You don’t have to leave your firearms at home when catching a flight to your summer vacation — but there’s a right way to bring them with you.
With the number of firearms being discovered at checkpoints on the rise nationwide, an official with the Transportation Security Administration was at Kansas City International Airport on Monday to demonstrate the proper way to bring your guns on a flight.
“The TSA doesn’t want to infringe on anybody’s right to take a gun with them when they travel as long as it’s packed the safe way and it’s declared to the airline that you’re flying on,” said Mark Howell, a regional spokesman for the TSA.
“The reason why we’re OK with that is because it is inaccessible during the flight. It is packed with your checked baggage in the underbelly of the aircraft, and you can’t get to it while you are on your flight.”
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As of June, there have been 1,861 firearms discovered at security checkpoints nationwide. In Missouri, there were 66 firearms discovered at checkpoints, including 30 guns at checkpoints at KCI.
Most travelers who have flown with firearms before know the rules, Howell said. But with the summer months upon us, there are a lot more new or inexperienced travelers who might not know how to pack their weapons for air travel.
The first thing you need to do is get a hard-sided case, either plastic or metal, that has padding on the inside and is able to be locked. Soft-sided cases are not allowed.
Place a business card or tape your name and telephone number on the box so that the TSA has an easy way to contact you in case there is something wrong with the way you packaged it.
“When preparing your firearm for travel, the most important thing to keep in mind is that it is completely unloaded,” Howell said. “So you are going to remove any magazine from the firearm and make sure there is no round chambered on the inside of the weapon as well.”
Place the firearm inside the box. The magazine can be placed inside the box as well, provided it is separate from the gun. You can place multiple firearms in the same box, as long as they fit.
Once the firearms are inside the box, close and lock it. For boxes that have multiple spots for locks, each location must have a lock.
“If you have just one lock on there, we are probably going to contact you to put more on,” Howell said. That could cause an issue because most people don’t have additional locks with them.
The locks cannot be TSA recognized locks, which allow TSA officers to open and re-lock during physical inspections of regular bags. Rather, the locks have to be the type that only you can use — either a combination or key lock.
“You have to be the only one able to open the lock,” Howell said.
Once at the airport, go to the ticket counter and declare to the airline that you have a firearm with your checked baggage. They will give you a declaration form. Once the form is filled out, place it inside your box and re-secure it.
“You leave it (the locked box) at the airline ticket counter,” Howell said. “It’s the last time you’ll see it until you get to your destination.”
If small enough, boxes can be packed inside checked baggage. Otherwise, boxes can be checked separately. If you check your firearm separately, you will pick up the box at the airlines’ baggage offices after your flight because it will not come out on the baggage carrousel.
The main reason for the increased number of firearms being found at security checkpoints is because people are forgetting to remove them from their bags or not realizing that they are with them.
If you have a firearm, make sure you don’t have it in your carry-on bags, Howell advised. Better yet, get a separate bag for travel and for the shooting range.
“Even if you do take your firearm out, we do find loose ammunition a lot in carry-on bags,” he said.
When firearms are detected at a checkpoint, security officers stop what they are doing and contact local law enforcement.
“About 80 to 90 percent of the guns we find at the checkpoint are loaded,” Howell said. “For everyone’s safety, we call in local law enforcement. They come over and take the firearm and the passenger outside the checkpoint area.”
At that point, local law enforcement determines whether they will cite or arrest the passenger based on local and state laws. In addition to possible criminal charges, the TSA can issue a civil penalty of up to $12,000.
“It can be a very costly mistake for bringing it to the checkpoint in a carry-on versus packing it the correct way in a checked bag,” Howell said.