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Travelers may only transport UNLOADED firearms in a locked, hard-sided container in or as checked baggage. All firearms, ammunition and firearm parts, including firearm frames and receivers, are prohibited in carry-on baggage.
Federal regulations do not require air travelers to use TSA-accepted luggage locks. Passengers should use non-TSA-accepted locks. * Should a bag require additional screening, TSA officers have the right to remove the lock to access the contents if they cannot contact you.
TSA screens every passenger's baggage before it is placed on an airplane. While our technology allows us to electronically screen bags, there are times when we need to physically inspect a piece of luggage. TSA has worked with several companies to develop locks that can be opened by security officers using universal "master" keys so that the locks may not have to be cut.
Airlines may have their own additional requirements on the carriage of firearms and the amount of ammunition that you may have in your checked baggage. Therefore, travelers should also contact the airline regarding its firearm and ammunition carriage policies.
If an American flying overseas and/or to Canada, insure you have U.S. Customs Form 4457 in your possession for re-enter into the states with your firearm.
a. If firearms or other high value items have not been registered with US Customs, stop at American Customs prior to departing the states and complete Customs Form 4457.
b. The form may be processed ahead of time and remains valid for re-importation of the registered articles for as long as the document is legible. The certificate is not transferable. It takes only a few minutes to complete the form. Customs will require make, model, and serial number.
c. If you live near an international airport or port of entry, U.S. Customs can sign-off on this form prior to your trip.
1. Frames or receivers of firearms are "firearms" as defined in the law and subject to the same controls as complete firearms.
2. Have a good lockable case that will securely hold your firearm (the shorter the better). The case is going to take a beating, make sure it's sturdy.
a. The firearm must be unloaded.
b. The container must be locked. A locked container is defined as one that completely secures the firearm from access by anyone other than you. Cases that can be pulled open with little effort do not meet this criterion.
c. A firearm in a hard-sided, locked container may be placed inside a soft-sided, unlocked suitcase or duffle bag.
3. Don't place shooting related stickers or labels on the case.
4. Curbside check-in of a firearm is not permitted.
5. Arrive earlier then recommended (45 minutes to an hour).
6. When you check in at the counter, tell them you have a unloaded firearm. They will ask you if it's unloaded, and they will/should ask you to inspect it and then they will give you an orange tag (Firearm Declaration Form SS-161) to sign stating it's not loaded. This tag goes inside the case. After you put the tag inside the case, lock it!
7. Depending on the airport, they may either direct you to take your gun to the TSA booth, or take the gun to the TSA booth for you. The TSA agent will ask you to open the case so it can be inspected. After it's inspected make sure you lock it again.
8. Don't let anyone other than the security officer have your key or have the combination, as the law requires that only you have the ability to open the case after it's inspected by TSA (TSA Recognized Baggage Locks Are Allowed, Use at your Own Risk).
9. Insure your travel insurance policy and/or homeowners insurance or a rider (replacement value) covers the firearm and container. Most airlines offer insurance, check before you arrive.
b. If relying on homeowners insurance verify it covers your firearm (and case) when not in the home.
c. Take photos when packing.
d. If your packing other items with the firearm make a packing list.
e. Keep in mind that you will be reimbursed for the depreciated value of your items by the airlines.
f. If your bag goes missing after you've left the baggage claim area, your claim is no longer with the airline, but with the police.
10. Ammunition may also be located in the same hard-sided case as the firearm, as long as it is properly packed, however airlines may require the firearm and ammuntion be seperated. Consult your air carrier to determine quantity limitations or whether the ammunition must be packed separately from the firearm.
Check with your airline to see if there are limitations, such as weight or packaging. Most, if not all, only allow 11 pounds gross weight (five Kgs.) for both ammunition and packaging. A target shooter may find it worthwhile to make arrangements to have ammunition available for purchase at the destination.
The ammunition must travel in the manufacturer's packaging or other packaging suitable for transport, such as a fiber (such as cardboard), wood, or metal box specifically designed to carry small amounts of ammunition to prevent movement of cartridges.
Magazines or clips containing ammunition must be securely packaged (placed in another small box or in a secure cutout in the carrying case, in order to protect the primer of the ammunition).
For clay target shooters; outside of small gauge shells, consider a purchase at the destination.
TSA Recognized Baggage Locks - Use at Your Own Risk
TSA has worked with several companies to develop locks that can be opened by security officers using universal "master" keys so that the locks may not have to be cut. These locks are available at airports and travel stores nationwide. The packaging on the locks indicates whether they can be opened by TSA.
I contacted the TSA in regard to TSA Recognized Baggage Locks and firearms:
Question: Can TSA Recognized Baggage Locks be used to secure checked baggage containing a firearm?
I received an email response (Dec 9, 2009):
Thank you for your e-mail about using Transportation Security Administration (TSA)-recognized locks to secure firearm cases.
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