For many 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 CWPs (Concealed Weapons Permits). 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? I carry and I travel, a lot. I want that option anywhere I go. I also travel with firearms I am competing with. Traveling with guns for self-defense or just to transfer 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 firearms? It depends. Not 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, depending on the state you are from, limits the reciprocity. 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. They may require safe gun handling training to acquire a license. That is not a bad thing. I believe in good training. Think of the peace of mind you have when most of the country is covered for you. With the right paper work and approval you can even bring certain firearms up in to Canada.
Unfortunately there are a handful of states still in this country that do not recognize any carry license and also do 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 this law to protect us it has not been upheld in some states. You recall last year the PA nurse, Shaneen Allen, who crossed the bridge to NJ to work every day? Because she had been mugged in the past she had a CWP for PA and carried. She was pulled over in NJ 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 NJ 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 US Nationals. I was good for every state there except IL. I left S. 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 in to 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 NY or NJ is canceled and you have 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 been 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 AZ 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 8 hour class I had already taken in Washington and sent in that with their application and finger prints 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. The fee is anywhere from $175 – $250 but well worth it.
I hear many horror stories about flying with guns. But most of those stories are due to lost, stolen or damaged items. 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 in to 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. I do not use TSA compliant locks. They allow this and recommend it anyway.
When you get to the check-in counter you tell the agent you have a firearm and he/she will give you a Declaration slip to sign. You unlock and open the case and put the slip inside. 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/luggage to a TSA point. 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 check in ammunition as well. It must be in a factory box or ammunition box. Each airline has a weight limit of ammo. I usually ship my ammo for big matches separately since it is usually more than the 11 pounds allotted. 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.
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 and/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.
Travel to Canada
Believe it or not bringing a firearm in to Canada can be done. I compete in British Columbia twice a year with a bolt action rifle. Shotguns and hunting rifles (bolt action) 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. Fully automatic weapons, all hand guns and guns of less than 66 cm (26 inches) in length are prohibited by law. Whether driving or flying the same paper work is needed. Just remember that what you go in to Canada with you must come out with. You will first need to bring your firearm to a US 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.
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 in to 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 http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca under the Visitors/Non-resident section. You can call them directly and I have found them to be very friendly and helpful.
About 30 Cal Gal
Anette Wachter aka 30CalGal is a member of the United States National Rifle Team and 2015 US Palma Team. Anette has 6 US National Team Championships, 3 national records and over 25 International trophies. In 2011 she became the second woman and first American woman ever to win the B.C. Rifle Championship in 127 years. She holds the NRA 300 yard Civilian National Record. In 2013 Anette traveled to S. Africa and competed with the US Team in the SA Nationals. USA took the Silver Medal for The America’s Match. At Camp Perry US Nationals she placed 3rd in nation individually for The Doc Aiken Trophy at 1000 yards. Plus many more awards and trophies. She is a sponsored competitor in 3Gun and Precision Rifle as well. Anette writes her own blog and articles for several print and online firearm publications. A jewelry designer and chef in her free time.