Flying with a Handgun

Flying with a Handgun

I recently traveled from Wisconsin to Florida and decided to take my handgun with me. After doing a ton of research online, I found out that there is virtually no information flying with a handgun other than the generic TSA and airline pages. So, based on my personal experience, here’s how this works.

Before continuing, it’s important that you know two things. First, this is not legal advice. I am not a lawyer nor do I work for or with the TSA or airlines. This is my own personal experience. Second, guns cannot be brought past the TSA checkpoint, even if the carrier is licensed. Only law enforcement officers are allowed to have guns past the TSA checkpoint.

In case you didn’t catch all of that, you’ll need to check your handgun with the rest of your checked baggage. It can either be in its own padlocked hard case (as mine was) or in a soft or hard unlocked case inside a hard-sided padlocked suitcase. I recommed checking it separately for two reasons.

First, TSA needs to examine the case and make sure it can’t open so if you’d prefer to keep the rest of your luggage safe from prying eyes, check the gun box separately which is what I did.

Second, if you end up being diverted into a state that does not have reciprocity with your state, taking posession of your gun could make you an instant felon. If you’re stuck in New York overnight, for example, you’ll need to leave your gun at the airport baggage office while you take your suitcase to the hotel. Having your gun in its own case makes that much easier to do.

My experience got off to a rocky start. I have a Pelican Vault hard sided case with a hole for a padlock on both sides. I purchased a generic padlock from the hardware store (important note: it can’t be one of the travel padlocks for which the TSA has a key; not even TSA is allowed to open the gun case). I was called back down to the gate after checking in, though, because the TSA agent could get the case open just enough on the non-padlocked side to get his or her hand in. I had to run back home, grab another lock, and then re-check it. The second time was the charm.

The gun needs to be unloaded and all ammo needs to be in a manufacturers box. I locked my slide open, emptied the magazine and put it in separately, and then added the small box of ammo. I made sure to leave enough room between them all that the x-ray machine could clearly see the empty gun, magazine, and separate ammo.

It’s your responsibility to inform the gate agent that you have an unloaded firearm to declare when you check your luggage. The gate agent may or may not know what to do next. The correct thing to do is have you sign and date TSA’s Unloaded Firearm Declaration form and put it inside the case while standing at the counter. If the gate agent doesn’t offer you the form, you’ll need to ask for it. The TSA requires the form whether or not the ticket agent offers one; it’s your responsibility to make sure you fill it out and place it in the case.

The ticket agent will then send the gun case (or suitcase) over to the TSA for them to check. Provided they’re happy that the gun is sufficiently locked up, they’ll put a huge zip-tie around it and it’ll make it onto the plane with the rest of the baggage. I didn’t ask, but I’m assuming the zip tie is how they identify baggage with guns without putting a huge ‘this is a gun’ sticker on it.

After arriving at your destination, you’ll need to head to the baggage office for your airline down by the luggage carousel. They’ll ask for your ID and then bring you the gun. I waited until I was outside of the airport to take my gun out of the case and holster it. Some airports don’t allow concealed weapons and I didn’t want to take that chance at my destination.

Again, let me state that this was my experience. Your experience of flying with a handgun may be completely different. I’d recommend arriving several hours before your scheduled flight just in case something goes wrong (as it did in my case).

If you’d like more info on the TSA and gun issues, check out CCW Safe’s In Self Defense podcast episode 115 with a former TSA lawyer.