Here’s a bold statement.
When you fly the friendly skies, you’ll experience more invasion of privacy, groping and unwanted scrutiny when you walk through the TSA checkpoint than when you try to check guns in your baggage.
I fly enough that the majority of currently employed TSA agents are intimately familiar with every square inch of my body. But groping aside, I’ve found checking guns by following the rules to be a simple and straightforward process – as long as you carefully follow the rules.
Be aware that there are always two sets of rules: those set by the TSA and those set by your airline. In a perfect world, they will be consistent with each other, but be aware, that doesn’t always happen.
Let’s review a checklist for hassle-free flying with guns.
1. Buy or borrow a lockable hard case.
Per the regulations, it can be a case with integrated combinations locks, but I prefer a case with multiple holes for heavy duty padlocks of my choosing. Do NOT use TSA locks on your gun case. This is a misunderstood area of the law and, technically speaking, it’s illegal for you to do so. Per the letter of the law, as discussed in the footnotes of this article, you alone must maintain possession of the keys or combination to open your gun case. You cannot lock it in such a way that others have access. By using TSA locks on your gun case, lots of people, just about anyone in fact, technically has access to your guns. TSA locks are NOT secure and not even TSA agents are supposed to have access to your case, once cleared, without you being present to unlock the case.
One more thing about cases. If you travel with a pistol, you might want to get a larger than necessary case, like this one. You can legally place other items besides your gun in the case, like cameras or computer equipment.
2. Check your airline’s website to review their policies.
While most are essentially the same, they don’t have to be. Print out the policy page to bring with you. With all that ticketing agents need to know, not every agent will have a complete understanding of their airline’s gun policy.
3. Review the TSA policy website for the latest information.
It can, and does, change. That’s your tax dollars at work folks. Print this out also, as different TSA agents have different understandings of their own policy. Really.
4. Unload your gun and magazine.
Complete this step while still at home! Check the chamber to make sure that’s empty. I like to pack my guns in the case with cylinder or action locked open so it’s very apparent the gun is in a safe condition. That’s not required, just good manners.
5. Weigh your gun case and ammunition.
Most airlines will allow up to 11 pounds of ammunition. And, like any luggage, you will be charged more for any baggage weighing more than 50 pounds. This sounds like a lot, but when traveling to the Crimson Trace Midnight 3 Gun competition last year, my case with shotgun, rifle, pistol and ammunition tipped the scale past the 50 pound mark.