Occasionally, AOPA gets questions from members asking whether or not they can carry firearms with them in their general aviation aircraft. The answer varies depending on the circumstances. This report was written to provide guidance on the transporting of firearms in a general aviation aircraft, whether the transporter would fall under federal or state jurisdiction, and what the laws are when crossing the U.S. border in any direction.
The transportation of any firearm, while allowed by the federal government as part of the citizen constitutional right to bear arms, does have limitations, some restrictions, and certain regulatory requirements.
Overview of the regulations
The U.S. Treasury Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) controls these regulations. Certain firearms are acceptable and suitable for sporting, hunting, and general transportation. The Federal Firearms Regulations Reference Guide details the Gun Control Act, the National Firearms Act, the Arms Export Control Act, and all relevant regulations and rulings. Title 27 CFR of the ATF Regulations describes the importation of arms, ammunition, and implements of war; commerce in firearms and ammunition; and much more. If you want to import or export weapons or ammunition, you must do so through a licensed importer, dealer, or manufacturer. Also, if the National Firearms Act prohibits certain weapons, ammunition, or similar devices from coming into the country, you will not be able to import them unless the ATF provides you with written authorization to do so.
Carrying a concealed firearm on an airport
The regulations that apply to carrying a concealed firearm on an airport or into an FBO fall under the jurisdiction of either federal or state government, depending on where you are on airport property. Federal law on firearms possession applies to the so-called "sterile" area (the area beyond the metal detectors) of passenger terminals. Read the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA's) page on Traveling with Firearms and Ammunition and check Transportation Security Regulations Part 1542 "Airport Security" for more details. Possession of firearms outside the "sterile" area (e.g., at the FBO or airport vehicle parking lot) is governed by state law.
The federal safe passage provision
The federal statute that has some applicability here is 18 USC 926A, Interstate Transportation of Firearms, known as the Federal Safe Passage Act. This law provides that anyone who is not prohibited from possessing firearms under federal law (those prohibited include felons, the dishonorably discharged, etc.) may transport firearms from any place where they can lawfully possess and carry such firearms to any other place where they can lawfully possess and carry such firearms. If you can lawfully possess and carry a firearm in both Pennsylvania and Florida, then you can lawfully travel through any state in which you cannot lawfully possess and carry a firearm while on your way from Pennsylvania to Florida. In order to qualify for the federal protection afforded by the act, you have to comply with a few requirements such as unloading and storing the firearm.
Here is what 18 USC 926A, Interstate Transportation of Firearms, states:
"Notwithstanding any other provision of any law or any rule or regulation of a State or any political subdivision thereof, any person who is not otherwise prohibited by this chapter from transporting, shipping, or receiving a firearm shall be entitled to transport a firearm for any lawful purpose from any place where he may lawfully possess and carry such firearm to any other place where he may lawfully possess and carry such firearm if, during such transportation the firearm is unloaded, and neither the firearm nor any ammunition being transported is readily accessible or is directly accessible from the passenger compartment of such transporting vehicle: Provided that in the case of a vehicle without a compartment separate from the driver's compartment the firearm or ammunition shall be contained in a locked container other than the glove compartment or console."
Disclaimer: The preceding was not intended as legal advice and should not be taken as such. It is recommended that you contact an attorney in your state who specializes in this area of the law.
States and local governments
Individual states, local communities, municipalities, and counties may have their own specific regulations. At the state level, many states have a requirement to register and obtain a special permit to carry firearms such as pistols. Any private pilot desiring to transport a firearm, weapon, or similar device must review the appropriate regulations and should contact the local airport management or law enforcement authorities for approval to land at any airport if any firearm is on board. Further, even if a permit has been obtained to carry a firearm in one state, it does not mean other states have to accept this permit by reciprocity.
Title 49 CFR, Department of Transportation Hazardous Material Regulations Part 172.101, governs the transportation, packing, and labeling of ammunition. It is best not to travel with ammunition but rather to purchase it at your destination. However, if ammunition must be transported, travel with only the amount needed for the sporting or hunting event.
Firearms carried as part of any survival gear, kit, or equipment are subject to the same requirements stated above. However, flare guns, canisters, cartridges, or other types of signaling devices are not considered firearms and are regulated by Department of Transportation Hazardous Material Regulations.
When traveling to Canada on sporting or hunting trips, prior permission to enter must be obtained. You can review the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s information on firearm users visiting Canada here. We would also recommend that you speak with U.S. Customs as well to become aware of any requirements when you clear customs back into the United States.
As a general guideline, taking firearms into Mexico is not recommended because of the risk of major problems or delays to your trip. If you plan to travel to Mexico with firearms you must contact a Mexican Consulate in the United States before attempting to import weapons into Mexico or purchase any while in Mexico. Failure to do so will result in stiff fines and/or jail time. We also recommend that you speak with U.S. Customs, as well, to become aware of any requirements when you clear customs back into the United States.
Canada and Mexico are specifically listed above, but other countries will not allow you to enter with a firearm even if you are only traveling through the country on the way to your final destination. If you plan to take your firearms or ammunition to another country, you should contact officials at that country's embassy or consulate to learn about its regulations.
Purchase of firearms internationally
Any firearm purchased outside of the United States that has not been registered by the owner MUST NOT BE IMPORTED INTO THE UNITED STATES until the proper paperwork has been completed. For further information about importing any firearm, contact the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Foreign nationals living and working in the United States must be aware of the ATF requirements and comply accordingly. Any foreign national visiting, or for whatever reason only in the U.S. temporarily, must comply. Visit the U.S. CBP website for more information .