I was traveling to Washington, D.C. with a fellow officer on a trip to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. I had never flown with a firearm before. Unless you are on official business, law enforcement officers are not allowed to fly with a firearm in the passenger cabin.
My friend had flown with a handgun in checked luggage many times. All firearms must be checked in luggage. I had always thought flying with a gun would be a hassle. I decided to see how it really worked for domestic air travel.
The most important hurdle is doing your homework to package your gun and ammunition correctly, as defined by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) regulations and by the rules of the air carrier on which you are traveling.
The firearm must be unloaded in a lockable, hard-sided container. My first tip is that the plastic gun case your firearm came with may not be secure enough. The regulations prohibit cases that can be “pulled open with little effort.
Even if you are able to padlock the manufacturer’s gun case, many lack the rigidity to keep the ends from being pried apart far enough to liberate your gun. I recommend buying a metal case made specifically for securing a firearm.
Ammunition is the next issue to be addressed. Ammunition must be stored in cardboard, wood, or metal containers specifically designed to carry small amounts of ammunition. Ammunition cannot be stored in magazines or clips, unless they completely and securely enclose the ammunition (which they do not unless they have some sort of cap).
The ammo can be stored in the approved hard-side container with the firearm. I travel with the ammunition in small factory boxes that are placed inside my gun box. It is also permissible to place the ammunition in off-the-shelf ammunition cases like those used by handloaders to store ammo.
The next topic would be your luggage. The most secure luggage for any personal property is the hard-sided suitcase. Most travelers, however, use soft-sided luggage these days, and I admit I have traveled with a secured firearm in soft luggage.
There is a drawback to the standard hard-side suitcase. These are usually secured at the mounted latches by combination or specific keyed locks that are not readily accessible to TSA, which means they will break your bag open if necessary.
The firearms container I use has a handy cable lock that I weave in the soft-sided suitcase’s metal frame. It adds a bit more security, but if someone wants the whole bag, they’ll get it. On the plus side, nothing on the outside of your luggage will indicate there is a firearm inside, per ATF and TSA regulation.
Now you are enroute to the airport. I suggest giving yourself a bit more time than the average traveler because your interaction at the airline counter and TSA may add a short delay. By TSA regulation, you must declare you have a firearm in your checked luggage at airline check-in.
I have flown with a checked firearm in and out of international airports in New York, Washington D.C., Las Vegas, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and my home airport of Tampa. I have not encountered a problem. I’ll discuss what to expect at the airport in Flying with Firearms, Part II.