I just got back from vacation. I drove from San Antonio to California and then flew back. Normally I would just borrow a gun while I was out there from a friend so I didn’t have to fly with a gun, but I didn’t want to take the road trip unarmed, so I had to fry back.
Flying with a gun in the United States is totally legal provided the weapon is legal where you started and where you are going. If you do connecting flights you are suppose to be protected under federal law, but New York City has arrested people despite the federal law, so I wouldn’t go through New York City, or Chicago, and be careful what you bring through California (the list is bigger, but these are the ones I’m familiar with). It’s your responsibility to know the local gun laws of everywhere you are going to have a gun. Handgunlaw.us and the NRA Gun Laws do a good job on keeping up with local laws, but there really is no good way to know. A local gun dealer is probably your best bet, if they have it on the shelf for sale where you are going it’s probably legal.
To fly with a gun it needs a locked hard case that only you have the key to. Handguns can go inside another checked bag, but rifles need a TSA approved case. Don’t worry, almost any hard sided case for a rifle is approved (even some I wouldn’t want to carry my gun in fearing it would fall out). I traveled with my Glock 19.
A little preparation is needed before you get to the airport. First, unload the gun and magazines. A loaded gun is not legal in an airport, so don’t bring it. Make sure it’s unloaded before you head out. Ammo is legal, it just needs to be in a factory box and not inside the same case as the gun (it can be in the bag). Make sure you take it out of your magazines. Loaded magazines are frowned upon. Have the locks on the case and everything ready to go. I berry my gun case down inside my clothes a little so it’s harder to find if someone sticks a hand inside looking for something good.
When you get to the counter (no curb side check in), you will have to declare the firearm, sign a form, lock the gun up and then probably stay to see if TSA needs to see the gun (they aren’t suppose to open the gun case unless you are there, but no, they don’t follow their own rules, I’ve found mine had been opened when I got to the other end). When you declare your gun chose your words carefully. I normally say “I need to declare a firearm,” no “I have a gun.” The ticket agent will walk you through everything step by step. Don’t argue with them unless they instruct you to do something that breaks federal law. The only two I know about that they have done was asked me to send the gun through without locking the case, or I’ve heard that they have asked to hold onto the key for a while. Both are violations of federal law and you are the one they may arrest. I simply told the ticket counter person, no it needs to be locked up. He told me that I would have to wait until TSA called me and then go talk to them. I said fine. TSA asked me to open the case, I did, and there was no problems.
It’s really not as hard as everyone makes it out to be. The last thing I would like to ask everyone is to disable your firearm when you pack it. Take the firing pin out, the take down pin/slide stop out, or even the recoil spring and put it in another bag or another part of your bag. This way if someone does steal your gun, at least they have to do something else to use your gun against someone else.
For all you guys that normally travel with a gun and this was just a refresher, please, PLEASE, disable your gun. There are so many stolen that you wouldn’t believe, and some of the weapons that I know have been stolen you wouldn’t believe (but I can’t share that in print). Please pull a part out of your gun. It won’t stop the really determined dirt bag, but it gives the good guys a better chance.