Flying Cops and Their Guns: Write it Right!

The last time you traveled by air, was it possible you were seated beside someone who had a pistol hidden somewhere beneath their jacket, other than an air marshal?

Before you burn away too many brains cells pondering the question, I’ll answer it for you. Yes, it is indeed possible that a passenger on your flight, in spite of the tough safety checks implemented by security, was carrying a loaded firearm.

This is so because the law permits certain law enforcement officers, other than air marshals, to carry their fully-loaded sidearms even while on typical, everyday flights.

Writers Want to Know

Are cops allowed to carry their weapons on airplanes? I’ve seen this question asked by writers, time and time again on various sites and Q&A groups, and I often see tons of those questions go unanswered, or worse still, answered incorrectly. So let’s set the record straight, today.

First of all, simply carrying a badge and police ID does not automatically grant an officer permission to “carry” while onboard a passenger aircraft. Certain conditions must be met before getting to that stage, and those conditions, set by the TSA, are extremely strict.

The mandatory conditions are spelled out in black and white in a document called the Law Enforcement Officers Flying Armed initiative. Of course, the document being official government paperwork, comes with an acronym all its own—LEOFA.

To receive approval to fly armed, the individual must:

  1. Be a government agency employee whose duties require and authorize them to carry a weapon.
  2. Be a sworn officer whose duties are to enforce criminal or immigration laws.
  3. Be a full-time and sworn, federal, state, county, municipal, or tribal officer. The officer must be a direct agency employee, not a volunteer, etc.
  4. Satisfactorily complete the LEOFA training course offered by the TSA.
  5. The officer’s agency must show a need for the officer to fly armed, such as transporting a prisoner, conducting dangerous surveillance (the person being surveilled is traveling on the plane, etc.), or that the officer must be ready for action the moment the plane lands.

Like everyone else who’s legally allowed to possess firearms, officers traveling for pleasure may transport firearms on airplanes simply by storing them (unloaded) in locked, hard-sided containers, and then declare those weapons at the ticket counter. Firearms may NOT be transported in carry-on luggage.

Travel Across State Lines with Concealed Firearms

The Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act (yes, another acronym—LEOSA) states that qualified active-duty and retired officers may carry concealed weapons, without special permit, in any U.S. state. This is regardless of any state law.

There are restrictions, though, and they are:

  1. The officer must be authorized by their agency to carry a firearm.
  2. The officer must not be under the influence of alcohol or any type of drug at any time while in possession of the firearm.
  3. Officers must qualify (at the range) to carry the weapon in their possession.
  4. Must not be involved in any disciplinary conditions that could result in the loss of their police powers.
  5. Must not be prohibited by federal law to carry a firearm.

Special Requirements for Retired Officers 

  1. Must have served at least 10 years of service prior to retirement.
  2. Must have left their department in good standing.
  3. Must not have been deemed unfit to carry a firearm (mental health issues/diagnosis).
  4. Must qualify with the firearm at the firing range within the past 12 months. Qualifying = meets the minimum standards set by their home state and/or agency.

In addition to the above, each officer, or retired officer, must carry a special photo ID with them at all times when possessing a firearm. The ID must certify that they’ve met all minimum standards set above.

*Source – National Sheriffs’ Association

3 replies
  1. Anne Louise Banno
    Anne Louise Banno says:

    Okay. This is good information, but *when* did LEOFA become the rule? My problem is that a lot of these rules and regs are relatively recent (which is great for when I’m writing a contemporary novel), but kind of messes me up when my novel is set in the 1980s or earlier.

  2. bellwriter
    bellwriter says:

    Lee, thank you. I’m curious about Federal and District Courthouses? It looks pretty specific that everyone turns in their weapons??

  3. Violet Carr Moore
    Violet Carr Moore says:

    Lee, good to see this clarification. I had my main character flying with her service weapon in my draft manuscript until I read the LEOFA rule a few months ago. In the revision, she checks her weapon in a locked case because she is on personal leave at the time of travel, not on active duty. Any exceptions that will let her be armed during the flight?

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