For various reasons you may need to travel with firearms. It should be a simple thing, but the laws on transportation of firearms, even interstate, can be complex. In this article we will take a look at what you need to do if you wish to travel with firearms, either between states or internationally — including checking in a firearm when flying commercial flights.
Remember that these laws are subject to change. This article should therefore be considered an introductory guide, and not legal advice or restatement of the law.
United States Code, Title 18, Part 1, Chapter 44, firearm definitions includes: any weapon (including a starter gun) which will, or is designed to, or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive; the frame or receiver of any such weapon; any firearm muffler or firearm silencer; and any destructive device. As defined by 49 CFR 1540.5 a loaded firearm has a live round of ammunition, or any component thereof, in the chamber or cylinder or in a magazine inserted in the firearm.
Related Article: 20 Gun Safety Tips You Need To Know
What does the federal law say about transportation of firearms
There is no federal law saying you can't transport legally acquired firearms interstate for lawful purposes, except for people prohibited to do so by law — like convicted felons or those under indictment for felonies, illegal drug users, illegal immigrants, dihonorably discharged veterans, people who have for various reasons renounced their US citizenships, and so forth. If you're unsure about whether this could apply to you, seek legal counseling from a qualified attorney.
For most of us — based on the above — transporting firearms across state boundaries should not be a problem.
However, many states have their own laws governing how firearms can be transported within the state– and this is something you as a traveler need to be aware of and comply with. NRA writes this in an article on the subject:
If in doubt, a traveler should carry firearms unloaded, locked in a case, and stored in an area (such as a trunk or attached toolbox) where they are inaccessible from a vehicle’s passenger compartment and not visible from outside the vehicle. Any ammunition should be stored in a separate locked container. Title 18 Part 1 Chapter 44 s926A
The Firearms Owners’ Protection Act (FOPA), protects those of us who are transporting firearms for lawful purposes from local restrictions which could otherwise prohibit passage. NRA writes:
Under FOPA, notwithstanding any state or local law, a person is entitled to transport a firearm from any place where he or she may lawfully possess and carry such firearm to any other place where he or she may lawfully possess and carry it, if the firearm is unloaded and locked out of reach. In vehicles without a trunk, the unloaded firearm must be in a locked container other than the glove compartment or console. Ammunition that is either locked out of reach in the trunk or in a locked container other than the glove compartment or console is also covered.
Travelers should be aware that some state and local governments treat this federal provision as an “affirmative defense” that may only be raised after an arrest. All travelers in areas with restrictive laws would be well advised to have copies of any applicable firearm licenses or permits, as well as copies or printouts from the relevant jurisdictions’ official publications or websites documenting pertinent provisions of law (including FOPA itself) or reciprocity information. In the event of an unexpected or extended delay, travelers should make every effort not to handle any luggage containing firearms unnecessarily and to secure it in a location where they do not have ready access to it.
Carrying the gun on or about a person
What's important to know, is that as soon as a firearm is carried on or about the person (which also includes the firearm being readily accessible and loaded in a vehicle), state/local laws for carrying a firearm will apply.
If this applies to you, you need to contact the Attorney General’s office regarding the law for gun carry in each state which you will travel to/through. Also note that all though many states will require permits for carrying carry usable, loaded firearms on or about one’s person, some states will not issue such permits to non-residents.
Transporting guns in motor vehicles
Laws governing transportation of firearms in motor vehicles vary from state to state. In most states, firearms can be legally transported in a motor vehicle as long as they are cased, unloaded and locked in the trunk (making them inaccessible to the driver or any of the passengers). NRA writes in their guide on Interstate transportation of firearms:
In most states, firearms may be transported legally if they are unloaded, cased, and locked in the automobile trunk or otherwise inaccessible to the driver or any passenger. The exceptions to this rule apply mainly to transportation of handguns and so-called “assault weapons.” The myriad and conflicting legal requirements for firearm transportation through the states make caution the key for travelers of which you must consult local law.
If you travel with a trailer or camper that is hauled by an automobile, it is advisable to transport the firearms unloaded, cased and locked in the trunk of the car. If your vehicle is of the type in which driving and living spaces are not separated, the problem becomes one of access. If the firearm is carried on or about the person, or placed in the camper where it is readily accessible to the driver or any passenger, state and local laws regarding concealed carrying of firearms may apply. It is recommended, therefore, that the firearm be transported unloaded, cased, and placed in a locked rear compartment of the camper or mobile home, where it is inaccessible to the driver or any passenger.
Generally, a mobile home is considered a home if it is not attached to a towing vehicle, and is permanently attached to utilities, placed on blocks, or otherwise parked in such a manner that it cannot immediately be started up and used as a vehicle.
Once you reach your destination, state and local law will govern the ownership, possession, and transportation of your firearms.
Guns on commercial flights
You may transport unloaded firearms in a locked hard-sided container as checked baggage only. Declare the firearm to the airline when checking your bag at the ticket counter. The container must completely secure the firearm from being accessed. Locked cases that can be easily opened will not be accepted. Be aware that cases that are supplied when purchasing a firearm may not be appropriate for securing the firearm when flying.
Note that firearm parts — including ammunition, frames and receivers — are not permitted as carry-on luggage! The exception here are rifle scopes, which can be taken as carry-on.
Transporting ammunition on commercial flights
Firearm magazines and ammunition clips, whether loaded or empty, 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 rifle or pistol and shotgun shells of any gauge, may be carried in the same hard-sided case as the firearm, as described in the packing guidelines above. (Source: TSA.gov)
Note that these laws does not apply to law-enforcement officers flying armed. If you're flying internationally it's really important that you check with your airliner, as it's also dependent on the law in the country where you're flying.
Featured photo: Michael Ransburg, CC