The Legal Brief – Flying With Firearms

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Adam Kraut’s The Legal Brief has become my go-to referral source for the myriad of questions that you, dear readers, send my directly. Adam, outside of being on various gun podcasts, being an attorney by day, running for the NRA board, and finding time to not cut his hair, records a fantastic YouTube show focusing on the major legal questions on firearms.

Oxymoronically dressed to the nines with a haircut in the… threes, he tackles the federal rules surrounding flying with firearms in civilian transport. So long as one follows four rules, its easy to transport a firearm:

  1. The passenger must declare to the aircraft operator, either verbally or in writing, before checking their baggage that the passenger has a firearm and that it is unloaded.
  2. The firearm must actually be unloaded.
  3. The firearm must be in a hardside container.
  4. The container in which the firearm is carried must be locked and only the passenger retains the key or combination*

*In my experience, best to fly with TSA locks. If they have to cut yours off, they may not send the firearm on as it is no longer “locked”.

Further, ammunition may also be transported per federal law (though the carrier may have more restrictions such as the weight of ammo carried) so long as it is not in the same container as the firearm. Ammo is not required to in a hard case, but must be in packaging sufficient for its safe transportation.

For details or to request new Legal Briefs check out the video below and leave a comment on the video!



Nathan S.

One of TFB’s resident Jarheads, Nathan now works within the firearms industry. A consecutive Marine rifle and pistol expert, he enjoys local 3-gun, NFA, gunsmithing, MSR’s, & high-speed gear. Nathan has traveled to over 30 countries working with US DoD & foreign MoDs.

Nathan can be reached at Nathan.S@TheFirearmBlog.com

The above post is my opinion and does not reflect the views of any company or organization.


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  • Vhyrus

    Not only should you not use tsa locks on your guns, you aren’t even legally allowed to, since you must be the only person that can access the firearms, and literally any tsa agent can pop a tsa lock.

    • ozzallos .

      For a firearm they generally arent going to force the lock if questions arise. Youll be found and asked to open the container yourself in their presence regardless of the lock type.

      • junyo

        ^This. I’ve been asked for the key before, refused to hand the it over, and they had to go fetch my case and bring it out so I could open it.

    • Zippy

      +1

      This article needs to updated ASAP!

      You should never use a TSA lock on your gun case. That could get you in trouble! It must be in a lockable hard sided case and a non TSA lock.

      Secondly, the TSA is not allowed by any means to cut your lock off. Only you can open it if it contains a firearm. They have no access and no authority to cut your lock. Of course, no lock means they can get in.

      Nathan, could you kindly do more research next time, don’t rely on your gut.

      And please update this article before someone gets in trouble.

      And could you also let folks know the rules for traveling with ammo. And please get that one right this time.

      Thanks.

      • Zippy

        Nevermind. You did address ammo. And you got that wrong as well…

      • Joseph Goins

        “Nathan, could you kindly do more research next time, don’t rely on your gut.”

        Research? He’s a Jarhead. That’s asking too much. (Just kidding.)

      • ozzallos .

        Police, on the otherhand, are fully authorized to do so if the need arises… Whatever that need might be. Don’t assume that lock is an impenetrable regulatory barrier just for the tsa.

        • Zippy

          True.

          But we aren’t talking about the police here.

          We’re talking about the regulations for flying with firearms.

          You should never use a TSA approved lock on your gun case under any circumstances.

          Straight from the TSA website; “Only the passenger should retain the key or combination to the lock.”

          Furthermore, if the police pry off your lock they better have a good darn reason as to why. The TSA are not allowed to pry off your lock and the case can only be opened by you and in your presence.

          • Sulaco5

            Zippy see my comment above…

          • ozzallos .

            I only mention it because the impression I seem to be getting from this thread is that a lock is an impenetrable procedural barrier. Police will go through a lock based off of a TSA generated concern. Not without good reason as you say, but it’s there.

      • Sulaco5

        BS the TSA can’t get their act together! In the last year I have flown where they tell me Don’t lock your suitcase but lock the gun case. Lock your suit case and the gun case and ended up cutting MY locks off a the destination airport anyway. When I complained that I had complied with TSA orders all I got was a shoulder shrug and a comment that they couldn’t say anything about the other airport TSA??? Now the TSA in two airports didn’t get involved at all the airlines were “responsible” for checking through firearms according to the TSA agent on scene. Nuts!

      • His rules for ammo are also incorrect.

        Under Federal law the only requirement is that they be securely encased so that they can not go off. Beyond that is airline rules.

        Southwest for example is very permissive, they don’t care where in your checked bags your ammo is in, as long as it is less than 11lbs. And is in a container designed to transport ammo. That includes a magazine as long as the top is covered in a pound.

        And the allowed amount caries for example with Alaska I don’t know the details of their rules, I do know they allow up to 50lbs of ammo.

        Other are extremely restrictive recently with Air New Zealand I can’t even have the ammo in the same bag as the gun. And that seemed to be the only of the firearms rules that the counter person in Houston knew. The rest was clown shoes with me telling her that “I am not going to do that” because it was a bad idea or violates Federal law several times.

    • PersonCommenting

      Most hard sided cases are going to be plastic, a lock wont matter as they can be twisted off anyways.

      • David Siemens

        Then they’ll have damaged your luggage. They’ll break your locks because they can replace them but if they break your case, it can’t be loaded on the plane.

        • PersonCommenting

          Okay I must be thinking of something different. Why would they need to open it?

          • Mustascheo

            Maybe if they find a nice iPad or something they want.

  • Brian Hert

    There should be no reason for them to attempt to open the container after it has been examined by the TSA. The agents I worked with had be open the locks so they could check, then relock and send on.

    • Dave Parks

      The problem is that there’s no tag for “this item has been screened” visible from the outside of the container, and bags get pulled off randomly for additional screening. They *will* open the bag one way or another, and they *will not* put an unlocked firearm on the plane.

      Also, be thankful there’s no marking on the outside of the item. What’s supposed to happen at your destination is you go to a separate pick up area and show ID to pick up your case, but not all airports do this. I won’t say which one, but at one west coast city (ironically obsessed with restricting access to firearms), there was no such pick up area. I ended up telling an attendant I had checked a firearm and asked where I could pick it up, and she simply said, “odd-size baggage” and pointed to a corner. There, I found my rifle case propped against the wall with no employees to be seen. Basically, for all anyone knew, I was just some random guy who walked up and asked, “where do you put the guns?” and walked out with the biggest rifle case I could find no questions asked.

      I guess the moral of the story is use TSA locks, and maybe don’t use a rifle case that looks like a rifle case, and the day the TSA makes sense is the day I’ll eat my hat.

      • Bill

        When I’ve flown, and it’s been a couple years, after checking out the gun and having me lock the case, the TSA taped it, pretty thoroughly with their equivalent of tape evidence seals.

        • Nashvone

          Same here. I declare it, it’s inspected by TSA in front of me. I put my lock on it and they tape it. Outside of a few new scrapes, that’s exactly how it looks on the other end.

      • Swarf

        The TSA is the government equivalent of a chimpanzee with dysentery

        It’s already crudely ineffective, mean-spirited and minimally intelligent, but then it has to go and always be looking for something new to messily sh*t on.

      • Zippy

        No. Never use a TSA if you’ve got a choice. We aren’t required to use TSA locks and the TSA doesn’t want us to use one.

        TSAlocks are way to easy to unlock. There’s only a few master keys. Also search you tube for how easy it is to pick them.

      • Cymond

        I’ve told this story before, but …
        A few years ago, my wife and I were living in California and flying home to visit family. The plane had maintenance trouble, and they replace it with a smaller plane. Anyway, we got bumped off, and had no chance of making our connection. The airline employees couldn’t get us to our destination. The best they could do was another airport 250 miles from our destination, and landing about 8 hours later than planned, too. My father-in-law had to drive down, pick us up, and drive us home.
        However, our checked luggage managed to get on the plane …

        I was kind of freaking out about my guns arriving before us. What did I do? The only thing I could; I called my mom.

        She literally walked into the airport, picked up a 30 pound crate of guns & ammo from the baggage carousel, and walked out. No one said anything to her. We were all horrified how easy it was.
        http://files.stanleyproducts.eu/CatalogImages/7923_prev.jpg

        Also, back in those days, my bags were actually marked with a “firearms” code on the label, but it looked just like the labels they put on all the other checked baggage, so it was non-obvious unless the label was scanned or read closely.

        • Sand

          I’ve flown with firearms many times, and only once ever have I been asked for ID in order to pick it up at the destination airport. Sounds to me like that’s just asking for trouble, but I’m not sure what can be done about it.

          • Cory C

            Same here. My gun always just gets checked with my overnight bag and comes out the other side right next to grandma’s flowery suitcase.

            One time I went to the carousel, the bag never showed up, and it turned out that they knew it had a gun and therefore kept it in the little lost baggage hut. Other than that, they treat it like any other gun.

          • Norm Glitz

            Same here. Atlanta. Everywhere else, nada.

        • Mustascheo

          Mine goes into my checked luggage, so you’d never know it was there unless you stole my entire bag.

  • lawBOb

    This comment is contradictory:

    “The container in which the firearm is carried must be locked and only the passenger retains the key or combination*

    In my experience, best to fly with TSA locks. If they have to cut yours off, they may not send the firearm on as it is no longer “locked”.

    If you use a TSA lock, then you aren’t the ONLY one with the key. That’s the whole point, they aren’t allowed to open the hard case with the firearm.

    • lawbob

      And…reading comments below, TSA already examined the contents of the hard case BEFORE you locked it up, and then sent it through additional x-ray screening usually not required.

      • Cymond

        That’s how it’s supposed to work, but I’ve had times when a TSA agent has approached me and demanded my keys. The inspection was done in a back room, and I was not even allowed to even supervise them.

        • stephenfshaw

          This has happened to me as well. The proper response is to refuse and ask for a supervisor. helpful to have a printed copy of the regs as well.

        • robocop33

          WRONG, if I cannot watch, then they don’t get the key! DO NOT let them bully you and if they won’t listen, call for a Police Officer, a REAL one.

      • Zippy

        No, no and no.

        The TSA can verify the case is locked. That is all! They don’t examine the contents before.

        If they wish to exam the contents, only you can unlock it.

        If everything looks good on the x-ray then they’ll rarely ever ask you to open it.

    • Joseph Goins

      How is that statement contradictory?

      • Cory C

        I think some of these guys are misunderstanding the point being made. He’s not making a recommendation concerning one’/ desire to play Constitution Police, Action Squad. Instead, he’s offering practical advice as to making sure your gun doesn’t get held onto for stupid reasons. Yes, the TSA should never have to break your lock off. Yes, they should know the rules. Yes, if they break the rules they can get into trouble. But most people are probably more concerned about getting to their destination with their gun and not getting screwed than they are concerned about teaching the TSA how the law works.

        • Bland Samurai

          Actually, they are immune from violating regulations. Regulations aren’t laws but people have been duped into believing they’re interchangeable. I contacted the supervisor at the Greenville, NC airport 5 years ago about an incident with his agents. He couldn’t have cared less and stated his “agents” weren’t required to know or follow regulations. That’s what happens when you hire double digit IQ drones to provide “security”.

      • Lawbob

        “Only the passenger has the key” vs “use tsa locks”

        You’ll have to infer that the second one means “they” TSA will have a key.

        That’s contradictory.

  • Joseph Goins

    One thing to mention too is that some state/local governments make it a crime to have a gun at an airport which means that you can’t fly in or out with a gun.

    • Martin Grønsdal

      wouldn’t that be having a loaded gun, aka being armed? as opposed to travelling with a gun in a box, transporting it?

      • Joseph Goins

        Nope.

        • billyoblivion

          Technically federal law provides a “safe harbor” for travelers who are following all the laws at their origin and destination, and are traveling with an unloaded, locked up firearm.

          But yes, NYC/New Jersey are confused about the constitution, and think that Federal Law only applies to them when it’s time for money to be handed out.

          • Joseph Goins

            “Technically federal law provides a “safe harbor” for travelers who are following all the laws at their origin and destination, and are traveling with an unloaded, locked up firearm.”

            That law (18 USC § 926A) is only valid if the “neither the firearm nor any ammunition being transported is readily accessible.” That means that you cannot pick up your checked firearm because it is readily accessible. Interesting to note that the statute was written specifically for transport via passenger car.

  • Brick

    Worth sharing:

    Special advisory for New York & New Jersey airports: Despite federal law that protects travelers, authorities at JFK, La Guardia, Newark, and Albany airports have been known to enforce state and local firearm laws against airline travelers who are passing through their jurisdictions. In some cases, even persons traveling in full compliance with federal law have been arrested or threatened with arrest. FOPA’s protections have been substantially narrowed by court decisions in certain parts of the country, particularly in the Northeast. Persons traveling through New York and New Jersey airports may want to consider shipping their firearms to their final destinations rather than bringing them through airports in these jurisdictions.

    • Gary Kirk

      If you’re flying to one of said destinations, just leave yours at home, and pick one up when you get there.. Same goes for D.C., B’more, or Chiraq.. Amongst others, but damned near just as easy to get ahold of a weapon in the middle of these “gun free” zones..

      • aaronbbrown

        Another gun nut moron heard from. I have no doubt you can’t shoot, you’re kind never can when it matters.

        • billyoblivion

          Did you deliberately miss his point in your desire to beat your hollow chest and take a shot?

          Or did you just not understand it?

          • Dan

            Judging by his other posts he thinks very highly of himself, too bad he is not as “great” in real life as he is on a keyboard.

        • Dan

          Hows that land slide victory you kept predicting in all your other posts? Another over confident tard heard from. Doubtless you ever understood just how hated clinton was. I guess though most of the voters must be “racist”.

    • Sulaco5

      And God help you if your flight is cancelled and you are stuck in NY over night. If you can’t leave your suitcase in the airlines custody, when you try to check back in to fly out the next day you WILL be arrested if your’ not LE.

    • Norm Glitz

      I live in NJ and have flown in and out of Newark and Trenton several times with firearms. In Newark, they’re a deliberate pain. They have no idea what the rules are and seem to think they can make things up on the fly, but I’ve always gotten in and out successfully. Just leave extra time to deal with the idiots.

      Trenton, on the other hand couldn’t be easier. ONE ticket bench and the TSA
      X-Ray machine is right next to it. I told the TSA agent that I had unloaded firearms in an obvious firearm case. She asked me if it was unloaded. “Yes, they are.” Then she asked me to help lift the case onto the X-Ray machine. That was it. On arriving back in Trenton, the case came off the airplane with all the other luggage, I grabbed it and off we went. No sign of police anywhere.

      NYC on the other hand … I won’t go near the place with a gun.

      • Brick

        Yeah, the Greg Revell thing happened at EWR.

  • CS

    Can we please get Adam Kraut to write for TFB?

    • Adam Kraut

      I’ve got enough endeavors right now that I couldn’t possibly do that. But I’d appreciate you watching The Legal Brief on The Gun Collective!

  • TimRoy

    Flying is such a time consuming PITA these days. The last thing I would consider is bringing a gun, especially after reading all the vagaries in the comments, which indicate you risk everything from missing your flight to losing your gun to getting arrested. Almost better to buy one at a gun show at your destination, or ship it.

    • Zippy

      I’ve flown with firearms and ammo numerous times. From large airports and small airports.

      Never once had a problem.

      Follow the rules and you are good. What’s in this article is wrong. Go to the TSA website and read the rules.

      Give yourself an extra 15-30 minutes then you’d usually give yourself, just in case things go slow or something. But that’s never happened to me, breezed right through and have plenty of time to wait in the security lines while my luggage is on the way to the plane.

      I was actually surprised how easy it was the first time I traveled with guns and ammo.

      Just follow the rules.

      I’ve been frequenting this site for years and cannot believe how blatantly wrong this article is.

      Realistically, there’s no reason for them to ever look into your case. Only if something looks wrong on the x-ray, you used a TSA lock or no lock, but that won’t happen would it because you’ll follow the rules?

      • Cory C

        Seconded. I fly with a gun all the time. Yes, the TSA is a pain, but the gun doesn’t change that one way or the other.

  • Gary Kirk

    Outside of going to Africa, I will only ever be driving with my firearms.. I don’t trust the tsa as far as they can make it from their smartphones.. Airports are worse than Wal-Mart anymore, 40 checkout lanes, all manned, 3 are open..

  • stephenfshaw

    This has got to be a typo, or else they didn’t watch the video. I’ve flown with ammo in the gun box several times.

  • DaveP.

    If I understand correctly, one alternative is to ship your firearm to yourself wherever it is you plan on staying. Mr. Kraut, could you bring some light on this?

    • Cymond

      I’ve read that, but never figured out how to do it legally. USPS is out, and common carriers like FedEx and UPS refuse to do it despite being legal.

      • Sand

        Interesting. I have shipped a couple of guns via UPS to get recall or warranty related repairs done before. They even came and picked it up. I quite surprised since I live in one of the more gun-unfriendly states. Might be different because the manufacturer set it up, though.

        • Cymond

          Yeah, you were shipping it to the manufacturer, which of course has an FFL. I’ve never found a comment carrier that would ship to a non-FFL, even if shipping to myself from myself.

      • billyoblivion

        “What is in the box?”

        “Machine Parts”.

        • Cymond

          “Remember federal law 18 USC 922(e); 27 CFR 47831(a) requires a non-licensee to provide written notice to the common carrier (FedEx, UPS, etc.) that the package contains a firearm. A violation of these provisions of the law is a federal criminal offense.”

          “Internal corporate policies of the carriers, also can complicate matters. For example, FedEx has an internal policy against shipping a firearm to/from anyone other than an FFL.”

          copied from professionaloutdoormedia org/node/5725

          • Norm Glitz

            Don’t rely on articles (especially this one). Go to the FedEx or UPS websites and read their rules directly. Anything else is opinion.

      • Cory C

        Weird. I’ve shipped guns with FedEx and they didn’t care.

    • Adam Kraut

      Yes. Thats going to be a future topic covered.

      -Adam

    • Cory C

      Makes sense on paper, but I have had WAY worse experiences with the postal service than with the TSA. Your mileage may vary.

  • Jack_A_Lope

    This entire post should just be removed. Terribly misleading.

    • Zippy

      +1

      Not only misleading but the research wasn’t done properly.

      Someone will get in trouble if they follow this article.

  • robocop33

    My biggest worry is that my weapon will be stolen or ‘misplaced’. I just do not have much trust with those that will handle my baggage especially because in many cases these handlers will have been notified which bags contain weapons.

    • Cymond

      Actually, it’s my understanding that “gun cases” are monitored and investigated with extra care, to the point that some people who travel with expensive property (thousands of dollars in camera gear, instruments, etc) actually include a cheap gun in the case to get the special handling.
      lifehacker com/5448014/pack-a-gun-to-protect-valuables-from-airline-theft-or-loss

      • QuadGMoto

        I wish they had that option for protecting very expensive items too, like musical instruments!

        • billyoblivion

          Put a gun in it.

          • QuadGMoto

            That only works when it’s legal to posses one at both ends. Unfortunately, that’s not possible on my trips where flying is necessary. 😠

          • billyoblivion

            Nah, you just have to manipulate what “firearm” means.

            **IIRC** A flare launcher (leave the ammo at home) counts as a “firearm” for Airline purposes. So does a starter pistol.

            In most (IIRC all) US states and many countries a flare launcher is legal. Or whatever. Mix and match as need be.

      • Zippy

        I’m not so sure about that. I think it depends on the airport.

        It is frustrating when your firearms are dropped off at the oversized package pickup area with no one there…and they’ve been sitting there for god knows how long while you try find someone to figure out where your bags are…

        All these rules we need to follow but nothing about what the airlines/TSA need to do when the firearm arrives at the destination airport.

  • Zippy

    Still no updates to this article to reflect what the rules actually are?

    This is one reason why I stopped visiting TTAG…

    Could you prove me wrong and show to us that this is still a reputable site to visit!

    If the poor reporting keeps showing up, I’ll need to find a new gun site to visit.

  • BillC

    NO TSA LOCKS! Jesus.

  • BillC

    Jesus, TFB. You can HAVE ammo in the same case? Did you ‘tards eat paint chips or something?

    • BillC

      *You CAN HAVE ammo in the same case!* (Wasn’t supposed to be a question)

  • valorius

    You seem pretty fixated on his hair dude.

    • Norm Glitz

      “fixed”

  • Cory C

    True. I fly with a gun all the time (once every other week or so) for work, and the ammo is always in the same box.

  • ReadyorNot

    Jack, thanks I scratched my head at that statement and the TSA locks thing too.

  • Sid

    This article contradicts each other:
    The container in which the firearm is carried must be locked and only the passenger retains the key or combination*
    *In my experience, best to fly with TSA locks. If they have to cut yours off, they may not send the firearm on as it is no longer “locked”

    I would NEVER use TSA locks. By doing that that breaks the rules that the passenger retains the only key. Also by using a TSA lock, it allows TSA to get into your gear.. theft of expensive small components is a high risk. People have had their gun cases partially broken into on one side.. just imagine if they had the key..

  • Jeff Goldstein

    The locked hard sided case can be your suitcase with your clothes and guns inside. Ammo CAN be in that same suitcase in the box that it came in.

  • pismopal

    Use TSA locks only and assume that something unexpected may happen…you are dealing with the federal government. If you lose your gun because the case arrives with an open TSA lock that you used, you have nobody to blame but yourself.

  • Mustascheo

    Every time I’ve flown (without TSA locks), they’ve simply had me standby while TSA x-rayed my bag until they gave me the go ahead. Never had an issue with locks.