Summer holidays are fast approaching, and it’s important to be reminded about the regulations in regard to securing, transporting, and flying with a firearm. Let’s begin with your arrival at the airport.
Arriving at the Airport
If you have a Weapon Carry License, or so long as you are eligible to possess a weapon (even if you don’t have a license), you may carry and store a firearm in your personal vehicle. But of course, the best practice would be to have your firearm safely stored at home or another secure location if you plan to leave your car parked and unattended for any extended period of time. Now it’s not against the law to leave a firearm in a parked car, but possibly unwise considering your car could be broken into—particularly if you like to let everyone know by the stickers on your back window that you support the Second Amendment or carry a firearm for protection.
In the Terminal
Once you’ve entered the terminal, you may question whether you have the right to possess a firearm there or not. According to state law, you do. That’s the law. Let’s make it simple. If you can get there as a member of the general public without going through security to gain access to that area, you are in an unrestricted area. You may carry a firearm and that firearm may be carried either openly or concealed. The airport drive, parking areas, walkways, and the unsecured portions of the terminal such as ticketing, baggage claim, and the shops and restaurants just outside security are all within the areas you can carry a firearm.
However, you must follow the rules. Generally for a handgun, either openly or concealed, you must possess a Weapons Carry License unless your possession fits another exception in Official Code of Georgia 16-11-126, such as a handgun enclosed in a case and unloaded. For a long gun, meaning a rifle or shotgun that meets the legal sized standards, no Weapons Carry License is required. But if the long gun is loaded, it must be carried openly.
Flying with Firearms
What if you wish to travel with a firearm? According to the ATF’s website information found at TSA.gov/travel, you may transport unloaded firearms in a hard-sided locked container as checked baggage only. Declare the firearm and/or ammunition to the airline when checking your bag at the ticket counter. The container must completely secure the firearm from being accessed. Locked cases that can be easily opened are not permitted. Be aware that the container the firearm was in when purchased may not adequately secure the firearm when it is transported in checked baggage. Allow me to emphasize, in order to carry on a commercial flight, lock it in a case inside your luggage, separate the ammunition, and declare your firearm to the transportation company. This is only for checked baggage, not carry-on baggage. It is against federal law to carry a firearm into the secure areas, and that’s past the TSA metal detectors of the airport. Each airline should have similar guidelines for dealing with firearms that are in checked baggage. Please consult with your specific carrier before you go to the airport.
Here are some other points to remember: Expect the case your firearm was purchased in will not suffice for travel, just as we discussed with the TSA regulations. Purchase a hard-sided travel rated case. The firearm must be unloaded and there can be no loose ammunition in the case. Firearm parts including magazines, bolts, and firing pins are prohibited in carry-on baggage but may be transported in checked baggage just as the firearm is. Rifle scopes are permitted in both carry-on and checked baggage.
Forgetting You Have Your Firearm in Your Possession…
What happens if you should be stopped in the screening area with a firearm? What if you forget you have a handgun in your bag and your bag is searched? The answer often depends on whether you have a Weapons Carry License.
Looking back to Official Code of Georgia, 16-11-130.2, we find that no person shall enter the restricted access area of a commercial service airport and/or beyond the airport security screening checkpoint knowingly possessing or knowingly having under his or her control a weapon or long gun. Georgia law provides a right of retreat to Weapons Carry License holders who leave the restricted access area after being provided notice that he or she is in possession of a weapon. According to the Georgia statute, the Weapons Carry License holders shall not be found guilty whereas an individual without a Weapons Carry License is guilty of a misdemeanor. However, if it’s proven you intended to commit a separate felony once inside of the secured areas, such as aggravated assault or even hijacking, the crime is a felony with a potential prison sentence of 10 years. Historically, this statutory scheme was honored at the Atlanta airport until the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia stepped in and began to charge individuals with federal citations for possession of firearms in the secured areas.
Firearms Found During Screenings
In practice, here is currently how the government treats firearms in the screening area of Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport: If you have no Weapons Carry License and attempt to enter secured areas with a firearm, you will be arrested by the City of Atlanta police since the airport is within the city of Atlanta. Because that portion of the city of Atlanta is within Clayton County, however, you will be transported to Clayton County into the Clayton County Jail. Your charges would be handled, in most cases, by the Clayton County Solicitor’s Office. If you have a Weapons Carry License, the standard practice will allow you to continue with your travel, but you first would be served with a citation for a violation of federal law for possessing a firearm in the secured area of an airport. Those citations frequently allege a violation of 49 US Code § 46314 entitled “Entering Aircraft or Airport Area in Violation of Security Requirements.” This matter, instead of being handled in Clayton County, will be handled in federal court in the City of Atlanta.
This has been Flying with Guns and has covered your travel from the parking lot to the terminal, from baggage claim to the TSA screeners, to hopefully a successful travel experience. Share this information with your friends and your family who travel wherever they may travel. And please remember, for any questions concerning securing and transporting firearms when flying, call U.S. LawShield and ask to speak to your Independent Program Attorney.