How to Travel With a Gun Across State Lines
Over the last few years, I have been traveling across this country via planes, trains, and automobiles a couple of times each month. I travel for shooting competitions, trade shows, work, and the occasional actual vacation. As a woman mostly traveling alone I want to have my sidearm with me at all times if possible. I have several concealed weapons permits (CWPs). I have one from Washington State where I reside, from Oregon next door since I am always driving through, and from Arizona and Utah. Why so many? For one, why not? And two, I carry and I travel a lot. I want to have a form of self-defense on me at all times. Just because I cross a state line does not mean I feel safer. I want that option anywhere I go, but to travel with a gun for self-defense has some responsibilities with it. I had to learn about the laws of each state I drive through and stay in. I had to learn the rules of driving, flying or railroading with a gun.
Do I need a CWP to travel with a gun?
Do I need a CWP to travel with a gun? It depends. Not usually if it is an open carry state or if I just keep my gun locked in a case in the trunk with ammo separated. But what good does that do for me if I get attacked at a stop light, rest stop or gas station? I want it with me when I check in to my hotels too. Most state CWPs have reciprocity with other states across the country. Again, the reciprocity changes depending on the state you are from. Utah, Florida, and Arizona have the largest number of states they share the licenses with. Some of these permits take some effort to get but they are worth it. Think of the peace of mind you have when most of the country is covered for you. With the right paperwork and approval, you can even bring certain firearms up into Canada.
Unfortunately, there are a handful of states still in this country that does not recognize any carry license and also does not allow open carry. Although the McClure-Volkner Act of 1986 is supposed to protect you anywhere, you need to know your stuff. While traveling through heavily restricted states, the McClure-Volkmer Act, an amendment to the Gun Control Act of 1986, gives travelers a “safe passage” through restricted states if guns are unloaded and cased, or locked up, and kept inaccessible with the ammunition stored separately. But you must pass through only! Do not stop overnight.
Even with the McClure-Volkner Act to protect us, it has not always been upheld. You recall a few years ago the PA nurse, Shaneen Allen, that crossed the bridge to New Jersey to work every day? Because she had been mugged in the past she had a concealed weapons permit for Pennsylvania and carried. She was pulled over in N.J. for a traffic stop. A single, working mom, law-abiding gun owner was arrested for having the gun in her car and they gave her several years in jail. There was such a national uproar to her defense that N.J. backed off and let her go. Any states that my licenses do not honor I plan on driving straight through and I do not spend the night. Or better yet I try to avoid those states altogether. I drove from Seattle to Ohio last summer to get to U.S. Nationals. I was good for every state between the two except Illinois. I left South Dakota and drove below Chicago and straight through the state without stopping. I was super tired and wanted to stop for the night but I did not get a hotel until I crossed the state line into Indiana. Perhaps it is my paranoia but I do not want to be a Shaneen Allen in the news. I will not make any flight connections through these states either.
Let us say your connecting flight through New York or New Jersey is canceled and you decide to collect your luggage, leave the airport and stay overnight. The fact that you are even carrying a firearm in a locked case outside of the airport with no right to own one there will land you in jail. Yes, that is stupid, but it happens. My point to all of this is that no matter how many permits you have, know the laws in each state you are traveling to or through.
Now that I have you officially turned off of traveling with guns, allow me to tell you that is quite easy and nice once you have your homework done. The NRA has a complete “right to carry reciprocity and recognition” map that I highly suggest you look at before heading out with your firearm on your trip. Living in Washington I found that the reciprocity of my CWP was really good but there were several states on the west coast and central area that were not covered. I knew that a Utah and even an Arizona permit would make a big difference and fill in those gaps. The Arizona license was fairly easy to get. I just had to show proof of an eight-hour class I had already taken in Washington. I sent in that with their application and fingerprints and it was done. If you call them they will send you an application and instructions in the mail. The Utah permit class is offered all over the country, it is a classroom only certification that costs anywhere from $175 to $250. You can also visit the NRA’s right to carry reciprocity and recognition map at www.nraila.org/gun-laws.aspx
How to Travel With a Gun – Flying
I hear many horror stories about flying with guns, but most of those stories are due to lost, stolen or damaged items. And perhaps of getting stuck in New York because the connecting flight was canceled. In that case, it’s best to just sleep in the airport and don’t leave with your gun case.
(Editor’s Note: I have been stuck overnight in Chicago on my way home from a 3-Gun match. I simply asked the airline to keep my luggage. It wasn’t ideal, but it did cut down on possible legal complications.)
Checking in with guns is straight forward. To be extra careful I print out the airline’s policies and the TSA’s policies on firearms in case I need to cheerfully remind the uninformed check-in attendant about what is what. You must walk into the airport with your gun locked in its case. There must be enough locks on it so that there is no way anyone can pry open an end and reach a hand in. TSA compliant locks are not required nor even recommended.
When you get to the check-in counter you tell the agent you have a firearm and he or she will give you a declaration slip to sign. Most of the time, you unlock and open the case and put the slip inside, sometimes the agent will want to place the slip in the case for you. If you have a locked pistol case that goes in your bigger suitcase they want the slip in the suitcase. Then lock it back up. Depending on the airport you will either be told to now bring your gun case to a TSA point or you may be escorted there as well. A TSA agent will just do an explosives test on case cover and he will send you away when done. He then checks your luggage through.
At some airports, the ticket agent will take your case or luggage and ask you to wait for about 10 minutes close by. If a TSA agent does not come out then you are good to walk away. You can pack ammunition as well, although it must be in a factory box. Each airline has a different ammunition weight limit, it is usually around 11 pounds, but Alaska, for example, allows up to 50 pounds. I usually ship my ammo separately anyway since it is usually more than the 11 pounds allotted. Besides, I want room for more shoes. My only other tip is to double and triple check your carry-on for any gun parts such as magazines, loose cartridges or empty cases. No need to cause a problem for yourself going through security.
How to Travel With a Gun – Trains
In 2010 Amtrak finally changed their policy allowing firearms on the trains at all. You now can check them in as luggage like the airlines. Every step is mostly identical to checking in to an airline but with Amtrak, you must call, not email or online, 24-plus hours in advance for your firearm reservation. If you do not give minimum notice you do not get to take your gun with you on the train. Period. The passengers must travel on the same train that is transporting the checked firearms or ammunition. Check in at least 30 minutes prior. Other than that all policies are the same as flying. One caveat, many times trains and the tracks they ride on have issues. If they have to put you on a bus for a portion of the trip the bus company may not accept firearms. That would be a problem.
How to Travel With a Gun – into Canada
Believe it or not, you can bring a firearm into Canada. Twice a year, I compete in British Columbia with a bolt-action rifle, and sometimes a semi-automatic rifle. Shotguns and bolt-action rifles are non-restricted firearms. Restricted firearms such as pistols or revolvers may be temporarily imported if you have an Authorization to Transport (ATT) in advance from a Canadian Chief Firearms Officer. Full-automatic weapons, all handguns, and guns of less than 66 cm (26 inches) in length are prohibited by law.
Whether driving or flying the same paperwork is needed when you plan to travel with a gun. Just remember that what you go into Canada with you must come out with. You will first need to bring your firearm to a U.S. Customs office in your home town or right before the border. They will take the serial number and give you a stamped 4457 Form to keep. This form is required to get back home to the States with your gun! I keep it with my passport. (Note: When you go to US Customs office do not bring the firearm in with you. Let them follow you back out to your car to look at it. Personal experience. Trust me on this one.)
You can download a Non-Resident Firearms Declaration from the Canadian Customs web site. If driving through, you can stop at the border and take care of it there. Remember to leave your firearm in the car. Don’t swing it over your shoulder and walk into Canadian Customs. That would be bad, very bad. The permit fee is only $25.00 (CDN) per person for a temporary registration permit and the permit is valid for 60 days. I have usually had an invitation from the competition I am traveling to that gives Customs a better reason why you would want to bring it up there. Then I do not need to get an ATT form. Let us say you want to drive to Alaska and you need to transport your non-prohibited or restricted guns with you as you drive through Canada. Restricted firearms such as pistols or revolvers may be temporarily imported if you have an Authorization to Transport (ATT) in advance from a Canadian Chief Firearms Officer.
To find your CCFO go to www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca under the Visitors/Non-resident section.
By Anette Wachter. Originally published in the February 2015 issue of GunUp the Magazine.