Guns And Planes

I've been retired for five years; I work for a private company as a LE trainer. I'm required to bring weapons with me to the job, most of which I have to travel to by airplane. While I was still an FBI Agent I never had any problem carrying a weapon when I traveled by air; I simply presented my credentials at the security checkpoint and then made my way to the gate. That was then, this is now.

Now, I'm just a member of the herd which is no big deal. I have no problem submitting to whatever protocol has been established to board an airplane. Having been a cop and an agent all of my adult life, I'm a law and order guy. I like it when there are rules in place to guide people and safeguard things like travel. What I don't like is when the rules are ambiguous and arbitrary... when they can be interpreted differently by individuals in the same agency. Let me explain.

I was returning home from a job last week and was at an airport in the South. I had a couple of Glock pistols with me that I declared to the ticket agent at check-in. This is where the absurdity of the TSA regulations concerning firearms in checked baggage begins. The ticket agent told me that I'd needed to show her the weapons. No problem. I opened my luggage, took out the hard case with a padlock securing it and unlocked it. She told me that I had to show her that they were both unloaded - I complied by locking the slides to the rear and showing her the empty chambers and empty magazines. I re-secured the weapons and lock, signed the short form, and then she taped a bright orange sticker on top of the case that read, FIREARMS UNLOADED.

This same airline at a different airport several weeks ago simply asked me if the weapons were unloaded - to which I replied, yes - and then had me fill out a form. She never asked to see the weapons; she simply threw the declaration inside my suitcase and sent it on its way. On other occasions, I have had to wait while a TSA officer was summoned to take me aside to check my weapons. Almost all of them have no clue about firearms - how they work, nomenclature, etc., yet they are sent to check people who transport them in luggage. Most never handle the weapons; they simply use two fingers to feel the Styrofoam padding inside of the case. What they're checking for I'm uncertain of, yet they go out of their way not to touch the guns. I carry handguns, rifles, and Tasers. TSA agents have never physically touched them to ensure they were unloaded. On occasion, especially in New York, they will summon a cop assigned to the airport to conduct the inspection. They will do a safety check, question you as to why you're carrying the guns, and then send you on your way.

Last week's episode was a bit much for me. I checked in at the ticket counter and declared that I had two pistols, as I described above, then went through the controlled stampede at the security checkpoint. (That's another story for later, having been cleared twice even though I had a knife in my possession). As I'm heading for my gate, and my flight departure window is closing, I am summoned back to the ticket counter via the public address system.

I make my way back where I am met by a uniformed TSA officer. Incidentally, TSA has recently changed their uniform to resemble a police uniform - dark blue shirts and gold badges - I'm not sure why they did that but I hope that it wasn't to give the impression that they are cops - they're not. The officer advises me that my weapon is not secure in the case. I reply that I've been through at least 100 check-ins using that same case and lock and have never had anyone tell me that. I glance down at my watch and see that my flight window is closing quickly, especially if I have to go through the checkpoint again. He doesn't want to hear it. I show him my retired LEO ID; I may as well have shown him a picture of last year's family reunion for all the impact that it made.

So I ask him, "What must I do to satisfy your needs?" He replies, "Get another lock." He tells me while pointing to a little shop across the lobby that I can buy a lock there. I walk over and search the entire store - no locks. I ask the cashier if she sells locks. No. I walk back to the TSA officer and advise him that the store doesn't sell locks. End of story? No. He goes behind ticket counter, talks to another TSA officer, and sends him to the same store to see if they sell locks. I assume the guy thinks that I'm lying to him, even after I've shown him that I'm a retired cop.

Several minutes later, the second TSA guy saunters back and tells the first guy that the store doesn't sell locks. The pair confers privately and the second guy ambles off in a different direction this time. I ask the first TSA guy what's happening and he tells me that he's checking a different store across the terminal. He says that they sell gun cases with locks starting at $75.00. I look down at my watch - time is running out, and so is my patience. I try to explain my situation to him. It's Friday night, I'm on the second to the last flight out for the day. I need to get home tonight because my grandson has a hockey game tomorrow. He tells me that he can't let the guns on like that; what if someone was able to pry open the case and take them?

The absurdity hits me like a frying pan in the face. My luggage is soft side. Thanks to TSA, the only acceptable locks are those that TSA approves - ones that are so small and flimsy that they can be pried open by hand. Better yet, the baggage handlers know how to open luggage by simply using a pen to compromise the zippers. Once inside the luggage, all they need to see is my gun case with the bright orange sticker taped on top that says FIREARMS UNLOADED. Then they just take the whole darn case. The TSA guy is not swayed by my rationale.

TSA guy number two shuffles back and tells number one that there are indeed cases for sale with locks at whatever store he was at. But to my surprise, TSA guy one tells me that he doesn't want to see me get stuck for seventy five bucks. He goes in the back and miraculously comes up with a solution. He has decided to use a discarded TSA lock that he puts on my case. He tells me that he doesn't have the combination to it, but that I can cut it off when I get home (when I got home I yanked it apart by hand). I thank him and ask him to escort me around the security checkpoint since I now am in danger of missing my flight. He declines, telling me that I have to go through it again. I end up being the last one to board, but I do make the flight.

The thrust of this article isn't to chronicle my travails during that experience, but rather to illustrate my frustration with TSA's lack of uniformity and protocol. Each airport and airline has different guidelines for weapons in checked baggage. Moreover, the methodology for discerning whether the gun is loaded or not is ludicrous. The Israelis would look at these inspections and be appalled. They simply serve no purpose as they exist, except as a function for covering someone's backside if something goes sideways.

Air travel security isn't to be taken lightly. I would welcome strict new standards that would be conducted by people who are well trained and knowledgeable about firearms. What happens now at the nation's airports is unacceptable.

Stay safe brothers and sisters!