Spring has sprung. The Wuhan virus, the rona, whatever you call it, also seems to be subsiding, whether by vaccinations or by immunity. Several state governors are remembering their oath and “re-opening” their jurisdictions. And we’ve all got that itch to GTF out of the house and go somewhere. And for us Second Amendment Radicals, traveling with a gun is usually high on our list of things to think about. Bad people don’t go on vacation (well, they do, but they still do bad things, while on vacation…) and you should plan accordingly for traveling with your guns…
Whether you’re traveling with your favorite black rifle, treasured scattergun, or trusty sidearm, there’s plenty to consider, but once you get the hang of it, it’s second nature – though one should be aware that, especially on the legal front, the concepts and procedures of transporting a firearm can change. With that in mind, we’ll break it down to the legal and practical considerations of traveling while armed.
Here in the United States, it’s legally permissible to transport a firearm in some fashion throughout all 50 states. Beyond the Second Amendment, the right is guaranteed by the Firearms Owners Protection Act of 1986. We’ll go over the legalities below.
The Legalities And Practical Considerations Of Traveling With A Gun
As they say, forewarned is forearmed. While around 40 states are OK-to-awesome with regards to firearms rights in this country – with 18 and potentially 19 embracing the Constitutional Carry concept – there are certain legal and procedural considerations when traveling with a gun, especially via air and rail.
Just to get this out of the way – none of this is meant to be legally-binding advice. I’m not a lawyer, I’m just conveying what I know. It’s up to you to research beyond.
Firearm Carry Reciprocity
Despite the march of Constitutional Carry, the general “standard” for carrying a loaded firearm is that some sort of permit is required. In most states, it’s a shall-issue scheme, where as long as you pass a set of standards (clean record, 21 and up, some sort of training), you can lawfully carry a loaded handgun. A few states, you can guess which, are may-issue, which basically means there’s standards, but the ultimate arbiter is some random welfare case bureaucrat who can deny your rights just because he’s having a bad day, or doesn’t like the color of your skin. Gun control is racist, after all.
Anyways, most of the shall-issue states have some sort of carry reciprocity agreement with each other. What that means, simply, is that if Jurisdiction A has a reciprocity agreement with Jurisdiction B, residents of both can lawfully carry in each other’s jurisdiction.
For example, a Florida Concealed Weapon Or Firearm License (CWFL) is valid for carry in a staggering 38 states. There’s some variances there with resident vs non-resident permits (FL issues non-resident permits to second-home types, etc…) but overall, if you have a Florida Concealed Weapon Or Firearms License, you can lawfully carry a firearm on your person in most of the United States. You’re still subject to the local variations on carry though. Ironically enough, where licensed open carry is a thing, for example, Texas, your Florida permit qualifies you to openly carry that H&K pistol, in a proper holster of course, throughout the Lone Star State. Yee Haw, as it were.
Conversely, the stringent 30.06 and 30.07 statues regulating carry on private property in Texas do apply to you. What that means is that if a business owner in Texas has the proper signs up, merely being present on his premises with a firearm constitutes a crime. Whereas in Florida, it’s not a crime unless you disobey the business’s orders to leave.
And of course in a Constitutional Carry state, you’re good to go. Enjoy.
Obligatory standard include of handgunlaw.us plug
For reciprocity, don’t assume bit-for-bit equality – always do your research. The best resource bar none is the amazing handgunlaw.us. They even have documentation on places like Guam, and Native reservations. Outstanding. Updated constantly by some kickass old-school Second Amendment Radicals, it’s really all you need. Hell, I won’t be offended if you tell me to shut up and just go to them. I mean the laws suck but it’s what we’ve been dealt with for now. Best to know them.
Traveling With A Gun – Road/Ground Transport
Road trips are always fun. It’s the best way to experience this great land of ours. Half the adventure is just getting to your destination. Airports are sterile, moronic, and are just really inconvenient. Airlines suck unless you got the scratch for first class and even then it’s a joke. I’m working hard to make this blog an empire so I can fly private.
Via Private Vehicle
Anyways, aforementioned reciprocity laws make private vehicle road trips the best bet for the armed citizen looking to just get away from it all. Of course, one must be aware of the restrictions concerning travel through un-free states. You know the ones – New York, New Jersey, California, etc. Any state where the primary politicians mouth off excessively about gun control is usually mad suspect when it comes to gun rights. And yes, I’d rather not visit them at all, but sometimes personal considerations outweigh principled ones and you gotta take one for the team.
In general, the Firearms Owners Protection Act of 1986 permits “peaceable journey” through states where you otherwise may not be lawfully allowed to carry or possess a weapon. Now, does this mean you can lawfully keep that Heckler & Koch VP9 9mm pistol on your hip while going from Pennsylvania to New Hampshire by way of New York State and Vermont? No, not at all.
FOPA only protects the transport of firearms, not necessarily the carrying of them. The procedure would be to drive through Pennsylvania, gun holstered normally, then, at the PA/NYS border, disarm, unload, store the firearm in a locked box, and store the ammunition in another locked box as far from the gun as possible. Unload the firearm magazines as well. Oh, and don’t plan on spending the night in NYS. If you stop for something other than gas or food, you’re in violation of New York State law. Again, federal law only protects you while in transit. Taking a detour to see the Hyde House in Glens Falls NY on your way to make fun of the hippies in Vermont would put you in legal hot water if the NY cops decide to toss your car and find your firearm, loaded or unloaded.
Special note on New York: New York City has it’s own special set of firearms laws, even for those just passing through. In general, one shouldn’t even attempt to pass through NYC while transporting firearms. Go around. Also, avoid New Jersey.
Simply put – just keep driving until you get to your destination in a free state. Thankfully in 99 percent of the cases, you can drive straight through slave states in less than 1 day, only making the lawful stops for gas and restroom breaks. NYS law does permit that – the condition being you are OK to possess the firearm in your origin and destination states.
Another rather sad consideration is that in anti-gun states, the relevant laws guaranteeing your right to a peaceable journey may be ignored by local law enforcement. If stopped, you may find yourself dealing with a tense situation. Your weapons may be seized, and you yourself may be an unwilling guest of the state in question. Plan your journey accordingly.
If your destination is an un-free state, forget about legally carrying unless you happen to have finagled a permit to do so in the destination. In some cases even bringing a traditionally-styled hunting rifle requires extensive paperwork.
Another concern is “duty to inform”, which varies from state to state. What that means is that if approached by a law enforcement officer, you may be legally required to inform him that you are armed, whether he asks or not. Again, handgunlaw.us is your best friend to reference this concept.
Transporting Your Firearms Via Rail
For rail transport, it really depends on the carrier. Amtrak, as a federal entity, handles firearms much like the airlines do. You have to declare them, package them appropriately, and they get checked. Amtrak station security is similar to airports nowadays, so you can’t just “ride dirty” and hope for the best – nor should you.
Regional rail systems and the rare private systems like Florida’s Brightline, the policies vary. In some places, as government entities, public rail systems are covered by pre-emption statutes and lawfully carried weapons are permitted. In other cases, not so much. Check the carrier’s rules before travel.
Transporting Your Firearms Via Bus
For the purposes of this article, I’m referring to intercity buses like Greyhound, Megabus, and so on. Sadly, Greyhound has a blanket prohibition on the transport of firearms, whether carried or stowed in baggage. Security varies, from none to cursory baggage checks and metal detector sweeps by private security before boarding. As a private entity, they can do this, of course. In a station you can be denied entry if caught, and law enforcement may be summoned if they believe you are carrying unlawfully.
Other carriers, your mileage may vary, as they say. Check their policies before booking travel.
Traveling With A Gun Via Airline/Air Transport
Even without a firearm, flying is a pain in the ass. Unless you shell out for first class, charter, or private, most airlines are city buses with wings these days. Airports are equally as annoying. However, sometimes you just gotta fly the friendly skies. There’s plenty of considerations – but flying with your firearm or firearms can be done, and people do it every day.
Your firearm must be in a hard-sided locked container (with locks not accessible to the TSA – look for those robust Master Locks) for the duration of your flight. This parcel must be checked, and certainly not carried-on. I recommend Pelican cases for this task.
Your firearm must be declared to the airline. Each airline has different procedures for this, but in general, you have to go to the airline’s counter in the airport (not the skycaps out front!) and let them know you wish to declare a firearm. Note: Do not tell the counter personnel that you “have a gun” – all hell will break loose, haha. Tell them that you “have a special item, a firearm,” and that you “wish to declare it for transport to your final destination…”
Your firearm must be unloaded, and the ammunition stored in either it’s original boxes or in one of those plastic ammo cases. I also give the airline personnel the extra courtesy of leaving the action open with a chamber flag in it. As for the ammo itself, I only bring what I need for defensive purposes. I figure if I’m bringing my gun with me for range activities, I can buy FMJ/range ammo at my destination or have it shipped ahead. Remember, even though it’s a special item, it is still subject to weight restrictions and fees.
Your firearm will be given a visual inspection, then you lock the container up and it is passed onto the conveyor for checked luggage. The airline isn’t allowed to positively identify the payload as a firearm. Also try not to have your case done up with gun company logos, etc.
You’ll then be given a small chit to sign which states that your package has been inspected by the airline and the firearm is in a suitable condition for your journey. Keep this with you during your journey for reference.
At your destination, your firearm may be picked up at the normal baggage claim like any other checked bag. In some cases though, it may be picked up at the airline’s baggage office. While the parcel may not outwardly say “firearm” on it, it is noted as such in the airline’s internal computer system, and some airlines choose to retain it in their baggage office for extra security. One thing to remember is that some jurisdictions have rules on airport carry
For NFA items, as a civilian, you can still transport them to most states that respect the right to keep and bear arms. Yes, you can legally fly from Florida to Texas with a machine gun or SBR if you want. Except for suppressors, you need to notify the ATF of it’s movement interstate by filling out Form 5320.20. Yes, toting that SBR or vintage M16 requires some paperwork. Pain in the butt, but that’s the hand we’ve been dealt with for now. You can actually fill out date ranges if you have multiple journeys planned.
Also, for NFA items, I recommend bringing copies of your trust, your Forms 1 and/or 4, and any other relevant paperwork, no matter how innocuous. Transporting a machine gun may raise some eyebrows, no matter the legality, and it’s best to have an overload of documentation. Truth be told, if it’s an M16/M4-style weapon, the untrained eye will think it’s an AR. Just call it a “rifle” and leave it at that. You aren’t lying. But have your ducks in a row paperwork-wise.
Get to the airport extra early. Sometimes you’ll just be hassled because they feel like hassling you. I’d say if you are flying with a firearm, show up 2 hours beforehand. Maybe even earlier since we’re dealing with Rona nonsense as well.
Law enforcement officers may be summoned in rare cases. Be prepared to talk to a cop, even though what you are doing is perfectly legal. Be polite, and know your laws. Bring printouts of relevant legislation, even.
One caveat, be aware of the course of your entire journey. You may be flying from one friendly state to another, but you may have to traverse “enemy territory” on the way. Your flight from Miami to New Hampshire may have you transfer at JFK for example. While a transfer really only puts you in NYC for an hour or two, sometimes things happen. Normally your parcel is shuttled from one plane to another and covered by common carrier laws. It’s cargo at that point and big airports handle a lot of it. But if your connecting flight is delayed/canceled/missed, you could have a problem. If this is the case, do not claim your checked firearm in NYC. You might get it from the airline, but when you attempt to resume your journey the next day, you will most likely be arrested for possessing an illegal firearm, as happened to Greg Revell – for the extra cautious, it may be worth booking your flight legs individually to avoid transit through a hostile city.
For private and charter aircraft, security matters are at the discretion of the aircraft owner or pilot in command. Contact them for specifics. Note that they won’t break FAA regulations just because you have money. However, for the well-to-do Second Amendment Radical, flying private is a wise choice.
A Note On Travel With NFA Firearms
As noted above, unfortunately if you are traveling with an firearm covered by the provisions of the National Firearms Act of 1934, there are usually special considerations that come into play. Fortunately, the most common NFA item, the firearm suppressor/silencer, is not subject to any special restrictions on travel. So if all you have is a can or two, travel as normal.
However, if you have a machine gun (lucky you!), short-barreled rifle or shotgun, or a destructive device (40mm grenade launcher, etc), you’ll need to fill out an ATF Form 20 prior to travel. The Form 20 is purely a notification that the item in question is on the move, though the ATF does have to authorize it.
Now if you’re an FFL, you don’t have to go through this hassle and you can move the inventory around as normal. As an FFL though, you should know this already, ha ha.
Worth noting is that the NFA doesn’t absolve you of any local restrictions on firearm possession or transport. Staying overnight in New York State while transporting a machine gun to New Hampshire would still be prohibited.
International Travel With Firearms
It’s entirely possible to travel with a firearm internationally. Competitive shooters of all stripes do it frequently, and hunters who take their craft beyond just harvesting some game during season will bring their gear overseas. The US Customs And Border Protection website has a decent primer on how to start the process.
And yes, it’s a process. Not only do you have to make declarations and fill out paperwork for leaving/returning to the US with your firearm, but of course you will need to take into consideration the legal requirements of the nation you plan on visiting. Pretty much every nation outside of the US has severe restrictions on the personal possession of firearms by it’s own citizens, and they don’t make special exceptions for outsiders. Bringing your trusty SIG Sauer or GLOCK pistol for defensive purposes on your journey to Budapest simply cannot legally be done. However, for competitive shooters and hunters, there are procedures, which often require coordination with parties in the host nation, and the type of gun being temporarily imported is restricted. Your classic big-bore hunting rifle is A-OK, but your custom Wilson Combat AR-10probably won’t be welcome.
In a nutshell, traveling internationally with your gun is possible, but is a major hassle and only really for specific use cases. Even professional hunters sometimes choose to leave their rifles at home, and instead borrow/rent locally-owned weapons upon arrival to their destination. It’s a hassle.
Yes, we all need a break sometimes, and now more so than ever. The constant bustle of life, BS from the politicians, and so forth can take a toll. Plus, it’s your right as an American citizen to hit the road and have some fun – especially nowadays because it seems that they don’t want you to. Get out there, gas up the old Family Truckster, and have some fun. Fortunately, as has been noted, most states are relatively cool with the bearing and carry of firearms, and most even enjoy some reciprocity with the others. Arm yourself to the most extent possible as permitted by law – and enjoy the journey.
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