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

Preparing for travel is one of the most important parts of planning a vacation, and people who want to bring firearms need to be ready for the rules and regulations that come with taking to the skies with weapons.

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


The container must completely secure the firearm from being accessed. Only the passenger should retain the key or combination to the lock unless TSA personnel request the key to open the firearm container to ensure compliance with regulations.

Officials also recommend travelers understand and comply with the laws concerning possession of firearms as they vary by local, state and international governments.

“Bringing a firearm to a TSA security checkpoint is a completely avoidable mistake,” TSA Regional Spokesperson Mark Howell said. “We ask passengers to thoroughly check their personal belongings before they come to the airport to avoid civil penalties and potential citations or arrest by local law enforcement.”

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As for those who plan to fly internationally with a firearm in checked baggage, please check the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website for information and requirements before travel.

Firearm parts, magazines, clips, bolts, firing pins and replica firearms are prohibited in carry-on baggage, but may be transported in checked baggage. Rifle scopes are permitted in carry-on and checked baggage.

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

“TSA has no concerns with passengers taking a firearm with them when they travel as long as they are properly packed and declared to the airline and left at the ticket counter,” Howell continued.

Carrying ammunition also entails certain protocols, as it may be transported in checked baggage, but is banned from carry-on luggage. Whether loaded or empty, firearm magazines and clips must be securely boxed or included within a hard-sided case containing an unloaded firearm.

Small arms ammunition (up to .75 caliber and shotgun shells of any gauge) must be packaged in a fiber, wood, plastic or metal box designed to carry ammunition and declared to the airline. Each carrier can vary on quantity limits for ammo, so it’s advised to call the airline before arriving at the airport.

The TSA website also listed several items that would not be permitted in checked or carry-on luggage, including flare guns, flares, gun lighters, gun powder and rocket launchers.

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

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