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Monday, May 12, 2014

Monday Gunday: Travelling with a Gun

Last month, as you probably know, I attended the NRA Annual Meeting in Indianapolis. To do so, I broke my longstanding rule of "Not flying so long as the TSA is in power" because this was a once-in-a-lifetime event for me.  (Special thanks to both Snooze Button Ronin and The Jack for making this trip possible!)

I also decided to fly with a firearm, because what's the point of going to a gun convention with a bunch of gunnies if I had to leave my heater at home? This required some research on my part, as I wanted to make absolutely sure what I was doing was legal and authorized and wouldn't end up with me being detained by people with suits and badges.

As it turns out, flying with a firearm is dead easy, at least between Orlando FL and Springfield IL. All you need to do is the following:
  1. Make sure that your weapon is unloaded. 
  2. Put it in a locked, hard-sided container. The TSA, per their own regulations, cannot have the key to this lock, so do not use a TSA-approved lock for the container. 
  3. Depending on the airline, ammunition may -- or may not -- be allowed in loaded magazines. Many airlines require that ammo be packaged in boxes where the cartridges cannot touch each other. 
  4. Any magazines you have must also be inside a hard-sided case. 
  5. When you check in at the counter, declare "I am legally transporting an unloaded firearm."
  6. The agent may ask you to open your luggage, usually to confirm that it is indeed unloaded. They may also have a TSA agent look at it. Under no circumstance are you to give them the key to your locked case.  If they want to look at it, they have to do so in your presence, and you are to keep the key on your person at all times. 
  7. You will be required to sign a form that says, essentially, "This is my firearms and I certify that it is unloaded and that I have packed the ammunition in accordance with airline regulations etc." 
  8. This tag goes around the hard-sided case inside your luggage.  Don't let them put it on the outside!
  9. They will then take your luggage and check it as per usual. 
  10. That's it!  

Since I am also somewhat prone to worry and over-thinking things, I quite deliberately over-engineered my packing scheme so that not only would it pass TSA muster, but also to make it as difficult as possible for any baggage thief to make off with my carry gun. So here's what I did:
  1. I took the gun lock that came with my pistol and ran the cable through the magazine well and ejection port. Not only would this demonstrate the pistol was unloaded and unable to fire, it would serve as an additional "screw you" to anyone who took my luggage. I then put that key on my keychain. 
    Not my pistol. The picture I took of it looked like crap. 
  2. I locked my pistol inside a NanoVault, and put that key on my keychain. 
  3. I then got a lockable plastic ammo box and put the NanoVault inside. Then I put my ammunition, magazine, knives, and other valuables (like electronics) inside. 
  4. I ran the steel cable that came with the NanoVault around the central pillar of my luggage (I was using one of those rolling bags) and locked each end to a padlock that went through a hole in the lid of the ammo box. Then I put that key on my keychain. 
For those who have lost count, that's two hard-sided cases and three locks on the gun itself. 

When I arrived at the counter, my exchange with the agent went something like this:

Me:  "Hi, I'm legally transporting an unloaded firearm. What do I need to do?"
Agent:  "Please put your luggage here and open so I can see it."
Me:  "No problem."  [unzips suitcase, revealing large box with locks.] "Now, there's a bit of a procedure to this..." [begins unlocking padlock]

I'm honestly not sure if the locked case satisfied her, or if she thought  "Good God, this will take forever, let's just get this asshole out of here before the line backs up any further."

Agent:  "No no, that's fine. Do you have any ammunition?"
Me: "Yes, and it's in original containers, per airline regulation."
Agent: "All right. Please sign this form."  
She had me tie the tag to the box and zip up my suitcase, and then she took it to the TSA agent to be scanned. Clearly I passed, because she said "Everything is fine, your luggage is on the conveyor belt."

When I arrived in Springfield, my suitcase was one of the first ones off the plan. Handy, that. 

Departing from Springfield for Orlando was even MORE painless:

Me:  "Hi, I'm legally transporting an unloaded firearm. What do I need to do?"
Agent: "Is it unloaded and in a locked hard-sided case?"
Me: "Yes."
Agent: "Good. Sign this form, tie it to the case, and hand it to the TSA agent over there for scanning."

The guy didn't even LOOK at it. He just took my word for it! When I took my luggage over to the TSA agent, I said "Transporting an unloaded firearm,"  she said "Okay," x-rayed it and loaded it onto the baggage carousel.  That's it.

Remember: this was in the airport of the capital of Illinois, the same state that has some of the harshest gun laws in the country. Needless to say, I was pleasantly shocked by this.

My suitcase was first off the plane in Orlando!

I have to say that despite all the horror stories I have heard, flying with a gun was absolutely a non-issue for me.  I didn't even get singled out for an "enhanced search", so not only did I have a pleasant flying experience, I actually made it to my destination and back unmolested!  If I hadn't had to take off my shoes for screening, I could have believed I was flying in a pre-9/11 world.

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