Flying with a Gun: How to Travel Safely and Legally With a Firearm

Travel preparation is one of the most important parts of vacation planning, and individuals wishing to bring firearms must be prepared for the rules and regulations that come with flying in the skies.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) allows passengers in the United States to carry unloaded firearms in a locked hard-shell container as checked baggage only, but travelers must declare guns and ammunition to the airline when checking baggage at the ticket counter.

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The container must completely secure the firearm against unauthorized access. Only the passenger should keep the key or combination for the lock unless TSA personnel request the key to open the gun case to ensure compliance.

Officials also encourage travelers to understand and obey firearms laws, as they vary by local, state, and international government.

“Taking a firearm to a TSA security checkpoint is an absolutely avoidable mistake,” said TSA regional spokesman Mark Howell. “We ask passengers to thoroughly check their personal belongings before coming to the airport to avoid civil penalties and possible subpoenas or arrests by local law enforcement.”

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For those planning to fly internationally with a firearm in checked baggage, please check the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website for information and requirements prior to travel.

Firearm parts, magazines, clips, bolts, firing pins and replica firearms are prohibited in carry-on baggage but may be carried in checked baggage. Scopes are allowed in carry-on and checked baggage.

For clarification, TSA officials said bringing an unloaded firearm with accessible ammunition to the checkpoint carries the same civil penalty as carrying a loaded gun through security.

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“TSA has no concern for passengers carrying a firearm as long as it is properly packaged and declared to the airline and checked in at the ticket counter,” Howell continued.

Carrying ammunition also requires specific protocols as it is permitted in checked baggage but prohibited in carry-on baggage. Whether loaded or empty, firearm magazines and magazines must be securely packaged or contained in a hard case containing an unloaded firearm.

Small arms ammunition (up to .75 caliber and shotshells of all calibers) must be packaged in a fiber, wood, plastic, or metal box designed to carry ammunition and declared to the airline. Each airline may vary ammo quantity restrictions, so it is recommended to call the airline before arriving at the airport.

The TSA website also listed several items that would not be allowed in checked or carry-on baggage, including flare guns, flares, lighters, gunpowder and rocket launchers.

Last year, TSA officers detected 5,972 firearms on passengers or their carry-on baggage at checkpoints across the country, a 35 percent increase from 2019. The agency also reports that 86 percent of those firearms were loaded.


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