FIND GUN LAWS BY STATE

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About the author
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Bryan L. Ciyou is a trial and appellate attorney at the Indianapolis law firm of Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. He earned his BA with distinction and graduated through the honors program, along with his JD,... Read More

Flying by Commercial Airline Scheduled Flight

I. Introduction

Before September 11, 2001, the process of placing a firearm in checked luggage and flying with it to another U.S. location was largely left to the airlines and its passengers. In fact, many Readers in the 30+ age range probably remember flying on about anyone’s ticket and just walking to the gate without any screening.

In the top-down look at aviation security, the Transportation Security Administration (“TSA”) came into existence. Ultimately, the TSA promulgated specific rules for flying with firearms in checked luggage, removing some of the ambiguity or inconsistent enforcement of airline rules for flying with firearms. Airlines can still have their own rules and do, but largely track TSA’s requirements.

Links to the pages of major carriers that address their rules:

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Any person who desires to fly with firearms in checked baggage should carefully study the TSA [http://gunla.ws/tsa] and airline’s most current rules, regulations and policies just prior to departure. Each and every rule and regulation must be followed. There are several general, universal requirements a passenger must follow in every check-in associated with passenger flight and a checked firearm (i.e., a handgun for purposes of reciprocity).

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II. TSA Requirements

A. Unload the Firearm 

Although it should not have to be said, the first requirement is that the firearm must be unloaded.  Point the gun in a safe direction and check to see that it is unloaded. Re-check manually (finger in the chamber/cylinder) and visually inspect it.

Remember, and apply, the universal gun safety rules:

Rule I:          (Treat) All Guns As Always Loaded.

Rule II:         Never Let the Muzzle (the end of the barrel where the bullet comes out) Cover Anything You Are Not Willing To Destroy.

Rule III:        Keep Your Finger Off the Trigger Until Your Sights are on the Target.

Rule IV:        Be Sure of Your Target.

Generally speaking, it is a bad idea to be manipulating and unloading a firearm that will be checked into luggage in the confined space of a car after arriving at the airport. This is a recipe for an accidental discharge. Also remember, many times where an “unloaded” firearm has discharged and killed an unintended victim, it was with the last round in the chamber. For instance, dropping the magazine in an auto-pistol does not extract the chambered round.

B. Declare the Firearm

At the first point to do so, the firearm must be declared to the airline check-in. In the hustle of modern-day airports, this is easy to forget. In addition, it is shockingly easy to neglect to account for the carry gun that a person may lawfully wear as a part of police officer or civilian apparel. Every major airport has had a seasoned civilian CCP or police officer enter security still wearing his or her carry gun.

One effective way to prevent the latter is by patting down the areas of Your own body where You routinely carry a firearm. Think from head to toe to ensure no firearm or ammunition remains on Your person, which may be a carry gun and not the one being checked.

A related consideration goes for carry-on luggage, which, for avid shooters, may have an errant bullet, knife or otherwise prohibited item contained within it. A preferred practice is maintaining separate “shooting” clothing and baggage in a separate home closet and never intermixing them.

C. Transport in Hard-Sided Case

TSA requires a hard-sided case for checked firearms. If the destination You are flying to is where reciprocal carry will occur, this would be a defensive handgun. The case must be able to be locked and the key maintained by the flyer. There are limits, however, including amount of ammunition that can be shipped.

D. Lock the Container, Keep the Key

As the rules stand today, TSA directs the passenger to keep the key to the lock, and if TSA desires to inspect the locked parcel, they will contact You. Airlines are pretty good in directing passengers where to wait until TSA makes this determination. If You cannot be located, the luggage containing the firearm will not be transported. Under federal law, it is illegal to flag a bag as containing a firearm. Nevertheless, it has occurred in the past.

An important legal right that You must understand is that federal law allows interstate transportation, including in checked baggage, of a firearm from any lawful place to any other place it would be lawful to possess. Nevertheless, in New York in the not-too-distant past, passengers with checked firearms were detained and threatened with confiscation of the firearms or arrest.

E. Keep the Ammunition in Separate Hard Box

Ammunition transported in checked luggage is limited in quantity. It must be kept in a separate container, although this may be the same locked container as holds the firearms. A factory cardboard box in which the ammunition was shipped by the manufacturer is generally preferred and clearly marked as to what it contains.

Since ammunition is heavy, it may be cheaper to purchase it at the destination if it is a standard caliber and readily available.

These five (5) considerations, along with some of my personal insight as a frequent flyer with firearms, should aid in Your education about the process in order to make a meaningful decision if the benefit is worth the risk for flying with a checked handgun for reciprocal carry.

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III. Airline Requirements

To be lawful, any firearm checked in luggage must follow the TSA’s requirements along with any other specific requirements of the airline. However, by federal law, the airline is not allowed to mark the baggage as containing firearms. Firearms have been stolen and/or lost from checked luggage, so insurance may be an important consideration.

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IV. Conclusion

Unloaded firearms may be lawfully checked in passenger baggage if packaged correctly and declared. The TSA has very specific directions on this that must be followed. Their site, along with that of any given airline, must be checked just before the time of transportation.

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FIND GUN LAWS BY STATE

Table of Contents

About the author
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Bryan L. Ciyou is a trial and appellate attorney at the Indianapolis law firm of Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. He earned his BA with distinction and graduated through the honors program, along with his JD,... Read More