Traveling With A Firearm

Traveling with a firearm in an airport can be tricky. If you're flying into or out of Fresno International Airport with a firearm, you should be aware of a few things that can make your experience less... umm, interesting. 

The very first step that should be taken before you consider taking a firearm is to check the local state laws. Though California has some of the most strict gun laws, those laws are not universal across all states. Travelers leaving California may have a different experience than travelers entering California, and getting hemmed up at the airport can certainly hinder your travel plans. 

Keep in mind, if your trip includes layovers and connecting flights, you'll want to familiarize yourself with the gun laws of that state as well. 

A story that made the news years ago was about a man traveling through a New York airport with a high-capacity magazine. By New York standards, magazines are limited to eight rounds. Though New York was not his final destination, simply passing through while carrying something illegal (despite being legal in his home state) the man violated state gun laws. 

The easiest possible solution to avoid any potential problems is to simply avoid traveling to or through states with strict gun laws. If that is not an option, research and knowledge are your best friends.

Fun fact: The TSA includes pellet and BB guns in this guidance, so if you are taking Junior's 117 pellet gun, it also must be locked up according to the TSA laws.

Now that we've laid the foundation, let's talk about properly securing and transporting firearms while traveling. 

The following information was sourced directly from the TSA, American Airlines, and a few other airlines. Each carrier has different criteria, but the TSA offers the best overview of policy for traveling with a firearm in an airport. 

You must be older than 18 years old to transport a firearm. 

Firearms and magazines must be empty. Not a single round can be in the magazine or the chamber. Magazines must be removed from the weapon as well, and ammunition cannot be in the same secure case as the firearm. 

Ammunition is not accepted loose, or in magazines or clips. It must be in the original packing from the manufacturer or, as TSA defines, in packing specifically designed to carry small amounts of ammunition made of fiber wood or metal which is a maximum of 11 lb per container or customer.

Though TSA says you can take up to 11 lb of ammo, it notes that individual airlines (American, Southwest, Etc.) determine how much ammunition is allowed. Some airlines set a minimum amount of ammunition.

Authors Note: If your travel is to attend training in which the class requires a thousand rounds, you'll have to get ammunition at the final destination before going to class. I wouldn't risk transporting rounds in ammo cans or anything other than in a TSA-approved container or the factory ammo as it's boxed and not opened up.

There is no limit to the number of firearms you can travel with, according to the TSA. You can bring as many rifles or pistols as you'd like to wherever destination you're going; there is no limit. There may be fees that apply for the airline, but there is no limit to how many Firearms you can take.

We recommend pulling the bolt out and putting a cable lock through the firearm. For added compliance, double-lock your weapon using the lock mechanism on the physical weapon itself and run the lock cable through the magazine well. This locks the weapon and disables it before it is stowed and secured in a locking hard case.

Lastly, you'll need a hard case that can be locked at both ends with a TSA-approved lock, making the weapons inaccessible. Travel Cases with a single lock in the center WILL NOT satisfy the requirement.

Authors note: A lot of the Pelican cases have two or three points where you can place a lock. If you want to be extra safe get one that locks a third time in the center.

Now that your firearms and magazines are empty, ammo is properly stowed in an ammunition container or factory packaging, and weapons are secured in a hard case with 2 TSA-approved locks, it's ready to go to the airport.

Upon arrival at the airport, proceed to your carrier's check-in and declare that you're traveling with a firearm. They may ask you to open the box to make sure you have the keys on you. They may inspect the firearm to make sure it is properly unloaded and secured for transport. 

Again, I highly suggest you run a lock through that magazine well. If it's a rifle, I recommend removing the bolt to make it look safe. It is redundant but in cases like this, redundant is a failsafe.  

Since many shooters have (and possibly travel with) range bags, it's recommended you thoroughly examine your bags, especially if they will be used as a carry-on. Any loose ammunition or unsecured, undeclared firearms will be found by TSA, and you'll find yourself in a very uncomfortable position. Your favorite range bag may sometimes dub as your everyday carry bag, but if you plan to travel with it, be certain that it is clear for travel. 

Kind Of a Funny Story on this one, when I was traveling in Contracting I made it to Dubai with a checked bag and it ended up having a magazine of 9 mm in it it was a Glock Magazine with 9 mm rounds. That was not a fun night for me. It was a very long night of explaining. I was turned in to the police and they were like check this out we understand you're a contractor and you made a mistake but if this ever happens again it won't be this easy.

Keep my story in mind and keep yourself safe from a similar experience. Always clear your bag to be sure it's "sterile" meaning free of firearms, ammunition, magazines, or any other objects that may not be legal to travel with. 

To recap, make sure 

  • Firearm is unloaded
  • Remove the bolt (or lock the slide to the rear for pistols)
  • Secured with a cable lock (redundant, but recommended)
  • Magazines are empty
  • No magazines in the weapon or case
  • Ammunition is in the manufactures box or TSA-approved container (no ammo cans)
  • No loose ammo
  • Stowed in a hard case with 2 TSA-approved locking mechanisms (1 at each end)
  • At check-in, declare you're traveling with a firearm 

After the firearm has been properly prepared for travel, the most important element is to check the local state laws for your final destination as well as your layovers of where you're going and try to avoid gun restrictive states to keep yourself out of trouble.


Leave a Comment