Have Gun. Will Travel.

gun travel itinerary-Doc With a Glock

My sister, the pediatrician, just asked me about traveling with her gun.  She has a license to carry concealed in her home state, and she’s traveling by air to another state that recognizes her license.  I’m often asked about this by friends.  I’ve had this article in draft form for over a year, so here we go.

Other reasons to travel with firearms include:  hunting trip, shooting competition, range time with friends or family, etc.

A lot of people seem to be surprised that you can travel on commercial airlines with a gun.  Perhaps they assume that since you obviously can’t bring a gun with you or in your carry-on luggage, that they are verboten altogether.  They aren’t.  You CAN travel with firearms (in your checked luggage).  It’s legal (within the U.S.), and it’s relatively easy.

There are a number of things you should know:

  1.   You should know the TSA rules.  The TSA has very specific rules on how firearms are to be packed in checked luggage.  Click on:  Traveling with Firearms and Ammunition.
  2.   You should know the airline’s rules.  Most airlines follow the TSA’s rules exactly.  Some have their own rules about how ammunition is to be packed or how many firearms you can pack.  Every airline has a page on their website.  Just Google, “(your airline) firearms.”

  3.  You should know the laws of your destination state.  They may not be the same as the laws in your home state.  First, be SURE that your destination recognizes your license to carry.   Then, you need to know WHERE you can or can’t carry.  For example, some states prohibit concealed carry in a restaurant that serves alcohol.  Some don’t.  If you are pulled over by police for a traffic stop, some states require that you inform the officer you are carrying.  Some don’t.  So, how do you get information about your destination?  It’s all located in this one easy-to-use website:  Handgun Laws U.S.

    Another source is an “app” for your phone.   I have this one:  CCW – Concealed Carry 50 State (screenshots below)

  4.   Be aware of the states on your route (stops or reroutes).  This may seem like an odd thing to list.  But, there have been cases of law-abiding citizens traveling with legal firearms inadvertently stopping in unexpected destinations and ending up in deep legal doo-doo.  You can literally end up in jail.  If you unexpectedly get stuck in states like New York or New Jersey (that do not recognize your Constitutional Rights), for example, you do NOT want to take possession of your luggage (and gun).  One such citizen ended up spending 10 days in jail and didn’t get his gun back for 3 years.  Certainly, you should avoid flights that connect through anti-liberty states.  Fly direct, if possible.
Gun Laws for 50 States phone app provides a lot of information.

Gun Laws for 50 States phone app provides a lot of information.  Click image to link to app on Google Play.

While I’ve given you some useful links, I’ll go over and show you exactly how I do it.  I have traveled many times with a firearm, and they’ve all been very routine and uneventful.

“Packing Heat”

While it should be fairly self-evident at this point, you cannot pack firearms or ammunition in carry-on luggage.   It must be in CHECKED luggage.  Secondly, the UNLOADED firearm must be packed in a hard-sided container that is LOCKED with a real lock, not a TSA lock.  I’ll repeat that…  The hard case must be locked with a real lock.  If it’s a pistol, then the hard case will go into your regular luggage.  You can put a TSA lock on the regular luggage, if you want.  However, every time I’ve done that, they end up being cut off.

If you’re traveling with a long gun (rifle or shotgun), then the larger hard-sided case will be its own luggage, so to speak.  You will still use a REAL LOCK, not a “TSA lock.”

I bought a “Pelican” case for the purpose of traveling with my pistol.  They come in different sizes.  Mine is the Pelican 1400 Case with Foam for Camera (Black), which is a bit large for a single pistol, but you’ll see how I pack it (with other things, too).  You can certainly get by with a smaller model, like the 1200.   They come with foam that you can custom cut to fit your gun, ammo, and accessories.  The custom-cut foam will keep your equipment snug and well-protected.

This is my Pelican 1400 case.

This is my Pelican 1400 case.

gun travel-6871-Edit

Contact information is on both sides of the Pelican case, including my cell phone number, should airport personnel need to contact me.


The foam is custom cut to fit my gear. I use two matched Master locks (same key).


What about the ammo?

Most airlines require that the ammo be stored in the original box or similar type box that keeps the cartridges separated.  No loose ammo allowed.  No loaded magazines.  To my knowledge all airlines will allow the ammo to be packed in the locked, hard-sided case along with the gun.  You can also pack the ammo separately.  Most airlines have a limit on the quantity of ammo, usually defined by weight.  In most cases, it’s 11 lbs (5 kg).  Check with your airline.

While not necessary nor required, I prefer to "field strip" my gun and pack it in pieces. My theory is that it looks less like a "gun" when presented at check-in. The ticket agent may ask you to open the case to verify and place the firearms declaration tag in it. Any looky-loos standing in line behind me won't recognize it as a "gun." We don't want to frighten the sheeple! With a smaller case, field-stripping may not be an option. Either way, it works.

While not necessary nor required, I prefer to “field strip” my gun and pack it in pieces. My theory is that it looks less like a “gun” when presented at check-in. The ticket agent may ask you to open the case to verify and place the firearms declaration tag in it. Any looky-loos standing in line behind me won’t recognize it as a “gun.” We don’t want to frighten the sheeple! With a smaller case, field-stripping may not be an option. Either way, it works.

Once the hard-side case is locked, I run a cable-lock through the shackles and around the frame of the outer suitcase. I cut a couple of slits in the suitcase liner to access the metal frame.

Once the hard-side case is locked, I run a cable-lock through the shackles and around the frame of the outer suitcase. I cut a couple of slits in the suitcase liner to access the metal frame.  This “secures” the gun case inside the suitcase.  Nothing is 100% secure, but it makes it more difficult for thieves.


You will need to check in at the airlines ticket counter.  You cannot check in at the curb when you’re traveling with a firearm.  When you approach the agent, you’ll simply state, “I would like to declare a firearm.”  Or, “I need a firearms declaration form, please.”  Don’t say, “I have a gun.”  It’s all very matter-of-fact.  They’ve done this before.  And, it’s really not a big deal.  The agent will have you fill out a very short form (about the size of two business cards).  Then the agent will place the tag either inside the gun case or inside the luggage.  They are not consistent about this.  I’ve had one agent tape the tag to the outside of the hard-side gun case.  The tag does NOT go on the outside of the luggage.

I recommend that you print out both the TSA’s and the airline’s rules about firearms in checked luggage and bring them with you.  This is in case there is any confusion on the part of the ticket agent.

Sometimes, they will take the luggage with the firearm and put it on the conveyor behind the counter, just like the other luggage.  Other times, they will have you escort the suitcase to the TSA’s luggage screening (giant x-ray thingy) and give you the nod once it’s passed their inspection.  Every airport has its own protocol.  The airline’s agent will direct you accordingly.

I recommend arriving at least 30 minutes earlier than you would, if traveling “sans heat” to account for the extra procedures.

Have gun?  Do travel!

A Right not exercised is a Right lost.  A majority of states have reciprocity with a majority of the other states when it comes to licensed concealed carry of firearms.  If your life and your family are worth protecting at home, they’re worth protecting wherever you travel.  It’s easy, too!  Remember to familiarize yourself with the laws of your destination.  Post your questions or comments below!

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6 Responses to Have Gun. Will Travel.

  1. Matthew Brink says:

    I noticed that you packed your pocket knife in there. Take note that some cities have knife laws. In Chicago you can only have a 2.5 inch folding blade at a maximum. I think this is one of the most strict, but it’s probably best to check that local ordinance when traveling also. I think i have this one from Spyderco that is 2.25 inches.


    • The Dental Warrior says:

      Good point, Matt. Knife laws, oddly enough, can be even more convoluted than gun laws. Most states have “preemption” laws for guns, which means that municipalities and counties cannot have laws that conflict with state laws. The state law supersedes local laws. The same is often not true for knives.

      Heck… in Chicago, they’ve pretty much banned any form of self-defense. 🙂

      I wrote a blog article: Why Dentists Should Carry a Knife

      Thanks for your comment and welcome, Matt!

  2. michael says:

    Another good article Mike. I use the same ammo Federal HST. I like your idea of securing the hard case to the metal frame of the luggage. In the past I’ve just used the plastic hard container that the pistol came with. I lock the slide back when I fly.

    When I fly with my handgun it seems my bag comes out first! When I fly Southwest it almost ALWAYS comes out first and has an extra tag on the bag. I always wondered if the extra label is “Don’t freaking loose this bag, take care of it first”.

    Stay safe my friend and watch your six.

    • The Dental Warrior says:

      Federal HST is good stuff. Hard to find these days.

      Yeah… the original case (the gun came in) is NOT secure. They can be easily pried open. I’m surprised they let you use it. From the TSA site: “The firearm must be in a hard-sided container that is locked. A locked container is defined as one that completely secures the firearm from being accessed. Locked cases that can be pulled open with little effort cannot be brought aboard the aircraft.”
      Get yourself a Pelican case.

      If there is a special tag on the OUTSIDE of the bag, then it’s illegal, Mike. They are not allowed to indicate a firearm on the outside of your suitcase / container.

      I do recommend that you don’t dilly-dally between disembarking and getting to the baggage claim. Get there quickly and close to the point where the luggage comes in, so you can grab your luggage. Then do a quick check to make sure the gun case is in the suitcase. Of course, don’t unpack the gun right there in the airport. 🙂

  3. Steven Hernandez says:

    I too use a Pelican case (1520) but so things a bit differently. I actually check the Pelican itself as a piece of luggage. That way, I have a claim stub for it. I don’t worry about a securing it to the inside of another bag, etc. If someone were to steal the pelican from inside another bag, I would have a hard time proving it even existed in the first place. Now, if lost, I have a claim ticket that can be tracked. I also use non-TSA locks. My Pelican case hardly ever ends up on the baggage claim with other bags; it’s usually hand carried to the airline luggage counter and I have to show ID before I can claim it. I like that.

    • The Dental Warrior says:

      I’m familiar with that approach, Steven. But, if I was to go that way, I think I’d want a bigger case. Yes… if the case IS the “luggage,” then you are required to use real locks. I may eventually get a bigger case (that will fit a long gun, too).

      Thanks for chiming in!

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