is probably not sufficient for the duress of checked bag travel…and no one wants a bunch of rounds floating around in your hard case. Buy a more purpose built ammo carrier.

Another pro tip: most airlines restrict the amount of ammunition you can travel with to 11 lbs. Weigh your ammo! Here’s a cool travel scale to do that with.

Airline Policies on Flying with a Gun

When traveling with a firearm each airline may have their own rules regarding transport. It’s always best to check with your airline for the most current rules and contact them with any questions.

Image of handgun and text saying always double check your airline's gun policy

All airlines will ask you to sign a “Firearms Unloaded” declaration form before traveling with your gun. Please note that you will have to fill out this form for EACH airline you are traveling with and both ways of your trip. So if you happen to switch airlines mid travel you will need to re declare (this is an unlikely situation, but could occur). And on your return flight you will need to fill out the form again.

Here are some highlights of a few major airlines current policies on flying with guns:

Delta Gun Policy

Delta’s Gun Policy notes several things of interest:

  • Must check in at counter (cannot use online app, website or curbside check in)
  • Ensure small arms ammo is packed in the manufacturer’s original packaging or securely packed in fiber, wood, plastic or metal boxes
  • No more than 11 lbs of ammunition may be checked – that includes the case
  • If bringing a rifle you can bring up to 4 rifles in one case. If handguns, it’s 5.

Southwest Gun Policy

Discount airline Southwest notes a few important things in their gun policy:

  • You need to know the firearm laws in the states you are visiting
  • Must be locked in a hard side case – but it doesn’t have to be a purpose built gun case
  • You can leave ammo in your magazines – but obviously you must unload your gun
  • Must check in at counter (cannot use online app, website or curbside check in)
  • No more than 11 lbs of ammunition may be checked

United Gun Policy

United Airline’s gun policy notes a few things:

  • Must be 18
  • Must check in at counter (cannot use online app, website or curbside check in)
  • No more than 11 lbs of ammunition may be checked
  • Proof of registration is not required

Keep in mind that any applicable weight limits for checked baggage apply to your firearms, ammunition and related equipment. Meaning, you can expect to pay an overweight bag fee if you firearm is over the weight limit (which is typically 50 lbs, btw).

How does it ACTUALLY work when flying with your gun?

Yeah, ok, I get the rules and regulations, but how’s this go down? Am I gonna get some weird looks by the airline representative? Is it weird to walk through the airport with a gun (even if it’s in a case)? Is some yellow-bellied anti-gun activist working the airport counter going to shame me? Nope. None of that.

It’s actually pretty painless. Simply wait your turn for the checked baggage counter. When being helped simply let the agent know you need to declare a firearm. He/she will give you a form to fill out and check to see if the case is secure. They are pros and see this regularly. And it’s not that big of a deal for them.

They may ask you to open the case and if they do, then just open it. They will not handle the firearm (and in fact are prohibited from doing so). If they feel there is an issue they will contact a law enforcement official.

Once done, re-lock the case and you are done. However…pro tip…wait for 15-20 minutes just in case it gets kicked back by TSA security and they have questions for you (and need you to unlock the case). Better safe than sorry.

Picking up your gun at Baggage Claim

Image of Man at baggage claim and text saying Flying with a Gun - picking your gun up at baggage claim

Once you get to your final destination retrieving your weapon is pretty simple. If it was a large case and happened to bump you into large or special baggage handling care you will likely need to retrieve it at the special luggage area for your airline. Simply look around the the normal baggage claim area and there will likely be signage.

But in most cases, your firearm will simply come out with the rest of the luggage allowing you to simply retrieve it from the carousel.

14 Practical Tips for Flying with a Gun

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Image of handgun and text saying 14 Practical Tips for Traveling With a Gun

We’ve translated these regulations into some practical, actionable tips for flying with a gun, below:

  1. Always double check the TSA Rules for Flying with your Gun before you fly…the rules may have changed!
  2. Check your airline’s firearm policy (call them if you have questions)
  3. Print a copy of the rules and bring it with you. Not every single TSA agent is 100% up to speed on the rules. Better safe than sorry
  4. Buy a proper hardsided travel case for your firearm – it will need to be locked
  5. Unload your weapon
  6. Double check that your weapon is unloaded
  7. Weigh your baggage. Remember, the airlines will charge you extra fees for anything weighing more than 50 lbs and you need to stay inside of any ammo restrictions the airline may have. (here’s a travel scale)
  8. Check your airline’s policy on ammunition. Worth noting again! Most US airlines restrict your ammunition to 11 lbs – and that may include the case
  9. Stow your weapons and ammo and lock everything
  10. Do all of this BEFORE you get to the airport
  11. Give yourself some extra time. Like an hour. You have to stand in the checked baggage line. You might want to wait to see if TSA has extra questions for you. Better safe than sorry.
  12. Declare your gun to the check in agent
  13. Fill out the form and check your gun(s)
  14. Pick it up at Baggage Claim

Protip: Some gun owners prefer to travel with cases where it’s no self evident that a weapon is inside – and thus reduce the chances of theft. Something to consider. 

Gun Travel Cases and other Gear for Traveling with a Firearm

Readers looking for some gear to use on their trip might find the following products helpful:

Handgun Travel Cases

Rifle/Shotgun Travel Cases

Be sure to check out Beebe Family Arms & Munitions and support your family owned gun store.

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Misc Gun Travel Gear / items

Final Thoughts on Traveling with a Gun

Gun ownership remains incredibly popular and based on simple math gun owners will be traveling. We hope this guide to traveling with a gun was helpful in demystifying any questions you might have about flying with a firearm.

Feel free to read the TSA Gun Policy here. 

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And, of course, if you are interested in more travel tips and travel advice and product reviews, you might like these great articles:

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Practical Gun Travel Tips - everything you need to know about traveling with a gun

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3 comments on “Traveling with a gun – 14 Practical Tips to safely travel with a firearm

  1. Robbos

    Awesome writeup. I always check to make sure there have not been additional guidelines/rules before I fly.

    Reply
  2. attila

    Good article. I have been curious about whether one would be harassed by airline staffers.

    Reply

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