I recently returned from a trip out of town where I traveled with my concealed carry firearm. Sometimes I leave the gun at home when I fly but if my destination state honors my concealed carry permit and a few other factors line up, I will always fly with a gun. Now most of you know that I am not technically flying with any kind of firearm on my person. My weapons are locked as safely as I can manage in my suitcase in the bottom of the plane but for those who don’t know or are considering flying with a gun I figured I would share a short description of my recent experiences and give my tips on how to fly with a gun so you can decide if this is something you want to do.
Before You Fly
I have flown with firearms a few times and in each case I haven’t had any problems but each time I travel for business it is a decision process I have to go through in deciding if I am going to carry. As I said above, if I am flying into a place like Chicago, taking a firearm is simply out of the question. I can only realistically carry to states who honor my concealed carry permit so that does limit some locations. In addition to these states, I never carry internationally. There could very well be places and policies that would allow me to transport a personal defense firearm overseas but to be perfectly honest I am not going to take the risk in breaking another country’s laws if I can avoid it. It is one thing to travel with a rifle for a hunting excursion, but something else entirely to take a pistol. Can you imagine being thrown in a Singapore or worse, Middle Eastern countries jail? No thank you!
Back here in the good old U.S of A if I am flying almost anywhere except the most liberal enclaves out there, I will consider carrying my firearm. When would I not carry even in a state where my permit was allowed? This comes down to what I am doing usually. If I am on vacation I will always carry if the state allows it.
If I am traveling on business which is most often the case I take a few extra things into consideration. What is the dress code I will most likely be wearing? What am I going to be doing? Am I in closed-door meetings or am I giving presentations to large rooms of people? Where are the rules of the hotel I am going to be staying in and who will I be traveling with? Does the hotel have an in-room safe? Do I trust that safe and what if anything would happen if my employer found out I was carrying a firearm?
Sometimes I don’t worry as much but other occasions I will leave my firearm at home. Recently I flew to Vegas for a conference and read a lot of different opinions about having your firearm with you on the casino floor. If you haven’t been to one of the big conferences in Vegas, you can’t really get away from the casino floor. In my case I had to walk through it every day to get anywhere I was going. There were also the rules about drinking with a concealed firearm and many reports of hotel safes being broken into so in that case I opted out of carrying for that trip. Of course in the back of my mind I was wishing I had brought it once I got to the hotel and scoped everything out.
Know the Law
Assuming everything is copacetic about your destination, now you need to make sure you go through this process the right way to avoid any issues with airport security. The TSA’s website gives you pretty clear guidelines to follow if you are planning to fly with your firearm.
Travelers may only transport UNLOADED firearms in a locked, hard-sided container as checked baggage. The container must be completely secured from being accessed. All firearms, ammunition and firearm parts, including firearm frames, receivers, clips and magazines are prohibited in carry-on baggage.
The process is that you must lock that firearm up in a hard sided case and check your luggage. You can’t lock the case and carry your suitcase onto the plane. That is a sure-fire way to spend a little time with TSA. Each airline has different rules for flying and how much ammo you can bring also so I would check with your airlines policies personally before flying to be sure you are fully compliant with their rules. This is not the time to stand on principle if you want to avoid jail.
How to Fly with a gun
Before you leave for the airport you need to unload your firearm completely. I chose to remove all of the ammo from my magazines and leave the magazine out of the weapon. I didn’t lock the slide back, but I did clean it before I packed it away. Being my daily concealed carry, it was good and dusty. I have carried my weapon on my way to the airport before with the intention of getting to the airport parking deck and securing it in the case, but this is not a good practice.
One time I left the car and headed to the terminal before I realized I still had a weapon on me (pocket carry). Once I realized that I quickly turned around, but it is that type of mistake that can get you a lot of attention. It is the same thing with my EDC knife. I forgot that I was carrying it in a side pocket one day and had to pull that out going through security. Fortunately, they were completely cool with the knife, but I couldn’t get on board obviously. Luckily I always try to get to the airport with plenty of time to spare just because of things like this so I was able to take my trusty knife back to the car. I had checked another one.
With your weapon unloaded and in a hard sided case you will need to lock it securely. I used the case that came with my weapon and it has two places for locks. If your case has two places, make sure you use two locks. Make sure your ammo is loaded in the original boxes or a hard box that keeps the rounds secure. I never travel with more than a box anyway unless I am going to training so the original 50 round box works just fine. Leave this separate from your weapon.
I’ve got a gun!
When I first flew with a firearm I was a little nervous but I have learned over the years that most of the agents at the counter have probably done this hundreds of times already. Act calm because as long as you follow the rules there should not be any issues at all. After arriving at the airport I walk immediately to the check-in counter and when I get to meet the agent I calmly say “I need to check a firearm”. The agents I have encountered rarely skip a beat. They usually say, “OK. I just need to see the case”, so be prepared to open your luggage. This might mean adjusting where you pack the firearm so that it is easier to get to. Trust me; they will open your luggage anyway so it’s best not to pack this under all your neatly folded underwear.
The Agent is not going to want you to open your case. Do not have your weapon in any other condition than safely locked away. They only want to verify with you verbally that it is unloaded and to visually see that it is in a hard sided, locked case. The only time I ever had an issue was when I only locked one side of my case. Seeing this the agent started calling people over and seemed to fret a little bit. She started saying that she didn’t think that would work and I casually said, “I can lock both sides” and all was good again. They will then give you a neon orange card and ask you to sign it and lay it on the case, close up your bag and that is about as complicated as it gets. Before loading your suitcase, it will be checked again so locking it with a TSA approved lock will make things easier. The standard lock you get when you purchase your firearm brand new is TSA approved and they have the keys. If they don’t have the keys to your lock, you might get paged to open it up. I know some people will say they would rather use a non-TSA approved lock so that nobody can get into but really, if they want to steal your firearm the locks won’t stop them.
Usually after the visual inspection you give your luggage to the agent like normal. One time they walked me to a room for a visual inspection right with the TSA agent. I think different airlines and airports have their own procedures, but the net result is the same. Just remember that this is normal and if you are following the procedures legally, you have nothing to worry about. I have never had anyone act other than completely normal with me during these procedures.
When you get to your destination you will have the security of your firearm should you need it for anything. I often think of being trapped away from home due to some crisis and how I would so much rather have even my little .380 as opposed to nothing if I was forced to make it home. When the new G43 is available in my city, I am up-sizing and that will be my weapon of choice for daily carry most likely when I can’t wear clothes that effectively cover the bulk of the G30S. When that happens I will still be flying with my gun when it makes sense and I can legally do that.
How about you? Do you fly with your gun and have you had any bad experiences you can share?