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Flying with Firearms – A Guest Post By Mike

Posted by Lissa on September 17, 2010

When I told Lissa about a recent airport experience while traveling with firearms, she asked that I write up a little bit about it because her impression is that most people don’t realize how easy it really is.  Until I had done it myself, I didn’t either!

I found a great resource that has a lot of great tips (some is pretty basic, like don’t walk up and announce loudly, “I have a gun,” but it is very useful overall): http://deviating.net/firearms/packing/

My first time was a pretty nerve-wracking experience.  I had an early AM flight out of Boston and took a taxi far earlier than normal because I really didn’t know what to expect at the airport and I wanted to allow plenty of time for secondary screening and the like.   When I arrived at the ticket counter, I mumbled that I needed the form to declare a firearm.  At the next counter over, a state trooper was berating some poor chap who’d left his luggage unattended, while I was maybe six feet away talking about guns and signing the bright orange form that’s quite hard to mistake once you’ve seen one.  He never looked up.

Once I’d checked in—they count a gun case as a checked bag, so you may have to pay, depending on your situation—an airline baggage handler escorted me to a table off to the side of the security lines and ducked through a door to fetch someone from TSA.  She came out, looked in the case—including under the foam to make sure I didn’t have any contraband—and pronounced it fine.  I locked it with regular combination locks—NOT TSA LOCKS*—and she took it off into the back to have it find its way aboard my plane.

At the other end, because the bright orange tag I’d signed saying my guns were unloaded was affixed to the case, I had to claim it at the baggage office and show a photo ID.  It turns out this isn’t supposed to be how it works, but the nice TSA lady put the tag there, so it wound up getting special handling.  Federal law (http://cfr.vlex.com/vid/31-delivery-common-contract-carrier-19675270) says there shouldn’t be any identifying labels when guns are being transported this way.  Sure, gun cases may look like gun cases, but most people won’t make you because they don’t expect guns in airports.

I have since traveled with firearms multiple additional times and they’ve all gone smoother than the first.  It’s interesting that the TSA people all handle things a little differently.  One guy didn’t even look inside the case because he figured that he’d find…a gun (and they were going to x-ray it anyway).  The most recent time, I got a TSA person who must be a bit of a firearms enthusiast.  He saw my M&P45 and said, “That’s really nice.  Is it a .45?”  He also took by far the longest to search the case (he took me into the back room to do this) because he was busy admiring the gun.  Perhaps not coincidentally, he was the only one who, without any prompting, knew that the bright orange declaration goes INSIDE the case or else it becomes an illegal identifying label.

The moral of the story is that, if I can travel with guns in Boston’s airport, it’s really not that big a deal as long as you play by the rules (both TSA’s and your airline’s).  I’ve never even been asked for my Massachusetts LTC, perhaps because only an idiot would take guns he can’t legally own onto an airplane and announce this fact to the federal authorities.

* TSA regulations require that only YOU have the key or combination to open your firearm case.  Regular TSA locks on a gun case are an invitation for theft.


10 Responses to “Flying with Firearms – A Guest Post By Mike”

  1. Nope no big deal at all. My experience was very similar to yours. Nobody really cared. The biggest hiccup (which was small) was the attendant didn’t know where the forms were and had to ask the woman beside her.

    Also on a fun side note, I like to tie a BIG pink bow on the handle of my gun case. #1. It makes my case easily recognized on the carousel. #2 It makes it look like a supermodel’s personal makeup case or other such girly buisness.

    Not that guns aren’t girly! ; ]

    • Mike said

      I forgot that part. They never seem to know where the forms are and have to check every workstation until they find a cabinet that is unlocked and has the right forms.

      I may copy the pink bow. Right now I have a brightly colored luggage tag, but a pink bow would definitely help it blend in. I’m fortunate that Delta gives me priority baggage handling, so my stuff usually isn’t hard to identify because it hits the carousel first.

  2. MattP said

    I usually get everyone freaking out and the police usually need to come over.

  3. Weer’d Beard, I have been reading your comments on various blogs for a while now and I never once invisioned you as a super model.


  4. Wally said

    One tip – the TSA is absolutely not allowed to touch your firearms. In several instances (post 9-11 but in an all manual screening airport) they have asked me to handle my firearms and demonstrate they are clear – which I will never do.

    And about one out of ten flights, the ticket clerk gives me the winky eye and tries to ignore the gun paperwork and offers to escort me through security. And that comes with a little notation on the mainfest saying that I was there and authorized to be there with my special little carry on. Which is a very nice gesture and all, and I do really appreciate it, but its safer if I dont. Then again, I’m afraid that if I was walked through, I’d realize how weak the security theater really is.

    At the ticket desk they will occasionally ask me to demonstrate that it is unloaded, and in this case I always offer to let them wave a gun around. Only one ever took me up on that, and it was when I was a flying noob around 1996, flying out of Logan. Ticket agent requested that she, I, and my bags went to the back room so she could verify the firearm. No sweat – nothing to fear, doing nothing wrong, privacy wont hurt. We go in the back, I open the case, she GRABS the 1911 (didnt clear it) and brings it up in a two handed grip (booger hook + bang switch), held about 4″ in front of her face. Then proceeds to make “Pew-Pew” sound effects as she’s aiming at objects around the office. I snatched it from her hand and put it back in the case and said we were done…

    Only other really bad moment was flying back into my home airport a couple of years back. Had a reasonably stout hard plastic rifle case (not exxactly a pellican but not too shabby), and it contained my match, an AR15 weighing in at about 15lbs. Well, it DID contain the rifle. The case comes up the conveyor, I go to give it a yank to lift it and go flying as the case is empty. Panic sets in. 30 seconds later, the AR comes up the conveyor belt and flops onto the carousel. Now panic is in overdrive. Grab the AR, clear it out of habit, and tuck it away in the case. Did turn a few heads, but very few considering it was a crowded baggage claim…. Does give appreciation for just how oblivious the average person is.

    • Mike said

      We actually do have Pelican cases now that I’ve been doing this more frequently. We also have a Winchester-branded pistol case (made by Vanguard I think) that worked, but it never gave me the same confidence. It’s handy for taking stuff to the range, but doesn’t stand up to baggage handling as well.

    • Lissa said

      OMG — both the “Pew-Pew!” story and the AR story freak me out just to IMAGINE. Holy crap!

  5. john b said

    Thanks for this info, I’ll be flying at some point and I hope to meet You, Mike, at a blog meet soon. And we have GOT to get Deviant Ollam to a local con soon.

    Actually I am flying in a week, and didn’t intend to carry. Now I’ll carry to protect all my other stuff.

  6. Jeff said

    If flying with just one pistol, I put it in a small locking hard case inside my regular checked bag. The gun case gets a normal lock, the outer bag gets a TSA lock.

    Wow, I can’t imagine the reaction at Logan to an AR coming down the belt.

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