Safely traveling with firearms by road or air
No matter why or to where you want to transport your firearms, you’re going to face a dizzying array of local, state, and federal laws that you must abide by. There are even special services to which, for a fee, you can submit your travel plans and lawyers will give you a multi-page report on how to carry them out lawfully.
There are three big reasons why you’ll want to transport firearms:
- For protection in transit
- For protection at your destination
- Simply to get the firearms from point A to point B
Knowledge is power, and the more of the relevant laws you know, the safer you will be. Unfortunately, this is a daunting task, especially if you are traveling between states. To make it even harder, basic terms like ‘open,’ ‘concealed,’ and ‘loaded’ can have unique meanings in different jurisdictions. For example, there are places where ‘loaded’ can include firearms with a loaded magazine within reach of them.
Concealed carry in your vehicle
If you intend to travel with a loaded gun, you will probably have to adhere to concealed carry laws. If you have a concealed carry license from your state, there is next to no chance that it will be considered valid if you travel to another state. You will have to re-apply in the destination state and fulfill all of their conditions, including undergoing their local safety training program. Always keep a copy of your CCW permit with you when carrying.
In some jurisdictions where firearms must be locked up while in a vehicle, locking your firearm in a lockable glove box is sufficient. There are dozens of products out there to help you store concealed firearms in your car, both locked up and near at hand. You’ll want a solution that gives you easy access to your gun while allowing you to continue smoothly steering your vehicle and maintaining situational awareness. Some gun safes integrate into your central console or another handy area of the cabin.
Alternatively, some holsters attach to your steering column, under the seat, or various other handy locations. Wearing a gun on your person while driving is rarely comfortable, so such products are a great investment. Just drive out to somewhere safe where accidents can’t happen and practice getting quick off the draw. If you keep your loaded weapon somewhere less dedicated like the glove box, use a holster that protects the trigger.
Keep in mind that there are places where federal law prevents you from taking a CCW, such as post offices.
Know the laws on transporting firearms by road
As mentioned, the laws on transporting firearms by road are incredibly complicated. Let’s say you are spending an extended period living and traveling in your RV. A man’s motorhome is his castle, right? Not necessarily. If in doubt, assume that laws for storing firearms at home do not apply to storage in your RV. Laws for transporting firearms in a vehicle will apply.
The NRA offers an interactive map to help you keep track of local laws when you’re traveling through states other than your own with firearms. When traveling between states, the safest method in legal terms is to store your firearms and ammunition in separate locked, purpose-built containers that are kept out of the passenger cabin, e.g., in the trunk. Even then, there are certain states in which you could run into trouble. Examples are Massachusetts and Maryland. It’s probably best to clench your sphincter and drive straight through these states without even stopping for gas.
You may also want to print out a copy of the federal law that guarantees your right to transport firearms for legal purposes. That is our dear sweet US Code 926A. Throw a copy in your carry case or the glove box. Local police officers aren’t required to learn every federal law, but they tend to stick to their guns, so to speak, when they think they’re on the right track. The Firearms Owners’ Protection Act (FOPA) is another great one to keep handy.
US Code 926A allows you to transport firearms for legal purposes under the condition that you are legally allowed to possess the firearms both in your departure point and destination. Remember, federal law does not obviate your responsibility to be aware of and adhere to local and state laws.
The law states that: “Notwithstanding any other provision of any law or any rule or regulation of a State or any political subdivision thereof, any person who is not otherwise prohibited by this chapter from transporting, shipping, or receiving a firearm shall be entitled to transport a firearm for any lawful purpose from any place where he may lawfully possess and carry such firearm to any other place where he may lawfully possess and carry such firearm if, during such transportation, the firearm is unloaded, and neither the firearm nor any ammunition being transported is readily accessible or is directly accessible from the passenger compartment of such transporting vehicle: Provided, that in the case of a vehicle without a compartment separate from the driver’s compartment the firearm or ammunition shall be contained in a locked container other than the glove compartment or console.”
In terms of state laws, the main thing to keep in mind is reciprocity. In gun law terms, reciprocity means that one state respects the permits issued by another state. Check the NRA map above for details. The laws change all the time, sadly usually for the worse, so make sure you get the most up-to-date information.
Firearms in public transit
Carrying a gun on the bus or other mass transit system is perfectly legal in many jurisdictions. The precise laws vary widely across the country, so once again, it’s best to keep yourself abreast of the latest legal info before hopping aboard.
Madison, Wisconsin tried to ban concealed carry from urban mass transit, only to have the ban shot down by the Supreme Court. Generally, if you have a CCW permit in a state, you can carry on a bus, but privately owned locations like businesses have the right to not admit anyone carrying. Carry your permit with you and for heaven’s sake, don’t carry when high or drunk. Act as the responsible ambassador of the shooting community that you are.
Sadly, Uber and Lyft do not allow drivers or passengers to carry firearms.
Flying with guns
Taking a domestic flight with a firearm is not as daunting as you might think. As long as you’re abiding by US Code 926A as outlined above and you have the right to possess firearms in your departure point and destination, there are only a few more things to keep in mind. You must always declare each of your firearms when you check them in. Failure to do so is a federal and state crime. Do not try to carry mags or any other firearms components in your carry-on. Even mags traveling without a firearm must be checked in a locked case. You can keep some ammo in a separate locked & checked case from that of your firearm.
You can find TSA approved gun safes in our guide here – The Best Small Gun Safes
Flying with your firearms as checked baggage is, unsurprisingly, obligatory. They must be unloaded and kept in an appropriate, locked container. A hard case with foam lining is best. Case manufacturers will make it clear which of their models are cleared for flights. You will have to keep the key to your gun case with you at all times unless the TSA requests it from you. You can take optics like a scope in your carry on.
Keep a record of everything in your gun case. There is a good chance that the TSA will break the locks and rummage around in it. If possible, remove the bolt and flag the chamber to save them the time of figuring out if it is in firing condition. Some cases will have locks that are designed for the TSA to be able to open them. Otherwise, pack some extra padlocks that fit your case in case they cut them off. Don’t forget to carry copies of all relevant documentation for your firearms at all times.
Quick tip for navigating airports in general. Dress as much like a police detective as possible. Skip the camo pants and the t-shirt you got at a gun show. Nice shoes, a collared shirt and if possible, a blazer always makes things run smoother, especially if you’re transporting firearms. Arrive at the airport extra-early and remain as calm and civil as humanly possible until you’re on the road away from your destination airport. Remember, you are representing the entire firearms and hunting community.
Choosing the right case for transporting firearms
Whether you’re transporting your firearms by road or by jet, getting the right case can be key to keeping them safe from damage or theft. As mentioned above, locking hard cases with foam lining are usually best. These come with various options. Some are watertight or structurally reinforced to keep them secure. Some have wheels and an extendable handle to help you navigate the airport. If you usually only drive across Arizona with your guns, such features may not be necessary, but you never know when an unexpected situation may arise, so it’s best to be prepared.
Case features to consider:
- Wheels and handle
- Foam lining
Those shotgun racks guys used to keep in their back of their truck cabins may be okay on a private ranch but are mostly a thing of the past. Rolling down the highway with one is not a good idea legally or in terms of safety.
As with so many things, transporting firearms takes planning and common sense. The Gordian knot of local, state, and federal laws covering firearms transportation can be daunting, but it’s all part of being a responsible gun owner. Knowledge is power, and having copies of all the relevant documentation, permits, and laws can keep you out of jail.
A good gun case, holster, or automotive gun safe is a great insurance policy for the safety of your gun and yourself. Shop around and don’t skimp. Have fun, stay safe, plan ahead, and keep it classy. Remember, we’re all counting on you as an ambassador of the shooting community.