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Pack It In, Pack It Out: Transporting the Tools of the Trade

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Traveling with firearms has different meanings for different people and is dictated by individual circumstances. For firearms instructors — especially those who conduct classes in states or countries other than where they reside — the challenges present in traveling with firearms can sometimes cause them to rethink why they are putting themselves through the misery.

Fortunately, there are options to be considered depending on each individual’s specific circumstances. The list of questions and considerations can seem endless:

  • In what carry medium are the guns to be transported?
  • Where will the journey begin and end?
  • What mode of transportation is being used?
  • Are there stopping points along the way and, if so, what are the legal concerns at these stopping points?
  • How many firearms are being transported?
  • Are there dimension and weight limits in play?
  • What are the state laws and federal regulations that govern possession and transport of the firearms in question?
  • What about ammunition and ancillary gear that accompanies firearms instruction?

It can be exhausting, and most instructors agree that there are not many easy solutions when traveling with firearms — regardless of whether those firearms are to be readily available during a trip or not.

Knowledge Is Power

Most people who carry concealed as a practice prefer to have their EDCs accessible whenever they travel. With the exception of properly credentialed government officials, there will be limitations that must be acknowledged and obeyed in order to stay legal. For a responsible citizen, having the appropriate concealed carry permits or reciprocities for the areas to be visited is about as close as he or she can come to achieving the goal of traveling armed.

Most importantly, a responsibly armed citizen must travel informed. In fact, having and understanding the most current copies of commercial carrier regulations or laws regarding the transportation of firearms in the areas to be visited often helps to save time and trouble when dealing with less-informed individuals. One might think that ticket agents and customer service personnel working for commercial carriers would know the proper procedures for handling the transportation of firearms on those carriers’ equipment, but often they have not a clue. Preparing to this level may seem to be overkill, but it won’t be when the clock is ticking, your transportation is leaving in minutes and you are being held up because of the inadequate training and indecisiveness of people who have the power to approve or deny your further entry into their transportation centers.

The potential loss of personal property and of being charged criminally — not to mention the legal battles to follow — are hardly worth being ignorant of the law for no other reason than you were too lazy to research the realities of traveling to or through areas whose laws are different from the jurisdiction in which you reside.

Traveling in a privately owned conveyance has its own considerations and precautions that have to be addressed if you’re possessing firearms along the route. Even though it may be legal to possess, handle and use the firearms being transported at the origin and the destination of the journey, not all law enforcement officers know that traveling through their states with properly stored firearms is legal — as spelled out by Title 18 of the U.S. Code Section 926A.

In some cases, a certain type of ammunition may be illegal to possess even though it is legal on either end of the trip. For example, as of this writing, possessing hollow-point ammunition in the state of New Jersey is not approved (there are exceptions for government employees in the performance of their duties).

When it comes to firearms in anti-gun areas of this country and abroad, asking for forgiveness as opposed to asking for permission is not a good idea. The potential loss of personal property and of being charged criminally — not to mention the legal battles to follow — are hardly worth being ignorant of the law for no other reason than you were too lazy to research the realities of traveling to or through areas whose laws are different from the jurisdiction in which you reside.

From Point A to Point B

Given the choices of traveling by land, sea or air, the totality of circumstances must be considered. Those who make the rules sometimes have their own agendas, and the traveler transporting firearms has to adapt to their way of thinking or find another means of travel. Currently, firearms are 100 percent prohibited on cruise ships and commercial bus lines such as Greyhound. Rail travel (Amtrak) does allow the transport of firearms in checked luggage — provided Amtrak is notified of the traveler’s intentions 24 hours in advance of departure time.

Most commercial airlines have provisions for transporting firearms and limited amounts of ammunition as checked baggage, falling under the guidelines of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Travel within the United States usually involves a declaration at the airline ticket counter that an unloaded firearm is being transported as checked baggage in a locked, hard-sided case. If more than one firearm is being transported, each one must be declared. Eleven pounds of ammunition is the usual allowance, provided it is packed in factory or equivalent containers. Such ammunition may be transported in the locked hard case with the firearm, according to TSA regulations.

Most commercial airlines have provisions for transporting firearms and limited amounts of ammunition as checked baggage, falling under the guidelines of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

A word of caution, however, is in order when flying with firearms on anything other than a direct flight. In the event of delays or other interruptions at intermediate stops during a trip, it may not be prudent to take possession of checked baggage containing firearms. Even though the firearms may be legal to possess at the origin and the destination of the flight, they may not be at an interim stop. Taking possession of checked baggage and then rechecking the baggage before continuing the journey could result in legal trouble if the local laws prohibit possession of such firearms. Once the bags are checked, it is usually best to leave them in the possession of the airline until they are retrieved at the destination.

International travel with firearms requires contacting the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the customs agency of the country to be visited in order to generate the required documentation for entry and exit of the firearms. This goes for entry into the foreign country as well as returning to the United States. Attention to detail when traveling internationally, regardless of conveyance, will save a lot of annoyance and grief in the long run.

A viable alternative to traveling with firearms is to ship all needed equipment ahead of time so it will be waiting at the training site upon your arrival. Most major carriers, such as UPS and FedEx, will transport firearms and associated equipment if properly packaged under their guidelines. Their reliability is as good as that of the airlines in getting their deliveries to their destinations on time, and their costs are not outlandish.

Failing to Prepare Is Preparing to Fail

For firearms instructors and concealed carriers alike, traveling with guns can seem like a full-time job in and of itself. Maintaining basic safety and security and complying with the numerous rules, regulations and laws that must be followed during travel and at all destinations can be overwhelming. But, as in every other corner of the responsibly armed lifestyle, a little planning can go a long way.

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