With so much talk about concealed carry weapons, we were wondering what is all involved in transporting firearms on general aviation aircraft.
The airlines have special provisions for transporting firearms. For handguns (and each airline may have somewhat different rules), you need a special container that is sold at firearms stores, or you can purchase them online from places such as Cases Galor or Optics Planet. You need an aluminum case with locks, and you need to make sure it is “airline approved.” You can also transport up to 100 rounds of ammo with the gun. You have to fill out a form at check-in, and the case will be stored in the baggage compartment of the plane. Upon landing, you just retrieve your case, but are then subject to local/state regulations regarding firearms/handguns, so check ahead before you go.
Transporting firearms in your own aircraft may be easier, but you still have to comply with local/state firearms laws where you depart and land.
According to the Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association, the transportation of any firearm, while allowed by the federal government as part of a citizen’s constitutional right to bear arms, does have limitations, some restrictions, and certain regulatory requirements. The U.S. Treasury Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) controls these regulations.
First of all, all military weapons or military style/type firearms are prohibited. However, certain firearms are acceptable and suitable for sporting, hunting, and general transportation. The Federal Firearms Regulations Reference Guide details the Gun Control Act, the National Firearms Act, the Arms Export Control Act, and all relevant regulations and rulings. Title 27 CFR of the ATF Regulations describes the importation of arms, ammunition, and implements of war; commerce in firearms and ammunition; and much more.
The regulations that apply to carrying a concealed firearm on an airport or into an FBO fall under the jurisdiction of either federal or state government, depending on where you are on airport property. Federal law on firearms possession applies to the so-called “sterile” area (the area beyond the metal detectors) of passenger terminals. Read the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA’s) page on Traveling With Firearms and Ammunition, and check Transportation Security Regulations Part 1542 “Airport Security” (formerly FAA Part 107) for more details. Possession of firearms outside the “sterile” area (e.g., at the FBO or airport vehicle parking lot) is governed by state law.
In the case of concealed firearms, remember that many states have a provision in their laws that allows the owner of a business to prohibit customers from carrying concealed firearms if a notice is posted to that effect at the entrance to the business. If you violate the owner’s wishes, you’ve violated state law. Additionally, each state is different when it comes to reciprocity or the acceptance of concealed weapons permits between states. For additional information on concealed carry riciprocity, refer to https://www.usconcealedcarry.com/travel/ and state regulations in the states you intend to travel to.
The federal statute that has some applicability here is 18 USC 926A, Interstate Transportation of Firearms, known as the Federal Safe Passage Act. This law provides that anyone who is not prohibited from possessing firearms under federal law (those prohibited include felons, the dishonorably discharged, etc.), may transport firearms from any place where they can lawfully possess and carry such firearms to any other place where they can lawfully possess and carry such firearms. In order to qualify for the federal protection afforded by the act, you have to comply with a few requirements such as unloading and storing the firearm. Here is what 18 USC 926A, Interstate Transportation of Firearms, states:
“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.”
DISCLAIMER: The preceding was not intended as legal advice and should not be taken as such. It is recommended that you contact an attorney in your state who specializes in this area of the law.
State & Local Government Regulations
Individual states, local communities, municipalities, and counties may have their own specific regulations. At the state level, many states have a requirement to register and obtain a special permit to carry small firearms, such as pistols. Any private pilot desiring to transport a firearm, weapon, or similar device must review the appropriate regulations and should contact the local airport management or law enforcement authorities for approval to land at any airport if any firearm is on board. Furthermore, even if a permit has been obtained to carry a small firearm in one state, it does not mean other states have to accept this permit by reciprocity.
Title 49 CFR, Department of Transportation Hazardous Material Regulations Part 172.101, governs the transportation, packing, and labeling of ammunition. It is best not to travel with ammunition, but rather to purchase it at your destination. However, if ammunition must be transported, travel with only the amount needed for the sporting or hunting event.
Firearms carried as part of any survival gear, kit, or equipment are subject to the same requirements stated above. However, flare guns, canisters, cartridges, or other types of signaling devices are not considered firearms and are regulated by Department of Transportation Title 49 CFR Hazardous Material Regulations.
When traveling to Canada on sporting or hunting trips, prior permission to enter that country must be obtained. Both U.S. Customs and Canadian Customs must be contacted to obtain prior permission for entry. Register the firearm prior to leaving the United States as suggested by the ATF below. Also contact the Canada Department of Justice for import approval.
Any firearm to be imported into Canada must be declared with Canada Customs upon entry arrival and a prior permit is required. Prior to leaving the U.S., the firearm must be registered with U.S. Customs to make certain returning into the U.S. will not be a problem. Review the information on Importing A Firearm or Weapon Into Canada and from the Canada Firearms Centre for details on the Canada permit application process.
As a general guideline, taking firearms into Mexico is not recommended because of the risk of major problems or delays to your trip. This is because, although prior permission must be obtained from the Mexico Secretary of Environmental and Natural Resources at the customs airport of entry upon arrival, the procedure for doing this is not clear or documented. If contact is made prior to departure with a U.S. office of the Mexico Consulate, they may be able to assist. A minimum process time of 45 days should be expected when completing the documents for approval. The consulate might also advise what firearms are and are not permitted.
Canada and Mexico are specifically listed above, but other countries will not allow you to enter with a firearm, even if you are only traveling through the country on the way to your final destination. If you plan to take your firearms or ammunition to another country, you should contact officials at that country’s embassy or consulate to learn about its regulations.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The majority of the information above was obtained from the Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association, and in no way implies to be conclusive or current as to the date of publication. Readers are encouraged to contact local, state and federal governments for additional information and approval for the transport of any firearm.