On 11 February, 2007, Joyce A. Deutsch was traveling through the Albany, NY airport. She declared her handgun to the ticket agent, and was immediately arrested for unlicensed possession of a firearm. The firearm was seized and Ms. Deutsch was assured that it would be destroyed. She was searched, was forced to post bond and missed her flight. This sort of reaction to those transporting guns has been infamous in New York City and Newark, New Jersey airports, and it appears to be spreading.
Spread the Word
The day I read this report, I had been advising a gun owner who travels for his work. I warned him about the New York and Newark airports, and had a powerful memory of a passage in Black Like Me. The book recounts a white author’s experiences in the pre-civil rights South after dying his skin black. As he traveled, real African Americans warned him about what to do and what places to avoid, and now it is my professional obligation to warn my clients in the same way.
The firearm must be unloaded and in the trunk of the car; and if the car has no trunk, it must be in a locked container. The glove compartment and console of a vehicle are NOT containers, even if they have locks on them.
Transportation law begins with 18 U.S. Code §926A
18 U.S. Code §926A Notwithstanding any other provision of any law or any rule or regulation of a State of any political subdivision thereof, any person who is not otherwise prohibited by this chapter from transporting, shipping, or receiving a firearm shall be entitled to transport a firearm for any lawful purpose from any place where he may lawfully possess and carry such firearm to any other place where he may lawfully possess and carry such firearm if, during such transportation the firearm is unloaded, and neither the firearm nor any ammunition being transported is readily accessible or is directly accessible from the passenger compartment of such transporting vehicle:
Provided, That in the case of a vehicle without a compartment separate from the driver’s compartment the firearm or ammunition shall be contained in a locked container other than the glove compartment or console.
It’s All In How You Interpret It
The important part about a law is not what it says, but what it means. What this statute means is that a person who legally owns a firearm in the state where he begins and ends his trip can legally drive through all fifty states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Guam.1
Although not mentioned in the statute, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico “and the possessions of the United States” are included in the definition of “state.”2 The firearm must be unloaded and in the trunk of the car; and if the car has no trunk, it must be in a locked container. The glove compartment and console of a vehicle are NOT containers, even if they have locks on them. Any other sort of container, regardless of its construction, is legitimate as long as it has a lock on it. Machine guns, sawed-off shotguns and the like cannot be transported across state lines without specific approval.3
The trick about a law is that different people will interpret it differently. Gentlemen may disagree and remain gentlemen; when government employees disagree the consequences are anything but gentlemanly. A New York law enforcement officer was told that federal law allowed a traveler to pass through the state with a firearm. He replied, “This is New York City; federal law doesn’t apply here.” This unique view of federalism cost the citizen (mentioned earlier) a bail bond, court appearances and legal fees.
Know Your Local Laws
Despite transportation protections of the federal statute, a citizen must observe the laws of any jurisdiction in his path. Some benighted jurisdictions do not consider a gun to be unloaded unless the ammunition is in a separate case. It is possible that a federal court in such a jurisdiction might adopt such a definition.4
The National Rifle Association provides pamphlets on state laws, which will help in planning trips.5 The USCCA Concealed Carry Reciprocity & Gun Law Map provides reciprocity lists for state concealed carry licenses, as well as state law peculiarities.6 Regardless of the state issuing a license to carry, the holder must obey the law of the state that he or she is in at the moment.
Federal law prohibits “a dangerous weapon” in federal facilities, which covers anything from a post office substation to a military reservation.7 There is an exception for hunting and “other lawful purposes.” It is argued that self-defense is a “lawful purpose.” I agree with this argument wholly, completely and absolutely; the federal government does not, and they own the handcuffs and prisons.
Indian reservations should be treated as foreign countries for the purpose of possessing firearms, so don’t risk it. Membership in a different tribe will do no good, as certain rivalries and animosities have survived.8 In some states major state highways traverse reservations. It appears that in at least some places state law is enforced on the highways. This allows transportation of firearms as long as the traveler does not stop.
Bus and train travel will require the firearm to be unloaded and in a locked container inside of checked baggage. Air travel is more complex. While luggage must be unlocked, firearms must be unloaded and in a locked, hard-shell container inside of checked baggage. The Transportation Security Administration requires that the ammunition be in the original box. The box must be made of cardboard, wood, metal “or other packaging that is specifically designed to carry small amounts of ammunition.”9
The unloaded gun must be presented to the ticket agent who will confirm that the gun is unloaded (although most need assistance in finding where the bullets fit). Inspections cause delays when leaving NRA conventions. The regulations are posted on the TSA website and must be consulted before every flight, as they change without warning.10
To further complicate matters, each airline has its own rules. Some have ticket counters inside of the secure areas of airports that ensure that passengers will be arrested before they can check their gun. All airlines have an arbitrary limit on the amount of ammunition that can be checked as baggage. This is a complication for persons traveling to tournaments or shooting schools. Airlines often have customer service phone lines to provide guidance. However, the comments of the anonymous person on the phone will be useful only in finding the relevant part of the company’s website. The maxim is that if it is not in writing, it did not happen.
As the only minority that can be abused without public disapproval, gun owners must take certain actions in self-defense. A copy of 18 U.S. Code §926A is advisable.11 A copy of the TSA regulations from their website, and the relevant section of the airline website will at least demonstrate good intentions if not legality of action. Airport people react badly to the unexpected announcement, “GUN.”
When traveling, I carry a letter that says, “I am transporting an unloaded gun and 20 rounds of boxed ammunition in this locked container on my flight from _________ to _________ on ____ (date).” This tends to prevent misunderstandings. It does not hurt that the letter is on legal stationary.
These defensive measures do not prevent legal harassment. Prosecutors in New York and Newark, New Jersey have made repeated false arrests of gun owners passing through their airports. They are aware of 18 U.S. Code §926A; some of the travelers have quoted it to them. They know that what they are doing is illegal. They also know that people will not come back repeatedly in order to fight a case, especially if they risk jail time.
Stay Out of Jail
For real criminals, jail is a cost of doing business; for citizens it is a disaster. Citizens do not have information to trade for lenient treatment. Lawyers will not try a case without an extra fee, and the extra fee encourages a guilty plea. Lawyers are reluctant to sue the government without a strong case.
Consequently, citizens have pled guilty to something minor, left their gun to the government smelter and moved on. With strong proof the government can be sued for false arrest and deprivation of property without due process of law. A few lawsuits of this nature in the hometown of N.Y. Mayor Bloomberg would go a long way towards evening things up. If there are consequences for violating the civil rights of gun owners, it will become less popular.
[ Kevin L. Jamison is an attorney in the Kansas City, Missouri area concentrating in the area of weapons and self-defense. ]
Please send questions to
|Kevin L. Jamison
2614 NE 56th Ter
Gladstone, Missouri, 64119-2311
Individual answers are not usually possible, but may be addressed in future columns.
This information is for legal information purposes and does not constitute legal advice. For specific questions, you should consult a qualified attorney.
- Driving to Guam could be tricky, but the rule should apply for boats and planes as well.
- 18 U.S.Code §921(a)(2).
- 18 U.S. Code §922(a)(4).
- The 9th U.S. Circuit, sitting in California leaps to mind.
- NRA, 11250 Waples Mill Rd, Fairfax, VA 22030 (703) 267-1172, www.NRA.org.
- USCCA Concealed Carry Reciprocity & Gun Law Map
- 18 U.S. Code §930.
- A lesson in unity before a common foe, but a subject for another column.
- Traveling with Special Items, TSA website.
- Which is why it is printed in full here.