Updated November 27, 2022.
You’re planning a trip and want to take your firearm with you, but you’re flying on a commercial airplane. Can you take the gun on the plane with you? Yes, you can legally fly on a commercial airline with your gun! There are, however, specific requirements to take your gun on a plane.
flying with your gun
According to the Transportation Security Administration (“TSA”), to take your firearm on a plane1, you need to unload your gun and put it in a locked, hard-sided container. This locked, hard-sided container must travel as checked baggage only. Many firearm cases do not meet the minimum size requirements (e.g., handgun case), in which case the container will go inside a larger piece of checked luggage.
Declaring your firearm
When you check your luggage at the airport, you must declare that you have a gun in your suitcase. At this time, airline personnel may inspect your firearm to ensure that it is unloaded.
The checked luggage must also contain all firearm parts. This includes magazines, clips, bolts, and firing pins.
However, there is a notable exception when it comes to firearm accessories. Your carry-on-bay may contain a rifle scope or optic2.
Once the inspection is complete, the agent will typically direct you to lock your firearm case in their presence. If the locked case is large enough, it will be placed on the conveyor belt and transported to your aircraft. If the locked case does not meet the minimum size requirements, it must be placed inside of a larger piece of checked luggage.
Declaring a firearm typically doesn’t take much longer than the normal process of checking a bag. However, you should arrive at the airport a little earlier than normal to ensure you don’t miss your flight.
Once you land at your destination, you will pick up your bag from the baggage claim like everyone else. At this point, it comes down to the airline. For some airlines, your bag does not go to any special pick-up location. Others may hold your bag at their counter.
Each airline can make its own policies regarding checking firearms. Therefore, it is important to call your airline ahead of time to check their gun policy.
What about ammunition?
You can also pack ammo in your checked luggage and may keep it stored in the same locked container as the firearm. However, you cannot have free-floating ammunition in your bag.
While, you are not legally required to carry ammo in the original packaging, that is a safe way to pack it. Additionally, you cannot use firearms magazines or clips for packing ammunition unless they enclose it.
Whether loaded or unloaded, magazines and clips must be securely boxed or included in the same hard-sided container as the unloaded firearm3.
What happens if I accidentally leave a gun in my carry-on bag?
Leaving a gun in a bag and then using that bag as your carry-on is something that happens quite frequently. This is why it is very important not to use your range bag as a carry-on bag. Ladies, always double-check your purses before heading to the airport.
The Benefits of an LTC
If you mistakenly leave your handgun in your carry-on bag and you have a valid License to Carry a Handgun (“LTC”) you have a powerful defense. An LTC prevents you from being arrested under these circumstances4.
If you have a valid LTC and accidentally carry your handgun to the screening area of the airport and leave immediately once notified, you have a defense. We call this the “airport oopsie” defense. Now, this doesn’t stop TSA from sending you a fine in the mail later for this mistake. The fine for accidentally bringing a loaded gun to security could be as high as $14,9505. Typically, we see those who have made this mistake receive a civil demand letter. This letter can arrive 3 months to two years after the incident with a fine of around $4,000 for a loaded gun. So, while you may avoid arrest if you have an LTC, there still might be a hefty fine to pay.
Without an LTC
Without an LTC, carrying a gun into a secured portion of an airport will result in arrest. This crime is punishable as a third-degree felony called Unlawful Carrying of a Firearm6. To add insult to injury, you will also receive a hefty fine from the TSA.
With the passage of Texas Constitutional Carry (The Firearm Carry Act of 2021) effective September 1, 2021, we have seen an increase in arrests for this situation.
General considerations for traveling with a firearm
Each state has different laws on the possession and carrying of a firearm. You must check the laws in the state you are traveling to before you travel. Some states have reciprocity with Texas, meaning they will recognize a valid Texas LTC.
Twenty-five states now allow for constitutional carry. However, some of these states only allow their residents to constitutionally carry and still require a valid license or permit for visitors to carry a gun.
Some states have VERY strict gun laws and have essentially outlawed the possession of guns by non-residents in their state. The states to watch out for are D.C. New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and California.
We have seen travelers arrested when they land in a gun-hostile state all too frequently. Remember, your airline will not prevent you from checking your gun at the airport to fly into one of these gun-unfriendly states.
If an arrest does not happen when you land, you may face arrest on your way back when you try to check the firearm.
Sometimes, you may not plan on landing in a gun-hostile state.
If your flight is unexpectedly diverted to one of these gun-unfriendly states. refuse to take possession of your baggage. Ask the airline to send your bag to your destination for you. Taking possession of your bag could result in your arrest. Even if you had no intention of landing in that state.
Traveling with your gun can be a simple and pleasant experience. It is important to make sure you know the laws before traveling. Make sure you don’t return on probation when you leave for vacation.
If you need help, the attorneys at Walker & Taylor will provide experienced legal representation. Contact the firm for a free case evaluation by calling (281) 668-9957 today!
Author: Leslie Rebescher
- TSA – Transporting Firearms and Ammunition
- 49 U.S.C. § 46505(b)
- 49 CFR 175.10(a)(8)
- Tex. Penal Code § 46.03(e-1) and (e-2)
- TSA – Civil Enforcement
- Tex. Penal Code § 46.03(a)(5)
DISCLAIMER: The information on this website does not contain legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship. Every case is different, and this material is not a substitute for and does not replace the advice or representation of a licensed attorney.