We could use loaner guns when we travel, and sometimes it makes the most sense. At least it brings us into compliance with the First Law of Gunfights. But we have some very carefully crafted firearms and it is a comfort to have them in any locale, so we prefer to bring our own.
It’s been interesting to transport our guns on commercial air, as an ordinary muggle, compared to the way it used to be as a servant of the sovereign. In the old days it was pretty straightforward:
- Show up, show your ID and travel orders, with the magical line to the effect that “carriage of government firearms is authorized and required”;
- Wait for those at the counter to summon superiors;
- Wait for those superiors to summon or contact their superiors;
- Repeat Step 3 recursively until they actually reach someone au courant with airline and government policy;
- Graciously accept their apologies for the delay;
- Escort, or detail one man to escort, your container of weapons to the airplane and see it stowed. They are also escorted by a retinue of airport hangers-on that can include airport, state or port authority police, airline personnel, and TSA mouth-breathers;
- Be escorted through a door into the airside, and walked to the jetway, where you can enter the jetway from the airside and take your seat with sidearm, when so authorized, without making any magnetometers or Rapescan machines beep and whir.
Often there would be minders to meet us and whisk us through destination airports… that’s something we’ll never have again, and you don’t realize what a convenience it was until you’re shut off from it.
There are some details of more recent procedures that we’re leaving out for reasons the astute readers of this blog should be able to deduce without strain to the brain.
Here’s how it went for the first leg of this week’s trip:
- Learn the airline’s policy. These policies vary from line to line.
- Know the gun control laws in your airports of departure. For example, Your Humble Blogger travels frequently between FL (where he’s legal) and NH (ditto). One way to do that is to fly from Boston Logan airport — where they will arrest you for trying to check a gun in a bag. Needless to say we don’t give BOS (or JFK, LGA, EWR or ORD, where similar policies reign) our business.
- Commit to a checked bag whilst ordering tickets. That’s the “gun bag.” (Some lines require ammo to be in a separate bag; we chose to simply buy fresh on arrival).
- Secure a sturdy, lockable bag. We use a Pelican case with two heavy-duty padlocks.
- Empty everything, including the foam, out of the gun bag. This is to make sure there is no ammo or casing in there. We then pack the gun bag, our objective being to keep “gun stuff that makes TSA freak” out of other bags, whilst having minimum stuff in the gun bag to facilitate fast inspections:
- The gun. We also use a piece of day-glo weedwhacker cord through the barrel to demonstrate clear, and leave the magazine out.
- Spare magazines;
- Holster, optics, other must-have accessories;
- Owner ID. We use a business card and a printout of the boarding pass.
- Show up about two hours early, because checking the gun bag is a bit more involved than checking the usual Samsonite.
- Declare the gun bag to the airline employee at the counter. He or she will ask if it’s loaded (there is only one right answer to this question in this situation; here, Rule 1 does not apply). Airline depending, they may want to see it. They may place a copy of the baggage check ticket inside, and attach one to the outside. (That one is very important: the barcode on it manages the routing of your bag). Then…
- An airline official will escort you to the TSA station where checked bags are inspected. TSA will advance one agent — in this case, it looked like he was selected by that process where penguins push one off the floe to test for Orca — to see that it is, in fact, empty. The agent may ask you to remove any foam, etc. in the case. It is a great help to have bare minimum stuff in “the gun case.” Most agents will not want to touch your firearm. Once in a while, one is a gun guy or vet and will have questions.
- When TSA is happy, which only takes seconds or minutes, they’ll ask you to secure your bag. Then they’ll run it through the x-ray machine. But they’ve already inspected it manually? Never mind, procedures. Once they take it, your escort will bring you back out of the station and turn you loose to go to your boarding gate.
- On arrival, some airlines want you to go to an office to receive your firearm, but almost always the baggage busters just throw it on the conveyor with the other stuff.
- Before departing your plane, ask your Flight Attendant to get you the baggage carousel number or code. She or he can usually get this as you taxi in or before the doors open. Since FAs are extremely busy at debarking, it helps to prime your attendant inflight for this coming request.
- Have a concrete plan, if you travel without ammo as we did, for picking up defensive ammo on arrival. (We didn’t, went to the first gunshop we found, and had to select a new brand and loading).
Traveling from Pease International Tradeport to Fort Lauderdale with both a cabin pet (Small Dog MkII) and a checked firearm, last week, was … interesting. Allegiant Airlines is a small, low-cost carrier that operates on thin margins, but they handled both the gun and the dog professionally — until arrival at FLL.
There, the system broke down because Allegiant wasn’t updating baggage carousel information in Fort Lauderdale’s computers. The Blogbrother had to go hunt down an Allegiant worker to find out where the bag was… and since relatively few bags had been checked, the firearm case had been sitting unattended for ten minutes on a stopped conveyor. Now you know where recommendation #11, which wasn’t in the first draft of this post, came from.
Traveling with your firearm is well within the penumbras and emanations of the natural right to life, and therefore, to self-defense. But there is an arcane and complex public-private regulatory labyrinth that seems maliciously crafted to discourage you from exercising that right. The more we do it, the less strange it will seem to airline and security personnel, and the more smoothly it will go. Stay within the law (even the questionable interpretations pushed in backward boroughs like Boston) and in time, we can address the laws. Win the culture first: make travel with arms something to which everyone is accustomed.
This post has been updated. Images have been added and one verb has been changed (from “maliciously crafted to prevent you” to a more accurate-feeling “maliciously crafted to discourage you from”).
Kevin was a former Special Forces weapons man (MOS 18B, before the 18 series, 11B with Skill Qualification Indicator of S). His focus was on weapons: their history, effects and employment. He started WeaponsMan.com in 2011 and operated it until he passed away in 2017. His work is being preserved here at the request of his family.