Have Gun, Will Travel...

A typical setup that is compliant with TSA and airline regulations for travel

It’s summertime. Barbecues, the beach (or your local lake…), and of course, vacations. However, criminals and those who seek to do innocent people harm don’t take time off. Trouble can strike anywhere…

So of course, your self-defense habits shouldn’t take a break either. Fortunately, for the bulk of the US population, it isn’t a big issue to tote along some defensive hardware during travel…

Reciprocity, it’s a thing

In-state, of course, isn’t an issue. The bulk of the states that respect the Second Amendment have strong pre-emption laws, and local municipalities cannot pass any firearms-based legislation which is stricter than the state-level legislation. For example, Miami Beach, whose resident population is largely hoplophobic, cannot pass a law prohibiting any firearm made after 1902, for example. Even though they really, really want to. So, your GLOCK 19 and two spare 15-round magazines are good-to-go for carry all over Florida if you have your concealed-carry license.

As an extension, your Florida CWFL enjoys what we call reciprocity, which is that 38 states (as of this writing) respect the Florida permit, enabling you to carry your firearm in those states as if you were in Florida. However, reciprocity does mean you have to respect the local minutiae with regards to firearms laws.

For example, if you go to Texas, you have to respect the state’s 30.06 and 30.07 signs. Both signs indicate two provisions of Texas firearms law, which allow business owners to prohibit concealed carry (30.06) and open carry (30.07) on their premises, and have the force of law backing them up. Which basically means that a business owner can post a properly-formatted 30.06 or 30.07 sign to prohibit firearms possession on their premises, and if you violate that, you could be charged with a crime. Whereas in Florida, a business can prohibit you from carrying, but it’s policies don’t have the force of law. The only thing the business can do is ask you to leave. If you stay, you are guilty of armed trespass, but just by entering with your gun, you aren’t necessarily committing a crime.

It works the other way too, which is quite convenient in some cases. For example, here in Florida, CWFL holders cannot carry their firearms openly. We’re the Gunshine State, but we cannot openly display our firearms in public places, outside of a lawful self-defense situation, and a few narrowly-defined exemptions as per Florida statute 790.25. However, if a Florida CWFL holder goes to Georgia, he or she can carry openly without many restrictions if they so wish.

Conversely, both Texas and Georgia residents have to abide by our specifics as well. A Georgia resident has to conceal his or her firearm when going south of the state line, and a Texas resident doesn’t have to fear prosecution from an overzealous shopkeeper who spots the erstwhile Texan carrying a firearm in his shop.

As an aside, I should take this time to remind everyone I’m not an attorney in the State of Florida or anywhere else on this planet. This is all observations, research, and advice. For a solid discussion on reciprocity and detailed citations on firearms laws, please go to handgunlaw.us - it’s the most comprehensive resource on firearms laws on the internet.

When the rubber meets the road

For the most part, if you live in a state that respects firearms freedom, and choose to travel to a state where you enjoy reciprocity, it’s a good bet you’ll be able to carry without any issues. Just stick to your usual carry routines and be aware of the local variations in the laws.

However, unfortunately, there are a few states in this great nation of ours who do not hold true to the ideals of the Bill of Rights. You know the ones. California, New Jersey, New York State (especially New York City), Massachusetts, and so forth. In those jurisdictions, carrying a firearm, even for residents, is often difficult due to the heinous may-issue policies, and reciprocity is but a dream. Technically, by the law of the land, most notably the Firearms Owners Protection Act of 1986 (yes, the same one with the insanity of the Hughes Amendment banning new machine guns for civilian purchase), all states in the Union have to respect “peaceable journey”, i.e. if you are passing through, they cannot prosecute you for a firearms violation.

However, peaceable journey is a business fraught with peril. For example, if you live in Kentucky, a state which mostly respects the Second Amendment, and are seeking to go to New Hampshire via road, you have to journey through several states, including the firearms-phobic New York State. Carrying your firearm in a normal manner (i.e. on your hip in a proper holster) is legally permitted in Kentucky, Ohio, and Pennsylvania on your journey. However, New York State does not honor out-of-state permits (unless you are an active or retired law enforcement officer covered by the Law Enforcement Officers’ Safety Act aka LEOSA- and even then there’s checks on that…) and only has to honor peaceable journey laws. Massachusetts is much the same.

In a strict sense, both states respect of peaceable journey would require you to disarm for the duration, and keep your firearm locked up and unloaded in the trunk of your vehicle, with the ammunition stored separately. However, when the rubber meets the road, the law enforcement officers in those jurisdictions enjoy a broad latitude in interpreting the laws as written. It is fairly likely that you will be detained for a long time, and perhaps arrested, if you choose to drive across those states and are discovered with a firearm not authorized by those states. From a legal risk perspective, you shouldn’t cross, and definitely not stop for any duration of time, in either of those states. The police will most likely prosecute and force you, at your own expense, to sort things out later. It’s the sad reality.

My advice, if you find yourself needing to transit this “wall” of anti-gun states, you should perhaps think about flying to your final destination. Which is expensive, I know. But if you must, the extra cost of a flight to a regional airport in New Hampshire may very well offset the cost of fighting for your rights and firearms in some courtroom in New York.

The NRA has an excellent real-world guide to the realities of transporting your firearms through gun-friendly, and gun-hostile jurisdictions.

Planes, trains, and automobiles…and maybe boats

Of course, the journey process itself requires some forethought, other than my recommended avoidance of anti-gun states. For the most part, if you are journeying through firearms-friendly states with reciprocity agreements with your home state, your gun only need be properly holstered (and concealed if warranted) as if you were driving around at home. The family and I drove to Georgia a few years ago, and I kept my VP9 holstered as if I were driving from Miami to Naples. No adjustments needed.

Flying is a different ball of wax. People fly with firearms every day, but there are certain procedures that must be followed. Most notably:

  • Your firearm must be in a hard-sided locked container (with locks not accessible to the TSA) for the duration of the flight. This parcel must be checked, and certainly not carried-on. I recommend Pelican cases for this task.

  • Your firearm must be declared to the airline. Each airline has different procedures for this, but in general, you have to go to the airline’s counter in the airport (not the skycaps out front!) and let them know you wish to declare a firearm. Note: Do not tell the counter personnel that you “have a gun” - all hell will break loose. Tell them that you “have a special item, a firearm,” and that you “wish to declare it for transport to your final destination…”

  • Your firearm must be unloaded, and the ammunition stored in either it’s original boxes or in one of those plastic ammo cases. I also give the airline personnel the extra courtesy of leaving the action open with a chamber flag in it. As for the ammo itself, I only bring what I need for defensive purposes. I figure if I’m bringing my gun with me for range activities, I can buy FMJ/range ammo at my destination. Remember, even though it’s a special item, it is still subject to weight restrictions and fees.

  • Your firearm will be given a visual inspection, then you lock the container up and it is passed onto the conveyor for checked luggage. The airline isn’t allowed to positively identify the payload as a firearm. And neither should you. Don’t put GLOCK stickers all over your Pelican case, for example.

  • You’ll then be given a small chit to sign which states that your package has been inspected by the airline and the firearm is in a suitable condition for transport. Keep this with you during your journey for reference.

  • At your destination, your firearm may be picked up at the normal baggage claim like any other checked bag. In some cases though, it may be picked up at the airline’s baggage office. While the parcel may not outwardly say “firearm” on it, it is noted as such in the airline’s internal computer system, and some airlines choose to retain it in their baggage office for extra security. Also please remember to observe local laws concerning the carry of a loaded firearm in an airport terminal, in some cases you may be legally obligated to leave the terminal building before you can re-arm.

  • For NFA items, as a civilian, you can still transport them to most states that respect the right to keep and bear arms. Yes, you can legally fly from Florida to Texas with a machine gun if you want. Except for suppressors, you need to notify the ATF of it’s movement interstate by filling out Form 5320.20. Yes, toting that SBR or vintage M16 requires some paperwork. Pain in the butt, but that’s the hand we’ve been dealt with for now. Fortunately, you can actually fill out an extended date range if you plan on traveling back and forth between certain locations a lot within a year. You can also do this multiple times. The ATF typically rubberstamps this quickly, too.

  • Also, for NFA items, I recommend bringing copies of your trust, your Forms 1 and/or 4, and any other relevant paperwork, no matter how innocuous. Transporting a machine gun is bound to raise some eyebrows, no matter the legality, and it’s best to have an overload of documentation. Small bit of advice, don’t call it a machine gun when you check it in, just call it a “rifle”, and only mention the paperwork if they bring it up. To the untrained eye, a black rifle is a black rifle. You aren’t lying by calling it a rifle, either. You’re just being less specific. For SBRs it’s easier because it’s just a rifle, but short. And yes, even though suppressors don’t need the Form 5320.20, it’s best to bring copies of the paperwork just to look “really official”.

  • Get to the airport extra early. I’d say for a domestic flight, get there 2 hours beforehand, just to be safe.

  • Law enforcement officers may be summoned in rare cases. Be prepared to talk to a cop, even though what you are doing is perfectly legal. Be polite, and know your laws. Bring printouts of relevant legislation, even.

  • One caveat, be aware of the course of your entire journey. You may be flying from one friendly state to another, but you may have to traverse “enemy territory” on the way. Your flight from Miami to New Hampshire may have you transfer at JFK for example. While a transfer really only puts you in NYC for an hour or two, sometimes things happen. Normally your parcel is shuttled from one plane to another and covered by common carrier laws. It’s cargo at that point and big airports handle a lot of it. But if your connecting flight is delayed/canceled/missed, you could have a problem. If this is the case, do not claim your checked firearm in NYC. You might get it from the airline, but when you attempt to resume your journey the next day, you will most likely be arrested for possessing an illegal firearm, as happened to Greg Revell - for the extra cautious, it may be worth booking your flight legs individually to avoid transit through a hostile city.

Going overseas - forget about it

Well, don’t discount going overseas. I just returned from a wonderful honeymoon in the UK with my wife. Overseas travel is well worth the experience.

Just forget about bringing any firearms overseas. Yes, I’m well aware big game hunters and competition shooters do this all the time, but there are a myriad of restrictions from both the US government and foreign governments concerning the transport and temporary import/export of firearms. As an example, in a lot of countries, rifle competitions are only carried out with .22LR firearms as it’s really the only caliber that even anti-gun countries will allow. Or in the case of big game hunters, they sometimes will just rent the appropriate firearm from their hosts. But, as a civilian, you can pretty much forget about figuring out a way to travel with your trusty sidearm to navigate the mean streets of Bratislava.

In that vein though, you don’t necessarily have to be unarmed. Basic sense and situational awareness will keep you out of most trouble, and in a pinch, hand-to-hand techniques and improvised weapons can be quite effective. I’ll detail those techniques in a forthcoming article.

Enjoy yourself, regardless

It’s your vacation, right? Whether you can exercise your rights, or not, remember to enjoy yourself!