09 April 2013

How to fly with your gun...take your rights with you

My basic rule of thumb is that if a trip is over a six hour drive, I fly instead.  Whether I drive or fly, I always take at least two handguns with me.  Upon arrival, sooner or later, someone asks me how hard it is to fly with a firearm.   Non law enforcement folks also assume I get some kind of a special treatment because I have a retired badge and credentials.  This is not the case.  Even though I do carry under HR 218, that has nothing to do with flying with a firearm.

Some people are also under the belief that police officers are allowed to carry their gun with them.  This is not true, except in the case of federal law enforcement.  Police officers can attend a course that allows them to fly armed in accordance with their duties such as transporting a prisoner.  But for the most part, rank and file officers have to check their guns just like you and me.  Actually I don’t have a problem with that, since in my opinion you are in the most danger before and after boarding the plane in places like parking lots.

The point of this article is to provide the reader with information that will allow them to travel with a handgun as inconspicuously and effortlessly as possible.  This information is based on my experience, especially over the last six years, traveling to and from numerous airports and carriers.  Refer to TSA and carriers websites for more details.

Container for firearm- must be a lockable case designed specifically for carrying firearms.  See picture for example. 

Container for ammunition- must either be a factory box (I recommend reinforcing with packing tap) or a container manufactured specifically for carrying ammunition.  See picture for example.

If possible, you are going to want to unload/clear firearms in privacy and certainly not in the airport parking lot.  If you feel the need to do this, take into consideration how your actions appear to others.  You don’t want to end up on the news.

This is how I do it, at least with an auto pistol-

·        Pointing gun in a safe direction, remove magazine
·        Lock slide to the rear removing the round from the chamber
·        Inspect open ejection port, look away, look again and rack slide several times
·        Download all magazines putting ammunition in ammunition box
·        Replace empty magazine into pistol, spare mags in case if you wish
·        Secure case with built in lock or padlock and place in checked baggage
·        Place ammunition box in checked baggage as well, I secure with a rubber band

Upon arrival to the airport, walk up to check your bag as you always would.  Inform the representative that you need to check a firearm.  As many times as I have done this, I have never been asked for anything in reference to my right to carry such as law enforcement identification or CCW.  This is where things seem to change between carrier to carrier.

They will hand you an orange card called a Firearms Declaration.  They will fill out some information on it and then ask you to sign it.  By doing so you are declaring that the firearm is unloaded.  Most of the time it will just be you and the representative.   Sometimes they call a police officer or other TSA agent.  One time they actually had me clear the firearm at the counter.  I believe the agent was new, and this was not supposed to be done.

Some carriers will have you just place the Firearms Declaration in the bag on top of your case.  Others will have you lock it inside with the firearms, or lock it so half the tag is hanging out, or simply tape it to the case itself.  Be sure to ask exactly what they want you to do.  Before locking the box, I usually place other valuables such as knives inside.

After you lock the case and put it back in your checked bags, federal law prohibits you from having any more physical contact with your bag prior to arrival at your destination.  The representative will either just turn around and put it on a conveyer belt, and tell you to stand by for a few minutes in case they need your key to reopen it, or they will carry it to a portable scanner while you stand there.

Several times, I have been contacted so that they could get my key to check the gun again.  Reason being is that I also check lots of crazy stuff like stun guns and airsoft that kind of freaks them out.  It is my understanding that TSA is not allowed to handle firearms and must contact the police to do so if there is an issue.  If your ammo is not in a proper container, it will be confiscated.  

Over the years, I have done this dozens of times and have not really had anyone freak out.  Everyone has always been courteous and polite, probably because that is how I treat them.

Upon arrival to your destination, even if you are legal to carry, DO NOT be an idiot and rearm yourself until you are well outside the airport.  Again, don’t end up on the news.  I hope this article is helpful for those that want to take their rights with them when they travel.

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