Do TSA Officers Have Guns & Arrest Powers? [2023]

A lot of travelers get a little bit nervous when going through airport security. They are afraid of something going wrong and having a badged TSA officer give them trouble as they try to make their way through the airport.

But do these TSA officers have the same level of authority as law-enforcement officers? For example, can they arrest you and can they carry guns on them?

In this article, I will take a look at whether or not TSA officers have arrest authority and can legally carry guns.

The answer to this question might make you feel a little bit more at ease when going through security but there are still some things that might surprise you.

Do TSA officers have guns?

Most TSA employees are Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) who do not possess arrest powers and are not permitted to carry weapons, including guns. However, there are some employees under the TSA who are allowed to carry guns with them. Keep reading below to find out more.

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TSA Overview

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is an agency of the DHS with a mission to “protect the nation’s transportation systems to ensure freedom of movement for people and commerce.”

The agency, which now has over 54,000 employees, came into existence following the 9/11 attacks with the goal of improving airport security procedures and centralizing air travel security under one agency.

While TSA is most commonly associated with air travel, the agency also develops policies to help protect the U.S. highways, railroads, buses, mass transit systems, ports, and pipelines.

Although most people think of TSA employees as coming in one universal form, there actually are several different types of TSA employees.

Most of these employees do not have arrest powers or permission to possess firearms but that is not always the case….

Below, I’ll give you a breakdown of some of the TSA departments and explain which ones may have authority to carry guns and arrest people.


Most TSA employees are Transportation Security Officers (TSOs).

TSO’s are those officers that greet you (with varying levels of friendliness) at airport security checkpoints and usher you through to those wonderful full body scanners.

When people think of TSA officers, TSO’s are usually what they are thinking of.

While most of the time they are concerned with facilitating the standard security screening process, some TSOs may have additional responsibilities.

For example, some TSOs are also Behavior Detection Officers (BDOs).

These are TSA agents tasked with observing passengers as they go through security checkpoints, looking for certain types of behaviors that might indicate the person is up to no good.

It’s important to note that TSO’s do not carry weapons, are not allowed to use force, and they also lack the authority to arrest individuals.

So the vast majority of TSA employees cannot lawfully carry guns.

Federal Air Marshalls

The Federal Air Marshal Service is the law enforcement arm of the TSA.

These are TSA employees who usually work undercover and are the TSA personell known for carrying guns on them.

In order to be a Federal Air Marshal, you have to have exceptional marksman abilities which makes sense since firing a gun in a plane is not exactly low-risk.

Federal Air Marshals also need to be well versed in close quarter combat since they may be tasked with disarming and disabling threats.

These agents are adept at blending into the crowd so in a lot of instances it could be very difficult to point them out. However, if you know what to look for sometimes it’s not so hard to spot them.

Federal Air Marshals are not on every plane since that would take an incredible amount of resources. Instead, they could be assigned to flights randomly or based on a destination or suspected threat level.

For example, if someone is on a government watch list and flying on a plane, there’s a good chance at least one Air Marshal will be on board.

Air Marshals are known to closely observe passengers and travelers in airports, looking for odd behaviors and movements.

The types of behavior they could be looking for are almost infinite but could include things like an abrupt change in direction when walking through the airport, constant fidgeting, changing clothes, etc.

Basically, anything remotely suspicious.

Related to the Air Marshals are the Federal Flight Deck Officers (FFDOs). Many people have no idea about these volunteer officers but it’s actually a pretty interesting program.

These are mostly pilots who are former military and they are officially deputized by the TSA.

Their jurisdiction is limited to the flight deck but these are pilots who are allowed to carry a weapon and know how to use it.

Like the Air Marshals, they undergo similar training focusing on constitutional law, marksmanship, physical fitness, behavioral observation, defensive tactics, and emergency medical assistance.

One of the big differences is that these are just volunteers and don’t earn extra wages for taking on this additional responsibility.

Related: Do Airline Pilots Carry Guns in the Cockpit?

TSA Canine handlers

If you’ve traveled enough you’ve certainly seen canine handlers and the airport.

These are people who take care of the dogs that go around patrolling for explosives and other dangerous items. Some dogs might be sniffing out drugs but typically it is the bombs and explosives that are a primary concern in the US.

These canine teams are made up of TSA inspectors and local law-enforcement officers.

Law enforcement officers make up roughly 65 percent and the other 35 percent are transportation security inspectors.

This means that most of these canine handlers should have arrest powers and also likely have guns.

You can usually tell the TSA canine agents apart because they wear khaki pants and the law enforcement officers are usually dressed in all black or something else. I believe the TSA agents who handle the canines are also unarmed.

Visible Intermodal Protection and Response (VIPR)

Visible Intermodal Protection and Response (VIPR) is a program designed to “augment the security of any mode of transportation at any location within the United States.”

Officers enrolled in this program are part of the TSA’s Office of Law Enforcement/Federal Air Marshal Service, which allows some of them to have arrest powers and to carry weapons.

While you could find members of VIPR at an airport, you wont typically find them at airports.

Instead, you would usually find these at pretty much any other place of transportation including: railroad stations, bus stations, ferries, car tunnels, ports, subways, truck weigh stations, and rest areas.


United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is the largest federal law enforcement agency of the United States Department of Homeland Security.

They are charged with “keeping terrorists and their weapons out of the U.S. while facilitating lawful international travel and trade.

CBP officers do have arrest powers and also are allowed to carry weapons. They are distinct from TSA but sometimes there is overlap between personnel in certain types of departments (e.g., VIPR).

Related: Is Customs the Same as TSA? (Key Differences)

Should TSA officers have guns?

In 2013, TSA agent Gerardo Hernandez was gunned down at LAX airport. He was the first TSA officer killed in the line of duty in the agency’s history.

This raised the question of whether or not TSA agents (TSOs) should have guns while on duty.

Opponents point to the fact that there are over 40,000 TSO’s and that arming all of them with guns would inevitably lead to a lot of mishaps and unnecessary deaths.

They question the training that TSOs would receive with respect to using a weapon and how qualified those agents would be to fire in an airport with hundreds of bystanders often in close proximity.

It’s very difficult to disagree with these concerns.

A more practical solution might be creating a smaller unit of law enforcement within the TSA that trains TSO agents to use firearms. Essentially, these would be similar to the Federal Air Marshals except their domain would be the security checkpoint stations.

However, opponents think this is still “mission creep” and think that there are better solutions. For example, there could be a more reliable presence from law enforcement officers in airports, panic buttons installed for TSA agents, etc.

Unfortunately, we don’t typically see major changes in security procedures until after some type of attack or attempted attack. So my guess would be that until we experience another incident at airport security, things will probably remain the same.

Bringing firearms through the airport

If you are interested in legally transporting a firearm yourself then you should be well aware of the TSA firearm rules.

Basically, under no circumstances can you ever bring a firearm through airport security as a carry-on.

However, you are allowed to bring certain types of firearms in your checked baggage.

When doing so, you need to make sure that you comply with some of the rules like making sure the weapon is not loaded and having the weapon in a secured luggage bag.

We’ve put together an in-depth guide on traveling with firearms and you can check it out here.

Final word

Most TSA employees are TSO’s who do not have arrest powers and do not carry weapons of any kind, including guns.

However, there are some individuals under the TSA such as Federal Air Marshals who do have law enforcement powers and are allowed to carry guns through the airport and even on planes.

In addition to them, some pilots may also be armed if they are in the FFDO program.

TSA Approved Gun Case & Ammunition Guide [2023]

Are you thinking about bringing your guns/firearms and/or ammunition through the airport and on to your next destination? If so, there are some specific TSA rules related to traveling with guns that you need to know about  before you ever set foot in an airport. In this article, I break down all the rules for TSA approved gun cases and also provide you with links to all of the firearm policies for the major US airlines. 

Can you bring firearms through the airport? 

Yes, you may transport unloaded firearms in a locked hard-sided container but as checked baggage only. Some of the things to keep in mind are that the guns need to be unloaded and the container needs to: 

  • Have a lock
  • Be hard-sided
  • Transported with checked baggage

Keep reading below for more details on the rules.

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Firearm transport restrictions: 8 things to know 

1. State and local laws 

When traveling to and from the airport, remember to comply with the laws concerning possession of firearms since these can differ a lot, depending on the city, state, etc. For a list of relevant laws pertaining to traveling with guns in every state click here

2. What is a “firearm?”

It’s a good idea to check with your airline to see what exactly is considered a firearm if you are on the fence. For example, here’s the definition of firearm provided by Alaska Airlines: 

A “firearm” is any weapon that will, or is designed to, or may be readily converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive, or the frame or receiver of any such weapon. This includes:

  • Sporting rifles, shotguns, and handguns
  • Handguns of authorized law enforcement officers while traveling on official duty
  • Starter pistols, compressed air or BB guns, and flare pistols
  • Antique firearms
  • Silencers/suppressors

Notice that even BB guns fall under this category. If you have a paintball gun they might not be subject to the container requirements. For example, Southwest states that “[p]aintball guns are allowed in checked baggage and are not subject to the container requirements of firearms.” Just check with your airline if you are in doubt. 

Relate: Can You Bring Pepper Spray on a Plane?

3. International travel with firearms

If you are traveling internationally with a firearm in checked baggage, you should check with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website for information and requirements prior to travel.

Here’s what the CBP states

Current export regulations issued by the Department of State require travelers to file Electronic Export Information (EEI) for temporary export of personally owned firearms via the Automated Export System (AES) prior to departure from the United States.

You will likely need to complete a CBP Form 4457. Once the CBP 4457 is completed, it can be used over and over again for the same firearm. You also want to get familiar with the import requirements of the foreign country(s) (the CBP Form 4457 may be required for entry). For more on international firearm travel regulations click here

US Customs and Border Protection form.
US Customs and Border Protection form.

4. Firearm must be unloaded 

When you are traveling with your firearm through an airport, it must be unloaded. 49 CFR 1540.5 defines what a loaded firearm is and states that:

Loaded firearm means a firearm that has a live round of ammunition, or any component thereof, in the chamber or cylinder or in a magazine inserted in the firearm.

Some also recommend locking the slide back to show that the gun is not loaded. But just make sure that the gun is not loaded or you could face some harsh consequences like getting fined or even criminal consequences.

5. Choosing a container and lock

Firearms must be unloaded and locked in a hard-sided container and transported as checked baggage only. Sometimes multiple locks may be required or used to secure the baggage. (You are usually NOT required to place locks in every available hole on the case, as long as the case is secure.)

Only the passenger should retain the key or the combination to the firearm lock. The exception to this is if TSA personnel request the key to open the firearm pursuant to TSA regulations for inspection. This means that you need to be on alert as you make your way through the terminals just in case your are paged by airport agents that they need to inspect your container after you have checked it. 

You may use any brand or type of lock to secure your firearm case. I would not go with a container that has a “TSA approved” lock on it (the type of lock that TSA agents can open up), since you want to avoid as much potential tampering with your firearm as possible.  

Here are some links to TSA compliant firearm containers, many of which are on the cheaper side. Keep in mind that you don’t have to use a “firearm” case. Any hard-sided case that can be securely locked will suffice, even if it’s not specifically designed for firearms. 

Related: TSA Approved Locks Guide (Worth It?)




Bass Pro Shops

6. Declaring your firearm (checking-in)

Once you arrive at the airport you need to declare the firearm and/or ammunition to the airline when checking your bag at the ticket counter (you can’t check your firearm at the curb). This process could take some extra time to complete so you don’t want to be rushing through the airport when you’re traveling with a firearm — give yourself a little bit of extra time.

You’ll have to read and sign a tag ensuring that you are complying with all the firearm regulations and then insert that tag into your firearms bag. The TSA inspection will take place at the check-in counter or may take place at another TSA area. 

The container that you choose to use must completely secure the firearm from being accessed. If the locked case can be easily opened it will not be permitted. You should note that the container the firearm was in when purchased may not adequately secure the firearm when it is transported in checked baggage.

Declare each firearm each time you present it for transport as checked baggage. Ask your airline about limitations or fees that may apply. You can read the policies for each major US carrier below: 

I would recommend for you to print out/download the policy for the airline that you’re flying with to ensure that the process runs smoothly. Sometimes airline agents don’t know their own policies and will assume how things should work and you’ll have to check them which is easy to do when you have their policy on you. 

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7. Firearm parts 

Firearm parts cannot be transported in your carry-on bags. So things like magazines, clips, bolts, and firing pins, must be transported in checked baggage. Also, replica firearms (even toys) must be transported in checked baggage only. However, rifle scopes are permitted in carry-on and checked baggage.

8. Ammunition

Ammunition is prohibited in carry-on baggage, but small arms ammunition may be transported in checked baggage when being transported securely for personal use according to 49 CFR 175.10 (a)(8). 

Small arms ammunition includes cartridges up to 19.1 mm (.75 caliber) and shotgun shells of any gauge. (It does not include black powder, smokeless powder, primers, percussion caps, or homemade powder and ball loads for muzzle loading.)

Firearm magazines and ammunition clips, whether loaded or empty, must be securely boxed or included within a hard-sided case containing an unloaded firearm.

You can store your small arms ammunition in the same hard-sided case as the firearm or in a secured box made up of certain materials. TSA states that, small arms ammunition “must be packaged in a fiber (such as cardboard), wood, plastic, or metal box specifically designed to carry ammunition.”

The federal regulation that speaks on this is 49 CFR 175.10 (a)(8) and it states:

(8) Small arms ammunition for personal use carried by a crewmember or passenger in checked baggage only, if securely packed in boxes or other packagings specifically designed to carry small amounts of ammunition. Ammunition clips and magazines must also be securely boxed. This paragraph does not apply to persons traveling under the provisions of 49 CFR 1544.219.

Also, you should check with your airline if ammunition is allowed in checked bags.

Related: Does TSA Check For Arrest Warrants?

The risk of getting fined by TSA

TSA can fine passengers for violating certain rules and the fines for failing to abide by the transport rules for firearms are some of the biggest penalties.

So make sure that you properly package your firearm and that it is not loaded when you arrive at the airport because that is one of the major violations.

And also, always triple check that your firearm is not in your carry-on bag because taking a firearm through airport security, especially if you have access to ammunition, could result of a hefty fine (along with referral to law-enforcement).

Firearms through the airport FAQ

What is considered a firearm?

Typically a firearm will include:

Sporting rifles, shotguns, and handguns
Handguns of authorized law enforcement officers while traveling on official duty
Starter pistols, compressed air or BB guns, and flare pistols
Antique firearms

If you have any questions, be sure to check with the airline you are flying with.

Can I bring a firearm on an international flight?

You may be able to bring your firearm on international flights in your checked baggage. However, you may have to fill out extra paperwork including a CBP Form 4457.

Does my firearm need to be unloaded?

When traveling through an airport with your firearm, it must be unloaded or you might be subjected to a large fine and/or face criminal consequences.

Can I bring ammo in my carry-on?

No, you are not allowed to bring ammunition in your carry-on.

Final word 

The rules aren’t that complex when it comes to traveling with firearms through airports. The key is to make sure you get a TSA-compliant case that has a hard shell and comes with a key lock or combination lock. Also, it’s very key to remember to unload the weapon before storing it. And if you’re planning on traveling internationally, you should do some research on the regulations in the country you’ll be arriving in. 

Can You Bring a Gun Into a Hotel? [2022]

Can you bring a gun into a hotel?

It’s a common question with potentially huge legal ramifications.

In this article, I won’t be offering any legal advice but I’ll give you some insight into the question so that you’ll be able to arrive at a well-informed decision for yourself.

Can you bring a gun into a hotel?

Whether or not you can bring a gun into a hotel depends on state laws and on the individual hotel’s policy. For this reason, it’s hard to provide specific guidance on this question.

However, we have provided some general guidance below that will prime you about different factors to consider.

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Federal, state, and local laws

Gun laws can vary dramatically between states and many (or maybe even most) firearm statutes don’t specifically mention the rules for guns in hotels.

Instead, you often find the word “residence” used.

Many states will allow you to lawfully possess a gun within a residence and a hotel may be considered a temporary residence.

For example, take a look at the law in California:

Nothing in Section 25850 shall prevent any person from having a loaded weapon, if it is otherwise lawful, at the person’s place of residence, including any temporary residence or campsite.

Something super important to point out is that when you’re talking about a hotel qualifying as a temporary residence, you’re talking about the hotel room you’re staying in and not the hotel itself.

So for example, you may be able to lawfully possess a loaded gun inside your hotel room but not when walking through the hallways, the lobby, the pool, or any of the other common areas.

You’ll also want to verify that you can have the gun loaded inside your hotel room which might be the case if the hotel room is considered a qualifying residence.

You also want to pay attention to how concealed carry and open carry laws apply to areas outside of the residence.

Hotel gun policies

Assuming that you are not violating any criminal statutes when bringing a gun to a hotel, you still are not in the clear until you know for a fact that the hotel permits guns on its premises.

Some hotel chains might ban weapons across all properties. For example, this is the approach MGM has adopted.

Other times, it will come down to what individual properties decide is best.

For example, the Downtown Courtyard by Marriott in Grand Rapids, MI, has a clear policy that they do not allow weapons on the property:

The Downtown Courtyard by Marriott prohibits persons from carrying or otherwise possessing a firearm on hotel property, including carrying firearms in an open or concealed manner. This policy applies to all firearms, regardless of whether the firearm is a handgun or a long-barreled gun.

Some hotels may have a protocol and will allow you to store your firearm with them as long as it is properly registered.

For example, you might “turn in” your weapon to the hotel security and then retrieve the weapon whenever you check out.

To find out what the hotel’s policies is, it’s best to just call ahead and ask to speak to a manager.

You might also find signs on the doors indicating the gun policy but at that point it’s probably too late for you to make any adjustments.

Leaving your gun behind

A lot of gun owners think it’s a bad idea to leave your gun unattended in a hotel room.

One of the main reasons is the risk of theft.

But there’s also the risk that someone could get a hold of the gun and do something stupid and/or against the law and you will be “involved” with that to at least some degree.

You could look into storing your gun in the hotel safe if you trust that. Generally, the hotel safe provides an extra layer of security for your valuables but it is far from a full-proof system.

If you do choose to store your gun in the hotel room, the best advice is to remove all ammunition and store the gun in a hard-sided, locked container.

You can treat it similar to how you would when transporting a gun on a plane.

Some hotels may provide you with specific guidance on storing your firearm such as the Hilton Hampton Inn which states:

Any guest or visitor who is in possession of a firearm on hotel premises is personally responsible for abiding by all applicable federal, state and local laws with respect to firearms, in the jurisdiction where the hotel is located and ensuring that the firearm is:

– unloaded;

– secured in a locked, hard-sided firearm container provided by the guest; and

– securely safeguarded at all times in a guest room (or personal vehicle), except when transporting the firearm into or out of the hotel.

If you don’t want to keep the gun in your room, another option would be to simply store your weapon inside your vehicle in the parking lot, again utilizing a locked container (preferably one with hard sides).

You also need to comply with other legal requirements which may require you to hide the weapon and or store it unloaded.

However, many people would consider that to be even more accessible to thieves. Also, if a valet driver were to find it and suspect something, you might find yourself in an unwanted interrogation.

What if you get caught?

If a hotel were to find out that you had a gun on the premises and they explicitly prohibit weapons, you could find yourself in a tricky situation.

Typically, you would be asked to leave and only if you refused to leave should there be any major problem.

But, even if you are willing to comply it could still get messy.

Someone could spot you with a firearm and report you to security or to law enforcement. You could be mistaken as someone there to cause trouble or physical harm.

All it takes is one person to overreact for a big scene to play out.

The concern over a public freak out is probably exacerbated when you are talking about long-barrel guns such as rifles.

It might be really frustrating to have so many people worry about a gun that you are lawfully permitted to own and carry but it’s hard to blame people after the mass shooting in Las Vegas in 2017 (and all of the mass shootings that occur in general).

Many people have come to associate guns in hotels with the potential threat of a mass shooting and even if you think people are being overly paranoid, getting accused of being a mass shooter is a situation that you surely want to avoid at all costs.

Related: Do TSA Officers Have Guns & Arrest Powers?

Transporting a gun to and from the hotel

Assuming that you are permitted to bring a gun into a hotel room by the hotel and federal, state, and local law, you’ll need to think about how to legally transport the gun to and from the hotel.

For example, you might be required to carry the gun unloaded in a locked case to and from your vehicle.

You also might need to avoid certain areas within the hotel when walking about with the firearm on your person.

One area where you really need to be careful when making your way through a hotel is the bar area since there are often strict laws against bringing firearms into bars or places that serve alcohol.

It’s not uncommon for some hotels to have large and open bar areas that are part of the hotel lobby, restaurant, or lounge area.

In some cases, you may not even realize that you actually entered a bar area so you need to be very mindful about your surroundings when strolling through a hotel.

Hotel lounges could also be off-limits because many of them serve alcohol.

And remember, you may only be able to bring the firearm to and from destinations where you are legally authorized to possess.

So for example if you were traveling from your hotel to your house that might be permitted but just taking the gun around with you when heading from the hotel to a nearby restaurant may not be allowed.

Related to that, you may not be allowed to walk around the premises with the weapon on you.

So if you wanted to go for a walk or a jog, you may not be allowed to bring your weapon with you even if you think you might fear for your safety.

Related: Do Airline Pilots Carry Guns in the Cockpit?

Final word

Due to the nature of gun laws and hotel policies, it’s hard to know what to expect when trying to bring your firearm to a hotel.

However, you first need to make sure you are not violating the law when transporting a weapon to a hotel and then you need to verify that the hotel will allow you to bring a firearm on the property.