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Old May 5, 2013, 11:37 PM   #1
mingheemouse
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TSA cutting locks on cases with declared firearms

Did anyone else have anything fishy go on with declared firearms in their luggage on the way back home from the NRA Convention in Houston?

I was flying back, as usual, with an unloaded firearm properly declared in a locked Pelican Case inside a locked hard-sided suitcase and when I got to my home airport I discovered that my suitcase lock had been cut off, everything had been gone through, and a note from the TSA was inside. The problem is, no attempt had been made to contact me, even though my location was obviously not a mystery since I told the agent I would be at the gate if they needed to get in the bag. The TSA baggage agent in my home airport agreed that protocol had not been followed for a bag with a declared firearm, and warned me that the Houston TSA would likely try to come up with a weasely excuse why they "technically" didn't violate the rules.

The baggage agent in Houston obviously was having fun, because my antacids and vitamin C had been opened and tablets placed (crushed) in the 4 corners of my suitcase as little presents for me.

So, with the high number of declared firearms going through George Bush International on Sunday the 5th, did anyone else have TSA fun and games with their bags, or was it just me? Thankfully at least my firearms arrived home.
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Old May 5, 2013, 11:46 PM   #2
allaroundhunter
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Re: TSA cutting locks on cases with declared firearms

Unfortunately, it doesn't surprise me. Unprofessional acts are hardly new territory for the TSA, and rarely are there any consequences for those responsible. Sorry I can't help because I did not fly to the NRA show, but I do wish you luck if you decide to press the issue with the TSA.
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Old May 5, 2013, 11:48 PM   #3
Plumbnut
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The TSA requires that all locks used be approved. That means ones they can open. If they cant open it they will cut it off. Same with any other bag you check.
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Old May 6, 2013, 12:12 AM   #4
allaroundhunter
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Re: TSA cutting locks on cases with declared firearms

Quote:
Originally Posted by Plumbnut View Post
The TSA requires that all locks used be approved. That means ones they can open. If they cant open it they will cut it off. Same with any other bag you check.
However, spreading medication throughout the baggage is not part of any TSA regulation.

I also don't think that "TSA approved" = accessible by TSA. It just means that they are a secure lock so that others will mot be able to gain "easy" access to the firearm.

Last edited by allaroundhunter; May 6, 2013 at 01:01 AM.
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Old May 6, 2013, 12:36 AM   #5
62coltnavy
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That's not the rule as I remember it. Unless they've changed the law, the fed regulations a couple of years ago required the gun owner to maintain possession of the key at all times. TSA approved locks does not mean that TSA can open them. They had the right to x-ray, but if they wanted to open the case, they had to call the owner to baggage handling, where the owner would open the case for inspection, and then re-lock the case upon completion of the inspection. Leaving a firearm unlocked in unlocked luggage would be a prima facie violation of the federal firearm transportation rules. The whole point of the lock requirement is for passenger protection; cutting off locks would invalidate the purpose of the law. I'd complain.
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Old May 6, 2013, 02:00 AM   #6
Ralgha
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Re: TSA cutting locks on cases with declared firearms

I understood the OP as saying his suitcase lock had been cut, not his firearm case lock.

The TSA requires suitcase locks to be TSA approved, which does mean they can unlock them (rendering the lock pointless). If you don't have an approved lock on your suitcase, they can and often will cut it, and they won't call you first when they do.
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Old May 6, 2013, 03:42 AM   #7
Nathan
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TSA approved locks are for non-firearms. They are supposed to contact you, if they need to open.
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Old May 6, 2013, 07:39 AM   #8
Aguila Blanca
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 62coltnavy
That's not the rule as I remember it. Unless they've changed the law, the fed regulations a couple of years ago required the gun owner to maintain possession of the key at all times.
As ralgha commented, it is the firearm case that the TSA isn't supposed to open and to which the owner is supposed to retain the key or combination.. The TSA has the right to open and inspect any suitcase at any time. The use of TSA-approved locks on the (outer) suitcase means they can open it and then relock it. They have always had the right to cut off non-TSA padlocks.

My understanding of the opening post is that the outer suitcase is what was opened.
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Old May 6, 2013, 07:59 AM   #9
Brian Pfleuger
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Aquila is correct.

There is no requirement to contact the owner of a bag before cutting the lock. Attempting contact is often done at small airports but virtually never at larger ones. There are signs and warnings all over the airports about using TSA locks or your other locks might be cut. In that respect, as long as they didn't open the gun container, which SHOULD NOT have a TSA lock, they followed the rules.

Not that it's an excuse but I'd assume the "gift" is a result of having to cut the lock. Typical disgruntled, powerless employee trying to feel powerful.
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Old May 6, 2013, 08:25 AM   #10
Alabama Shooter
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Quote:
Not that it's an excuse but I'd assume the "gift" is a result of having to cut the lock. Typical disgruntled, powerless employee trying to feel powerful.
Or a potential PO'd thief unable to finish the job. TSA thievery has started to become more common. Here are three cases just in the last few months, by no means a complete list.

http://www.startribune.com/lifestyle...1.html?refer=y
http://travel.usatoday.com/flights/p...ipads/674767/1
http://www.nydailynews.com/news/nati...icle-1.1234370
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Old May 6, 2013, 09:34 AM   #11
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Wow. One of those people was fired for stealing $36. If you're going to steal, at least steal enough to make it worth it.
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Old May 6, 2013, 09:38 AM   #12
Kimio
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This makes me a little hesitant about flying with a firearm, granted it would be difficult to sneak away with a rifle. I fear that such agents would mishandle it and possibly cause damage to it.

I was thinking of flying back down to my home state some time in the future with a custom FAL that I'm having built. I'd hate to have it damaged before I even get to shoot it.

Hopefully this is just an unfortunate and uncommon occurance.
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Old May 6, 2013, 09:42 AM   #13
JimDandy
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I've flown with my brother who flew with his. It's pretty nuts how little they do it the way they tell you they will. They said the firearm would be on the carousel. We waited and waited. It wasn't there. It was stuck on the oversize table and left unattended.
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Old May 6, 2013, 09:45 AM   #14
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Is it against any laws to ship a firearm to yourself that you own? Fedex it overnight if legal.

I did this with regular luggage on a vacation because it was ceaper than taking it with me and I just shipped it to the hotel.

I realize if you shipped a firearm you would need to be the one to receive it or have it sent to an FFL in the state your shipping to.
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Old May 6, 2013, 09:56 AM   #15
JimDandy
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The ATF FAQ says:

Quote:
Originally Posted by ATF FAQ
Q: May a nonlicensee ship firearms interstate for his or her use in hunting or other lawful activity?
Yes. A person may ship a firearm to himself or herself in care of another person in the State where he or she intends to hunt or engage in any other lawful activity. The package should be addressed to the owner. Persons other than the owner should not open the package and take possession of the firearm.
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Old May 6, 2013, 10:02 AM   #16
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Thanks JIM ...I think thats a smart way to go maybe. At least you dont have to worry about airport employees messing with your gun.
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Old May 6, 2013, 10:14 AM   #17
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There's more involved, like HOW you have to ship it to yourself, so read the FAQ if you plan on doing it.
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Old May 6, 2013, 10:20 AM   #18
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I have several friends who travel exclusively in a large-size Pelican case, foregoing the "locked case inside of regular luggage" routine. One of the 1600 series is probably enough for the average traveller in addition to a single carry-on. There's nothing that says the ONLY thing that can go in your gun-case is a gun. If your locked firearms hard-side also happens to contain your sock and shirts, the TSA still can't open it.

I typically travel with 2 small Pelican cases locked together inside my regular soft-side checked luggage. One case contains the firearm and magazines, and the other ammo. I double-lock the cases and then lock them together through the handle with a cable.

I have a super-cheap Flambeau that I can squeeze 3 rifles in and put 4 locks on it and say a prayer... 4 separate trips with no issues.

The TSA has never failed to search my soft-size luggage when I travel with a firearm inside it in a hard-case, but I've never had a single issue either. I'm probably gonna splurge for a big Pelican for my birthday.

I take it back... one TSA guy at the scanner refused to believe that my Winchester white-box 100pk's and bulk .22lr packs came with all the ammo just loose in the box... I had to Google and show him an image and he still wasn't going for it. Luck was with me as the guy he called from the back was a shooter and laughed at him (gave me a wink) and it was all good.
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Old May 6, 2013, 10:33 AM   #19
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TSA cutting locks on cases with declared firearms

Correct about the need for TSA licks on the outer luggage and private locks on the firearm case whether inside of luggage or on its own.

Know the rules and don't give TSA any reason to give your case special attention. I use to get my firearm case opened most of the time and then a TSA agent informed me that if they can not see on X-ray the firearm is unloaded they will have you open the case to verify it is. He suggested disassemble or open the action to show it is mot loaded and ready to fire.

Now when I fly I swing out the cylinder in a revolver or remove the slide on a semi and have never been asked to open my case since. This is not required but makes the TSA job easier and less reason to mess with my case.
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Old May 6, 2013, 11:56 AM   #20
mingheemouse
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Spoke to the customer service manager of the Houston TSA this morning. She agreed that the bag shouldn't have been placed on the aircraft if the owner (me) could not be found.

She told me the following things seemed to have gone wrong, and that she would review the video of the baggage handlers.

From the TSA website - http://www.tsa.gov/traveler-informat...and-ammunition

"TSA must resolve all alarms in checked baggage. If a locked container containing a firearm alarms, TSA will contact the airline, who will make a reasonable attempt to contact the owner and advise the passenger to go to the screening location. If contact is not made, the container will not be placed on the aircraft."

- mine was placed on the aircraft after search and made its way to my home airport. I was told by the manager that it should not have even made it to the plane.

"If a locked container alarms during screening and is not marked as containing a declared firearm, TSA will cut the lock in order to resolve the alarm."

- per the manager - mine was marked as containing a declared firearm, therefore the TSA should not have cut the lock to resolve anything.

"Travelers should remain in the area designated by the aircraft operator or TSA representative to take the key back after the container is cleared for transportation."

- I was told by the Airline's staff to wait at the gate (i.e. the area designated by the aircraft operator), and specifically told that they would come get me if anyone needed access to my bag. I made certain to verify this three times with the airline staff. Apparently, in this instance, the TSA did not attempt to contact the airline.

As to the handling of medication, since it has now been in someone's hands, or on gloves used to handle equipment, bags, and the contents of other people's luggage, I will not be putting it in my mouth. There were signs that crushed tablets had been placed back in the bottles in addition to the crushed remnants of ones left under clothes on the opposite side of my suitcase and inside my underwear of all places. It all gets thrown away now. Disgusting.
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Old May 6, 2013, 01:04 PM   #21
SamNavy
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Quote:
"If a locked container alarms during screening and is not marked as containing a declared firearm, TSA will cut the lock in order to resolve the alarm."

- per the manager - mine was marked as containing a declared firearm, therefore the TSA should not have cut the lock to resolve anything.
I'm pretty sure this is where TSA generates it's "leeway" as even she isn't interpreting the rule correctly.

THE ONLY THING THE TSA CANNOT CUT THE LOCK OFF OF IS THE ACTUAL HARD-SIDE CASE CONTAINING YOUR FIREARM. They most certainly can and will cut a regular lock off your soft-sided luggage to get inside of it regardless of the fact that there's an additional locked hard-side case inside with a firearm in it. That's why you should use TSA locks on your soft-side.

OR... you can just get ONE BIG PELICAN CASE and put your gun next to your undies and travel with all of your clothes/stuff/guns inside ONE BIG LOCKED HARDSIDE CASE if you've got a big issue with the TSA going through your stuff.

From firsthand knowledge, it's a no-brainer to tell if a firearm is unloaded via a modern scanner, so that rule is crap, but as for the "marking"...

Neither you, nor the TSA, nor the Airlines may mark a bag/box/case from the outside to demonstrate there's a firearm inside. I'm pretty sure this is FEDERAL law. This isn't the same as them sticking a large red label INSIDE your checked luggage next to (on top of your socks) the locked case that has your gun in it.

So from what you've said, the only rule violated was them actually opening your medicine. I'm going to assume it's specific TSA policy for employees NOT to open anything resembling "medicine" due to liability (spilling a Centrum Silver bottle full of crack rocks all over the screening room, etc) and the follow-on inability to bring a case against somebody who may be smuggling, etc... after the evidence has been tampered with by some $10hr "screener"... but I could be wrong.

If you haven't seen this video, it's a must for flying with firearms:
http://www.vimeo.com/3923535

Here's the website:
http://deviating.net/firearms/packing/
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Old May 6, 2013, 01:37 PM   #22
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Quote:
"If a locked container alarms during screening and is not marked as containing a declared firearm, TSA will cut the lock in order to resolve the alarm."
Whoa.

I thought the rule was that there MUST be nothing placed on the outside of the suitcase to indicate that there is a firearm inside. Has that changed?

I know what the TSA advisory says, but the TSA is noted for "advising" things that are contrary to law. Such as "advising" travelers to turn over the keys to the screening agent. That is explicitly prohibited in the law.
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Old May 6, 2013, 01:52 PM   #23
Brian Pfleuger
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Quote:
Whoa.

I thought the rule was that there MUST be nothing placed on the outside of the suitcase to indicate that there is a firearm inside. Has that changed?

I know what the TSA advisory says, but the TSA is noted for "advising" things that are contrary to law. Such as "advising" travelers to turn over the keys to the screening agent. That is explicitly prohibited in the law.
Misinterpretation...

They're saying if the bag isn't a firearms bag. Such as, your suitcase with a declared firearm container INSIDE the suitcase. If the suitcase alarms, there is no indication that there is a firearm inside. They will open the suitcase and do their inspection. If there is a firearms container inside the suitcase, it will be handled in accordance with firearms specific rules. The "if there is no indication that there is a firearm inside" means "it's not a gun case".
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Old May 6, 2013, 02:01 PM   #24
mingheemouse
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The baggage label, with my ticket code was entered into the computer as containing a declared firearm. Even the lady at the boarding gate at my home airport, who had never seen my bag, knew from the ticket code that my checked bag contained a firearm. She mistakenly mentioned it out loud to me at the gate. Anyone scanning the code on the tag knows there is a firearm inside.

While there is no label advertising to the general public that a firearm is inside, from a standpoint of anyone hooked-up to the baggage handling computers, the suitcase is in fact clearly labeled. To the TSA and the airline, it is indeed clearly indicated that a firearm is inside.
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Old May 6, 2013, 02:44 PM   #25
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Ok I have a few questions for clarification.

Did they cut the lock off your pelican case that contained the gun?

Or did they cut the lock off the suitcase/bag?

Was the lock on the suitcase a TSA approved lock?


If they cut he lock off the suitcase,they could have been checking your pills for dope
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