Spring break 2015. Pensacola, Florida! Finally we were getting away! This trip was the perfect storm. We would be dragging an RV to a campground on the beach in Pensacola Beach. It was going to be 2 vacations in one. Our 16-year-old daughter had other commitments early in the week so she and a friend would be joining us half way through the week. This meant we had half of our trip for just the two of us and half of the trip as a family.
I had business trips on either side of the vacation so I was going to be away from home for almost 3 weeks. My wife is very capable of handling things around the house and is proficient with a gun, so I wasn’t worried about her. The thing that was causing concern was gun laws. I was going to be in 7 different states during the span of 3 weeks with my gun.
Right now, gun laws from state to state are a bit like a patchwork quilt. I currently live in Arkansas. We have good reciprocity with 33 states. That means that my concealed carry license is honored in those states. OK. Great! I can go most of where I want to go and still carry my handgun, but wait! Even though those 33 states honor my license, all of them have different laws about where I can carry and how. Some of them require that you immediately inform an officer upon any interaction that you are carrying. Some allow carrying in churches. Some allow carrying in churches only if you have permission from the leadership. Some don’t allow carry in a restaurant if they serve alcohol. Some have laws about how you carry in your car. I am responsible, as a concealed carry holder, to know and follow the laws of any state I’m in.
Now I have the task to study up on gun laws for 7 states! What a daunting task! This isn’t small potatoes! If I screw this up I could end up in jail! I need help. I don’t have the budget to hire a lawyer to help research the gun laws for 7 states so off to Google!
My first search is “concealed carry laws.” Bingo! The first unadvertised hit is www.handgunlaw.us. I spend a little time there and find that these incredible people spend hours researching the complicated gun-related laws for all 50 states. They compile them into 50 PDF files. Each PDF file includes the actual text of the relevant laws along with summaries in layman’s terms. They even include example images of that state’s concealed carry license. Fantastic! My research just got easier!
I download the PDF for each state I will be visiting and put them on my smartphone for future reference. I spend time reading each one and comparing their laws to Arkansas law to help me understand the differences. Now travelling with my gun has gone from impossible to manageable. My plan is to take a few moments before I enter each state to review their laws on my smartphone so I’m sure that I am compliant.
Most of the trip is great! I think there was one time that I got in someplace and realized I shouldn’t have been there with my gun. I simply excused myself, returned to my vehicle, and secured my weapon. No problems!
The last leg of my 3-week tour of the US was a flight to Oregon. This meant that within 48 hours I went from the Gulf Coast to the Pacific Northwest! Oregon doesn’t like guns. They’re not as bad as New York or California, but it’s still hostile territory. They don’t honor concealed carry licenses from any other state. As a matter of fact, the only people from outside of Oregon that can get an Oregon concealed carry license are people who live in counties that border Oregon. This means I’m out of luck. I can’t carry in Oregon. This doesn’t mean, however, that I have to go completely defenseless.
If you think I’m a paranoid nut for feeling the need to constantly carry a gun, then you’re gonna go off the handlebars on this one: I keep a “get home” bag with me at all times. A get home bag is a backpack filled with carefully selected items that can help me get home in a worse case scenario. One of the things I always have in my get home bag is ammo for my concealed weapon. Of course this assumes that I have my weapon. In Oregon that means that my weapon becomes a part of my get home bag. I also sleep with my weapon within reach. I certainly plan to have that within reach when sleeping in a hotel.
So it’s settled. I’m taking my gun into unfriendly territory. I’m a law-abiding gun owner, so I need to do this right. Along with the invaluable PDF files from www.handgunlaw.us, I need to bone up on the laws and regulations for flying with my gun. Yes, you read that right. I fly with my gun. It’s perfectly legal to fly with a weapon as long as you do it right.
I’m nearing 50 years of age, so I’m not going to count on my memory. Even though I’ve flown with my gun several times, I still go to the TSA website and the website of the airline to review their gun-related policies. It’s simple really. There are a few simple rules to follow.
Now, I’m not going to tell you how to legally fly with your weapon. Please go to the appropriate web sites and do your own research. I will, however, tell you a few of the considerations. I had to check the bag containing the weapon and ammo (did you think they would let me carry it on?). I had the hard side case that came with my weapon. I had a lock for that case. I had ammo cases designed to safely transport my 9mm rounds. When reading up on flying with a firearm, pay attention to their rules about ammo packaging and quantity.
It’s interesting to see the differences between different airports. If you think about it, airlines employ local people to work at their ticketing counters. This means that checking a bag containing a weapon will be met with different reactions depending on the local gun culture. I’m from a gun friendly state. When I told the ticket agent in my home area that I was travelling with a weapon, she didn’t bat an eye. She handed me a piece of paper, told me to sign it, said to put it in a pocket of my bag, and told me to have a nice flight. I had a totally different experience when I was departing Portland.
I had reviewed the policies again before I packed my bags to go home. It’s a legal issue so I don’t take chances. I approached the ticket counter confident that I was well within my legal rights and compliant with the policies of the airline and TSA. I announce to the young ticket agent that I was travelling with a firearm. You would have thought I had taken my weapon out and pointed it at him. He had a panicked look on his face. He began to scramble around, looked something up on the computer, asked a more experienced agent next to him, and finally produced a document for me to sign and place in my bag. Once I had done that he told me I needed to have my bag searched by TSA. Normally I would just comply and not stir up any trouble, but I could tell this was an inexperienced agent so I challenged him a little. I told him that normally the bag went directly on the same conveyor with the other bags. He saw the opportunity to exercise his authority. With some newfound bravery he told me in no uncertain terms that I was to take the bag directly to the TSA agent and let him search it.
I rolled my bag to the TSA agent and let him know about the gun. He did a complete search of my bag (including the dirty laundry), placed my bag on the conveyor, and told me to have a good trip.
That’s the closest I’ve ever come to any type of trouble travelling with my firearm. I will say, however, that I have never flown in or out of New York state. For what it’s worth, I never plan to do that. As a matter of fact, I have a contingency plan in place if I am ever diverted into New York or New Jersey. I will grab my luggage, head to the nearest car rental counter, rent a car, and drive to the nearest state line as quick as I legally can. I don’t want to mess with those people! The only thing they hate more than guns is gun owners.