Traveling with Firearms
September 24, 2010
The current worry about security on air travel has increased the difficulty and time required to fly. Although most of the changes involve only "feel good" moves, I think most of us support all efforts at improvement. It's just too bad that most of the pressure to change is politically inspired. Huge amounts of money for equipment and time for security checks have not produced a proportional improvement in security. The average gun owner would be surprised to learn that it is really not difficult to travel on airlines with firearms.
Travel with firearms has been a concern of competition shooters for a long time. I have never had a problem with losing firearms while traveling, but I have heard accounts of problems from others.
At least this has been the excuse for not following the rules by some of these competitors. It would be a serious mistake to try and get around the rules in this day of added security. The problem of firearm theft in airports should have been nearly eliminated by improvements in security. At one time, some airlines required that cases with firearms inside be identified by having a red tag attached to the outside of the case. This is an invitation to theft by airport employees. Most of the airlines I have surveyed no longer have this ridiculous rule in effect. Travelers still, however, need to do some checking beyond what I have done in areas they are to travel and especially their home location.
My own problem areas are the luggage return locations. At unknown security baggage areas, you must be at the return conveyor to be sure you are the first one with a chance to grab your bags. The location where I prefer to fly out of and return is Burbank Airport. The reason being that the airport is small enough that I can get to the luggage quickly. If one does not get there before the luggage comes down the ramp, a thief can walk off the street and grab any luggage they see with usually no one to check baggage tags. Los Angeles airport generally has better security with CC TV.
This will discourage some theft and may help identify a thief, but will not always prevent it. Los Angeles airport is large enough that one might not get to the luggage return before the luggage comes down. Some airlines have good security at the luggage return at Los Angeles airport and right next to it might be one with no security at all. Herein lies the real problem of all airport security up to now. So long as it is up to the airlines to decide how much to spend on security, some are going to use the lowest bidder as a contractor with obvious results. It is to your advantage to never travel an airline that "red tags" firearms on the outside. It is also important not to pack guns in a case that is too obvious. This can be done with handguns fairly easily. Long guns are much more difficult.
Competitors travel with firearms all the time. Most people that are not competitors can also travel with handguns. Self defense might be a good reason to travel with a firearm. It may be a lot more difficult to keep a firearm at your destination than it is to get there with it. Florida and Nevada will both issue "Out of State" concealed carry permits. Other states have a variety of laws allowing possession of firearms in a home or business. If moving to another state or going there for an extended vacation, you are advised to check the laws in advance. Leaving a gun in a motel or hotel room is never a good idea. Too many people have access to your room and security in such locations is usually not good. You can have such a facility lock up a firearm in their safe for you. It would be wise to have it in a locked case. In my travels, I have been aware of far more gun thefts at motels than on airlines. The leaving of guns in car trunks by persons traveling by car, especially rentals, is probably the most dangerous of all. The wisdom of leaving a long gun in the hotel/motel safe depends upon the facility. When traveling to Las Vegas shotgun matches by car, I found it easy to tip the valet at a hotel for a priority parking location with his being responsible to watch it.
As for air travel itself, all of the airlines I checked had fairly uniform requirements as to how to travel with a hand gun or handguns. The general rules are as follows:
1. Be low key, early, discreet, and expect to handle the gun yourself. You may cause more reaction from fellow travelers than the airlines.
2. The gun must be demonstrated as empty. It may be helpful to have the gun broken down. One airline security manager told me a story that occurred in Dallas. A would be traveler demonstrated that his rifle was unloaded by pulling the trigger. The gun discharged with the high powered round exiting the building. Fortunately, no one was hit.
3. A handgun must be in a locked container. It is a good idea to have the gun in a locked container small enough to be contained inside a larger piece of locked luggage. One or more of the containers must be "hard sided."
4. You must sign a receipt declaring that the gun is unloaded. That tag should go inside of your luggage. It is a federal felony for a search of checked luggage to find any firearms without this declaration.
5. No more than five handguns may be in your luggage.
6. Guns hidden in loose clothing inside a piece of luggage will not be allowed.
7. One airline suggested having a trigger lock on all firearms.
I found no reluctance of any kind for traveling with a firearm by any of the airlines that I checked. These airlines were Alaska, American, Continental, Northwest, Southwest and United. Travel with ammunition proved to be much more difficult.
1. Bulk powder, such as a black Powder shooter might use is forbidden. If traveling to a black powder match, you had better make arrangements to buy powder at the match or ship it well in advance by another carrier.
2. Air gun shooters may not transport loaded compressed air cylinders or CO2 cylinders.
3. All airlines required ammo to be in sealed boxes where each round is separate rather than in bulk.
4. Southwest limits the amount of ammo to one factory box.
5. Continental has a limit of 11 pounds of ammo in a box designed to separate and protect the ammo. Alaska has a 50 pound limit as above.
6. Northwest had no limit on the amount of ammo as long as it is packed correctly. None of the airlines seemed to be aware that .22 ammo factory boxes are in bulk. I am assuming that is allowed.
The average person traveling with a gun for self defense or just because it is their right to do so, will likely have no problem with one box of factory ammo. If more than one locked case is used, it would be wise to have the ammo in one and the gun in the other. Personally, I would break down any gun I could. This would reduce some of the reaction that might occur when declaring the gun. I would also put the ammo in a different piece of luggage than the gun if I could. The problem of keys and locks is one that takes some care. I suggest combination locks.
Ammo is a much different problem, and takes some careful thought. If you are dependent upon your own reloads or need more ammo than allowed to carry, I suggest sending it ahead by FedEx. Any well organized match will receive it and store it for you. Many matches will have ammo available for you to buy, especially factory. Just check in advance.
If you are driving to a match the gun and ammo are not so large a problem. When driving in California, especially around Los Angeles in your own car or a rental, be sure the gun is empty and locked in your gun case in the trunk. If you get pulled over and a search is requested, you can refuse but my advice is to tell the officer where you are going and what is in the trunk and there should be no problem. I wouldn't stay or travel in Los Angeles
city limits with guns in the car if you can avoid it. A larger problem than travel is the storage of the guns, etc. where you stay. A locked car is no protection from theft. Ask the match director for advice if you are concerned.
Bottom line when traveling is to think ahead and do some research.