Flying with firearms

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Flying with firearms

There are three sets of considerations:

  • local laws in California and at your destination
  • specific policies of the airlines on which you will fly
  • TSA rules

In some cases, these appear to conflict.

All airlines and TSA require a hard-sided locking container for any firearms.

Local laws

If you are flying with firearms from a California origin, see the Transporting page.

It is your responsibility to determine the acceptability of firearms and the local transport requirements at your destination. Laws of states outside California are outside the scope of this article.

Note that New York City and Chicago are well-known to be highly restrictive.

Federal Law, while not specifically applicable to flying, is intended to be a protection to citizens transporting firearms.

18 USC 926A says

926A. Interstate transportation of firearms

Notwithstanding any other provision of any law or any rule or
regulation of a State or 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.

A full discussion of this section and its practical effects is beyond the scope of this article. Briefly, New York City appears to disagree.


It would be a good idea to visit the airline information pages and print them out to take with you. Airline counter personnel vary in their understanding of both airline rules and TSA requirements.

Some airline page links

A search for "<airline name> flying with firearms" usually will identify the correct web page.

American Airlines (as of Feb 1, 2012)

    Firearms and ammunition are accepted as checked baggage only
and must be declared to an agent at check-in.

   Firearms will only be accepted if unloaded and in a locked,
hard-sided container such as a rifle case. TSA approved locks are

   Ammunition in its original packaging from the manufacturer is
preferred, however it will be accepted in fiber, wood or metal
boxes, or other packaging specifically designed to carry small
amounts of ammunition. Loose ammunition or clips will not be

   Firearms may not be checked curbside.

   No one under 18 years of age may check a firearm.

   Pellet and BB guns are not considered firearms, therefore do
not require any special handling or documentation.


   Maximum per case is three rifles/shotguns or five
pistols/revolvers, ammunition, shooting mat, noise suppressors,
and tools. There is no limit on the amount of cases allowed.

   Ammunition is limited to 11 lbs./5 kgs. per passenger.

Similarly, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines (click on the Guns and Ammunition link at the left),

Firearms must be encased in a hard-sided, locked container that
is of sufficient strength to withstand normal handling, as

   A firearm in a hard-sided, locked container may be placed
inside a soft-sided, unlocked suitcase.
   A firearm placed inside a hard-sided, locked suitcase does not
have to be encased in a container manufactured for the
transportation of firearms.
   The locked container or suitcase must completely secure the
firearm from access. Cases or suitcases that can be pulled open
with minimal effort do not meet the locked criterion.
   Only the Customer checking the luggage should retain the key
or combination to the lock. No exceptions will be made.

Alaska Airlines, Delta Airlines

Notes from a frequent flyer

See this web page -

Transportation Security Authority (TSA)

They maintain several pages: TSA 1,TSA 2.

As of Feb 1, 2012, the main page reads

Traveling with Special Items

Firearms & Ammunition

Travelers may only transport unloaded firearms in a locked, 
hard-sided container in or as checked baggage. Firearms,
ammunition and firearm parts, including firearm frames and
receivers, are prohibited from carry-on baggage.

Failure to adhere to the following regulations will preclude
passengers from traveling with firearms, ammunitions or firearm

   Travelers must declare all firearms to the airline during the
ticket counter check-in process.
   The firearm must be unloaded.
   The firearm must be in a hard-sided container.
   The container must be 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.
   If firearms are not properly declared or packaged, TSA will
provide the bag to law enforcement for resolution with the
airline. If the issue is resolved, law enforcement will release
the bag to TSA so screening may be completed.
   TSA must resolve all alarms of checked luggage. If a locked
container containing a firearm alarms, TSA will contact the
airline, who will make a reasonable attempt to contact the owner
and advise the passenger to go to the screening location. If
contact is not made, the container will not be placed on the
   If a locked container alarms during screening and is not
marked as containing a declared firearm, TSA will cut the lock in
order to resolve the alarm.
   Travelers should remain in the area designated by the aircraft
operator or TSA representative to take the key back after the
container is cleared for transportation.
   Travelers must securely pack any ammunition in fiber (such as
cardboard), wood or metal boxes or other packaging specifically
designed to carry small amounts of ammunition.
   Firearm magazines and ammunition clips must be securely boxed
or included within a hard-sided case containing an unloaded
   Small arms ammunition, including ammunition not exceeding .75
caliber for a rifle or pistol and shotgun shells of any gauge,
may be carried in the same hard-sided case as the firearm, as
long as it follows the packing guidelines described above.
   TSA prohibits black powder or percussion caps used with black-

These regulations are strictly enforced. Violations can result in
state and local criminal prosecution, as well as civil penalties
of up to $2,000 per violation. 

Again, printing the current version of these regulations to take with you may be beneficial.

Calguns Discussion Thread

Here is a Calguns thread of experiences and advice for flying with firearms.