How to Travel with Firearms with Less Stress

Plane taking offFor a shooter that has never traveled with firearms or a new concealed carry permit holder, it can be a daunting proposition.

Firearm possession laws vary by state and locality. And travelers should familiarize themselves with state and local firearm laws for each point of travel prior to departure. Hopefully the following information can get you started.

Understanding the laws for each point of travel

While it would be very smart to research the state and local laws of every state and community you will be passing through, it isn’t very practical for many travelers. Luckily there are a number of phone apps and internet resources to help you through it.

One of my favorites and one I have used for years is

According to the site, my North Carolina permit is among the most accepted in the nation (37 states) and is accepted in every state that honors out-of-state permits, save Maine and Minnesota so travel for me is easier than for some.  However, there are still a number of subtleties that are important to know about each state.  For example….

  • In North Carolina, the proper place to carry loaded weapon without a permit is either the dash or uncovered on a seat in plain view. In South Carolina, that would get you arrested.
  • In Ohio, a magazine with a capacity over 30 rounds it is illegal. In Massachusetts, the max is 10. In most states there is no limit.
  • In Virginia, you can carry in a restaurant. In North Carolina you can’t carry in a restaurant or a movie theater.
  • In Texas only the 30.06 sign has weight of law. In Arkansas, any sign does. In Oklahoma, no sign carries weight.

What if I have to travel through a state where my license isn’t accepted?

Luckily the federal government has provided some coverage for lawful gun owners to travel through non-permissive states in the Interstate Transportations of Firearms Act which states…

18 U.S.C. §926A. Interstate transportation of firearms

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.

All this translates to mean… If you are legal where you start and you are legal where you are going, you are safe to transport a firearm unloaded in a locked container or in the trunk.

Unfortunately, there is some debate about when this protection ceases…

  • When the car stops moving?
  • When you stop to get gas, food or lodging?

This means that you are best served by planning your trip to not need gas in these states and avoiding airports in those locales if at all possible.

You don’t want to suddenly be in position of a handgun in Chicago because your flight got canceled.

Guide to flying with a handgun

Flying makes many people apprehensive, even without a weapon, but it shouldn’t be that scary.  The key is to know and follow the guidelines and established by the TSA and the airlines.

The TSA permits travelers to transport UNLOADED firearms in a locked, hard-sided container in or as checked baggage. All firearms, ammunition and firearm parts, including firearm frames and receivers, are prohibited in carry-on baggage.

The TSA regulations are as follows on 1/1/2013…

  • Travelers must declare all firearms to the airline during the ticket counter check-in process.
  • The firearm must be unloaded.
  • The firearm must be in a hard-sided container.
  • The container must be locked. A locked container is defined as one that completely secures the firearm from being accessed. Locked cases that can be pulled open with little effort cannot be brought aboard the aircraft.
  • If firearms are not properly declared or packaged, TSA will provide the bag to law enforcement for resolution with the airline. If the issue is resolved, law enforcement will release the bag to TSA so screening may be completed.
  • TSA must resolve all alarms of checked luggage. If a locked container containing a firearm alarms, TSA will contact the airline, who will make a reasonable attempt to contact the owner and advise the passenger to go to the screening location. If contact is not made, the container will not be placed on the aircraft.
  • If a locked container alarms during screening and is not marked as containing a declared firearm, TSA will cut the lock in order to resolve the alarm.
  • Travelers should remain in the area designated by the aircraft operator or TSA representative to take the key back after the container is cleared for transportation.
  • Travelers must securely pack any ammunition in fiber (such as cardboard), wood or metal boxes or other packaging specifically designed to carry small amounts of ammunition.
  • Firearm magazines and ammunition clips must be securely boxed or included within a hard-sided case containing an unloaded firearm.
  • Small arms ammunition, including ammunition not exceeding .75 caliber for a rifle or pistol and shotgun shells of any gauge, may be carried in the same hard-sided case as the firearm, as long as it follows the packing guidelines described above.
  • TSA prohibits black powder or percussion caps used with black-powder.

These regulations are strictly enforced. Violations can result in state and local criminal prosecution, as well as civil penalties of up to $2,000 per violation.

Airlines may have additional requirements for traveling with firearms and ammunition. Travelers should also contact the airline regarding firearm and ammunition carriage policies.

To help I have provided links to 5 common airlines and outlined some of their peculiarities.

American Airlines

American Airlines calls attention to the fact that Pellet and BB guns are not considered firearms, therefore do not require any special handling or documentation, but still need to be checked due to TSA regulations.

They do however limit the number of firearms that are permitted in any single case as a maximum of three rifles/shotguns or five pistols/revolvers But they don’t limit the amount of cases allowed.


Delta has one of the most poorly written policies and in addition to the TSA regulations they require the following:

Pistols and accessories must be included in one case and contain:

  • Pistol telescopes
  • Noise suppressors
  • A small pistol tool case

Rifles and shotguns must be packaged as follows:

  • One gun case containing rifles or shotguns, plus shooting materials and tools
  • One gun case containing handguns, one scope and tools

I believe this means that you are allowed a maximum of 1 pistol and 1 long gun case to contain all of your gear; however, it could be read that you must have a suppressor for you pistol which would be a wonderful rule.


As a counterpoint to American Airlines, on Southwest paintball guns and BB guns are considered the same as all other firearms, which is very conservative. But allows pistols in a hard-sided locked case to be placed inside a soft-sided, unlocked suitcase! (I don’t recommend that) AND they allow for magazines to be filled, so long as they are in secure cutout in the carrying case.

United Airlines

United only accepts one item of shooting equipment per customer as checked baggage. With one item of equipment is defined as one hard-sided shooting equipment case containing up to five firearms, with or without scopes, 11 lbs. (5 kg) of ammunition and articles used in the firearm sport.

Handguns must be packed in hard-side lockable luggage. Baggage containing handguns must be locked at the time of acceptance by United Airlines and the key or combination retained in the passenger’s custody.

Do you have hard-sided luggage?

US Airways

There is no limit to the number of items contained in rifle, shotgun or pistol case, up to 50 lbs/23 kg, 62 in/157 cm in maximum

My personal experiences

I have never experienced any issues traveling with firearms, but that could be due to my preparation.

When traveling by car I print out and READ  the report for every state on my route and pay special attention to…

  1. The police notification requirement (after all it is the most likely armed confrontation I will face Link: Surviving a Traffic Stop)
  2. Legality of restaurant carry
  3. Additional prohibited places
  4. Any gear restrictions (Magazine limits)

When traveling by air I read and print out the guidelines for both the TSA and any airline I will be using. I then pack my gear based on those guidelines with my slides/bolts locked open to show they are clear with minimal handling.

There are 3 things to remember that will help you through the process…

  1. If at anytime the airline employee or TSA agent asks me to do something that is not illegal, do it.
  2. If by chance you are asked to do something you know is illegal, don’t argue, just request a supervisor (and maybe another until you get to someone who knows the law).
  3. Stay Calm and Carry On!

If you have any tips that weren’t covered here, let me know in the comments below and if you think it would help someone, feel free to share it via Twitter, Facebook or E-mail!


  1. Old_NFO says

    One comment on United, a hard sided PISTOL CASE is required, it can be packed in a soft sided larger bag. I travel United quite a bit and have never had a problem.

Speak Your Mind