The California government is openly hostile toward legal gun ownership. One of my goals with buying Gunfighter Tactical, a San Diego gun shop, was to clear some of the fog surrounding gun ownership in San Diego and to help more people embrace the sport/ lifestyle as I have. Flying with a handgun doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, it is actually pretty easy.
Owning a gun shop in San Diego is different than anywhere else outside of California. Very few of our customers are true San Diego natives. So, odds are you have family back East or some other reason to be on a plane at least a few times a year. When you travel to a state that doesn’t deny your right to carry, you should exercise that right. The first step is to get a permit that will allow you to carry in the state you are visiting and then to read up on that state’s rules and restrictions.
I obtained a Utah Concealed Carry Permit by taking a class at CCW USA, taught by the great Bill Desy right here in San Diego, in the late fall of 2013. Utah CCW permits allow you to carry in 31 states (Florida and Arizona carry permits allow 30). A trip to Tennessee in June of 2014 was my first opportunity to use the Utah carry permit, which meant that I would need to fly with one of my handguns for the first time.
Use Your Head
I found the act of flying with a gun to be relatively straight forward, requiring nothing more than some attention to detail and a little common sense. After obtaining a permit and ensuring you understand the local laws, the next step is to go to the website of the airline you are flying and read their rules about flying with a gun and ammunition. I was flying Southwest and they make it very easy to find.
On Southwest you are simply required to have the gun in a locked hard-sided case with the ammunition separate in approved packaging. Approved packaging just means that you have to use your head. No loose ammo or plastic bags. My advice is to use the manufacture’s original factory packaging. If you don’t have that, then go buy some ammo specifically for your trip. Using the original packaging, with each round packed separate from the others, will avoid any hassle.
The locked hard-sided case was a minor problem for me, because I was traveling with a Glock 26. To use a technical term, Glock cases suck. There is no good way to attach a small travel-size padlock to a Glock case. I ended up putting my Glock 26 in the case I received with my Sig Scorpion 1911. It had a hole on either side of the handle that was perfect for a small padlock.
Next, I used a second padlock on the zipper of the suitcase, so the locked gun case was inside a locked suitcase. The locked suitcase isn’t required at Southwest, but it does prevent anyone with sticky fingers from making off with your gun.
Declaring The Gun
The TSA and the airline will require you to declare that you have a gun in your luggage and you must check that luggage. Not declaring is a major, big time felony. I also think it is important to carefully verbalize your possession of the gun. Again, this is where some common sense comes in handy. Don’t walk up to the ticketing agent and say “I have a gun.” Instead, clearly state “I need to declare a handgun locked in this bag.” While you and I may be very comfortable with guns, many people aren’t and it is important to approach them in the right way. Remember, a ticketing agent in Atlanta, or Nashville, or Boise probably sees 60 guns a day. An agent in San Diego probably doesn’t see a gun as often.
I took my double locked bag to the ticket counter (you can’t use curbside check for a bag containing a gun on Southwest) and immediately declared that I was traveling with a firearm. I got a little attitude from the ticketing agent, which I found odd because I normally think of Southwest’s service as “insanely great.” I didn’t get the impression that the ticketing agent’s attitude was about the gun, but more that she was just having a bad day. I did not let her attitude affect my attitude or behavior. Being polite and friendly will help you avoid hassles in any situation.
The agent gave me a 3 X 5 card to fill out with my name, address, and phone number. I also had to sign a statement on the back of the card. The statement simply affirmed that the firearm was unloaded, locked, ammo stored separately, and that there was not more than 11 pounds of ammo.
The agent then taped the card to my hard-sided Sig case as proof to the TSA that the gun had been declared. (At this point, I just assumed the TSA would be rifling through my bag). She asked me if I had any ammo and how it was packed. I let her know that I had a small box of ammo in the same suitcase and it was packed in the manufacture’s original packaging. She said “okay” and that was that. I zipped up and re-locked the suitcase and she threw it on the belt to take it to the plane.
I have a type of padlock that will let me know if the TSA has opened it. That identifier was not tripped on either the initial or return flight. I do not believe that the TSA opened my bag, so it seems my fears about the TSA rifling through my stuff was unfounded. The return trip from Nashville to San Diego with my gun tucked away in the same bag was just as uneventful. In all, traveling with my gun turned out to be a pain free experience. There is no reason to leave your gun at home as long as it is legal for you to carry it wherever you are going.
A Few Tips
- If you are just carrying concealed in your destination and only need 10 or 20 rounds of self defense ammo, pack it with you in your checked baggage. However, if you are going on a trip to burn through a few thousand rounds with your dopey brothers, buy ammo online and have it shipped ahead of you. Don’t fly with 1,000 rounds. It’s heavy and the airline will charge you to carry that much weight. Southwest allows a maximum of 11 pounds of ammo to be carried with you. That is less than 500 rounds of 9mm.
- Buy a lock that allows the TSA to open your bag without cutting the lock. These locks provide the added benefit of letting you know if the TSA used their “universal key” to open your bag. Samsonite makes these locks and they are about $15 each on Amazon.com.
- As with all things, plan ahead and use your head. Buy your locks in advance and test them on the hard-sided case and the luggage. Don’t go running around the morning of your flight looking for locks and cases and definitely don’t wait until you get to the airport to buy locks. You want to walk in there cool, calm, and collected with supreme confidence that you have done everything right
- Carry only what you need. Think about how you will be carrying your gun. If you will only be carrying inside the waistband, then don’t pack your OWB rig.
- Always be polite. The young lady at the ticket counter can hurt you more than you can hurt her. If she’s rude, just smile and be polite.