Summary: federal law allows a citizen to cross state lines with a gun, but this protection is not absolute. Learn what exceptions apply, and what to consider when interstate traveling with a firearm. Note: this article is not specific legal advice, but for general information.
Several people have recently asked about crossing state lines with guns. Most questions ask whether doing so violates either Arizona or federal law.
The short answer to both questions is no. The Firearms Owner’s Protection Act (“FOPA”) allows an interstate traveler to cross state lines with a gun. But, in order for FOPA to apply, the traveler must legally be allowed to possess the weapon in the state he or she is traveling from. The same is true for the state of destination: the traveler must legally be allowed to possess the weapon where he or she is traveling to as well. As long as those two requirements are met, a traveler should be allowed to cross state lines.
This article breaks down the gist of FOPA, and how it protects traveling gun owners.
While a state may have restrictions to gun ownership and possession, there is no such federal restriction for gun owners who wish to interstate travel. FOPA protects against local and state restrictions that prohibit firearms transportation across state lines.
For Arizona’s gun law basics, click here.
Under FOPA’s specific provisions, a person can legally transport a firearm to and from any place, as long the firearm is unloaded, and inaccessible to the driver or any passenger. Here is the exact language of Subsection A:
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.
FOPA was meant to protect travelers who may end up in a state who has stricter laws on firearms transportation than under federal law. FOPA would essentially override those state laws or local rules, and allow the traveler to cross state lines with his or her firearm.
FOR GUN OWNERS TRAVELING IN CARS
Most states allow guns to be legally transported if they are unloaded, cased, and locked in the car’s trunk. The concern is that the gun is not within immediate reach of either the driver, or any passenger. In cars without trunks, the unloaded gun must be in a locked container other than the glove compartment or console. The same goes for ammunition.
For more on police pull overs because of guns in Arizona, click here.
FOR GUN OWNERS TRAVELING WITH A TRAILER OR CAMPER
The gun should be transported unloaded, cased, and placed in a locked area of the camper or mobile home that is inaccessible to the driver or any passenger.
FOR GUN OWNERS TRAVELING BY AIRPLANE
In 2013, a Federal Court held that FOPA did not protect travelers who wished to transport guns by foot through either airport or port authority. Ass’n of N.J. Rifle & Pistol Clubs v. Port Auth. of N.Y. & N.J., 730 F.3d 252 (3rd Cir. 2013).
As a result, a gun owning traveler cannot rely on FOPA for protection when it comes to transporting a gun in an airport. Transportation Security Administration (“TSA”) rules govern here.
According to TSA, all firearms must be checked with the airline, and declared under the airline’s specific procedures. The gun must be carried in a hard-sided container that must be locked. Additionally, only the passenger may hold the key or lock combination.
All firearms, including parts (barrels, magazines, frames etc.) and ammunitions, are prohibited from carry-on baggage per TSA. If asked at security inspection, you must unlock the hard container for further inspection.
It is critical to pay close attention to airline update pages and announcements. Accidently leaving a gun in a carry-on bag will result in security check point delays and potential fines or even criminal penalties.
Because traveling with a gun on airlines is strict, it is best to inform yourself with the TSA’s provisions at www.tsa.gov/traveler-information/firearms-and-ammunition. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Justice issues written opinions for gun owners going through security in its DOJ Opinion Letter.
Ultimately, it is your responsibility to know and comply with both the TSA and the airline you travel with.
FOR GUN OWNERS RETURNING TO THE U.S.
Importing either firearms or ammo into the U.S. requires a permit from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Explosives (“ATF”). However, if a traveler shows that the firearms or ammo was previously possessed within the U.S. before leaving, an exception applies, and no permit is required.
To obtain this exception, a traveler can complete Form 4457 from the Customs and Border Protection with your local CDP office before leaving the U.S.
Remember, FOPA protects travelers going through the states in vehicles. The law was specifically written that way. Once a traveler reaches their intended state destination, state and local law will govern the ownership, possession and transportation of the firearm within state lines.
While FOPA serves as an affirmative defense when cross state lines with guns, it is important to know the jurisdiction you travel to make traveling with a gun easier. Travelers should have all applicable licenses or permits for any gun they are transporting.
If you face weapons charges as a result of traveling interstate, call Chuck Franklin at (480) 545 – 0700. Chuck is one of the few Arizona attorneys apart of the U.S. Carry Conceal Association (“USCCA”) designated to defend other USCCA members from gun charges.
Mr. Franklin has been serving Arizonans and gun owners since 1987.