GA and Gun Safety
September 1, 2019
Flying in the cool, crisp air of fall can be absolutely spectacular as mile after mile of brilliant color passes beneath your wings. The variety of changing hues and distinct colors is quite simply awe-inspiring. It is in fact one of the great joys of being able to fly when and where you choose.
Another great joy of the fall season for many is the opportunity to fly to locations where hunting is an active sport. Landing at a wilderness camp site can be relaxing, knowing of the solitude and peacefulness that is there the moment you shut down your engine.
A wise pilot knows that landing on a turf or gravel strip requires good preparation and solid planning especially if you haven’t done that for a while. The same high level of planning and preparation should be completed if you plan to carry firearms and ammunition in your aircraft to the chosen remote location.
It is smart to carry your firearms whether pistols or rifles, in hard cases that can be locked with key locks or combination locks. You, the gun owner, should be the only one to retain those keys or combinations. While many people have soft-sided cases for their firearms, it is important that you think about the following before transporting any firearm in your aircraft especially in a soft case.
First, a hard sided case most often contains a firm foam interior that holds the firearm in place within the case. It further protects it from damage caused by dropping the case, or rough handling for instance, as the foam absorbs the shock. The firearm should be completely unloaded, without a magazine or clip installed. This is not only for your safety, but also for your protection. If you have an emergency where you land at a GA airport and then have to use commercial aviation to return home for instance, your firearms and ammo would already meet most airlines requirements for checking those items (once inspected by the airline and/or TSA) as baggage. Some airlines may not accept soft cases for guns as checked baggage.
If you have a state issued permit to carry a firearm, you probably know that in some states, the laws/rules pertaining to that permit to carry can vary. So to be safe and properly compliant, it is the individual’s responsibility to find out what County or counties they will be transiting by car and understand what law or rule differences may exist within those counties that pertain to carrying a firearm.
The same holds true when carrying firearms and ammunition in your aircraft. While planning your flight, you should look for alternate airports along your route of flight and note what state those airports are located in. Then research what that state’s laws/rules are about intrastate transporting firearms, and concealed carry laws.
Why do I need to do that, you might ask? If you have an emergency you need to land at what may essentially be an unfamiliar airport in a state you may not have been in before now. So you want to be sure you know what to do with your firearms once you land. Leaving them in your aircraft may not be secure enough especially if you have to leave your plane in the hands of a repair source you are not familiar with. If you take them out of your aircraft and/or if you are carrying a concealed firearm, you could easily violate applicable State or Federal laws just on the airport. That’s why it is so important to do your homework before you fly while carrying firearms and ammunition.
The next concern is, if you have landed at a commercial service airport, there are likely a number of sterile places on that field you cannot go when carrying weapons of any type. You would certainly not be allowed into the terminal from the ramp while carrying weapons into what may be a secured/sterile area.
So let’s say you are comfortable leaving your firearms in their locked cases in your aircraft. Now you decide to go into the arrivals/departures building. Are you legal to carry your concealed weapon into the building or on the ramp of that airport? The answer depends on a number of considerations.
In a detailed article by Reigel & Associates, Ltd./Aero Legal Services, it asks “…what type of firearm will be carried? Will it be carried concealed or on the person (e.g. using a concealed carry weapon “CCW” permit), or will it be in checked luggage? What type of aircraft? Is it a commercial flight or a private flight? Is the flight interstate or intrastate? The answers to these questions dictate whether or how you can transport a firearm on an aircraft.”
The Reigel article goes on to say, “Probably the best way to look at the issue is to determine where you will be with the firearm when you board the aircraft: Within a sterile area of an airport or within a non-sterile area of an airport. Several different (US) statutes apply to transportation of firearms on aircraft, depending upon the type of aircraft and aircraft operation and where you board the aircraft.”
The Reigel article is detailed and contains many references to US Statutes that may be applicable. In the article the author references 18 USC §926A for private aircraft, and goes on to say, “For those of you who fly in private aircraft and carry firearms with you, knowing the areas at an airport within which you can and cannot possess a firearm will help you avoid accepting a clearance or taxiing to an area within which possession of firearms is prohibited. So long as you remain outside of airport sterile areas, your possession of firearms will only be subject to the laws of the state in which you are flying.”
You can find the entire article at: http://www.aerolegalservices.com/Articles/FirearmsOnAircraft.shtml
Another detailed article about flying with firearms is written by Attorney Alexandria Kincaid. In her article she says, “It is much too easy to unknowingly break the law when you carry a gun. Part of my planning practice for my gun owning clients focuses on helping them avoid the “accidental felony.” People who commit an accidental felony are people who unknowingly and unintentionally break the law. Some law enforcement officials treat innocent misconduct for what it is, take the opportunity to educate the person, and move on.”
Kincaid adds, “It is up to you, the gun owner, to be knowledgeable and prepared. If you have any questions or concerns about the applicable laws for your next flight, consult a knowledgeable firearms attorney.”
You can find her this article at: nwgunlawgroup.com/guns-in-airports-written-by-alexandria-kincaid/
As you can see, carrying a firearm on you as well as with you, can present some significant challenges to you, especially if you violate Federal, State, or local laws even unknowingly. So whether you are traveling with firearms on a commercial aircraft or a private aircraft, you need to do your due diligence to help assure you follow the laws at your commercial service airport, or your GA airport at least at the point of origin and proposed final destination.
It is also wise to check airports along your proposed route of flight to be aware of laws that may impact you if it is necessary to land there during an emergency, or simply because of a change in plans.
There are many additional articles and resources available via the Internet. Several are shown here only to assist readers in getting started doing their own research. They are not endorsements or recommendations of the authors, organizations, companies, products, services, or websites.
The preceding was in no way intended as legal advice and should not be taken as such. It was presented here solely to raise awareness about the existence of laws concerning the transportation and carrying of firearms and ammunition to other locations outside of the reader’s State of origin, in a General Aviation aircraft. The reader is strongly urged to contact an attorney in his/her state who specializes in firearms law.