View Full Version : TSA delay at airport.

June 7, 2009, 04:03 PM
I flew to Vegas yesterday to attend my niece’s graduation. I took several silencers with to test as I can not use them in WA. This is the not the first time I had traveled with title 2 weapons, but it was my first trip with them on US Airways. Everything went the same as usual, until I heard my name being called over the public address system requesting I return to the US Airways ticket counter. Upon returning to the ticket counter I was asked to go back to the TSA counter as they had issues with my firearms.

An armed airport security guard walked with me to the TSA where I found four TSA employees looking over my opened gun case. They had unlocked it while I was at the gate. It seems that the TSA did not figure out I had silencers in the gun case until after I left. This had never been an issue before when the TSA had examined my stuff. The first inspection had been a thorough one, so I’m not sure how he could have missed four tubes that could only be silencers.

The airport security guard asked if I had proof of registration; I showed him the form 1’s and it seemed to satisfy him although I could not tell if he knew what he was looking at. The Security guard just told TSA the forms were good enough and they took his word for it. Serial numbers were not checked, but they did note that that I had an AR-15 and a Savage bolt gun. They did not seem to notice the two disassembled pistols.

They also asked for ID. I produced my military retired ID card and this prompted “Are they military weapons?” I told them that they were privately owned and made by myself. One of the TSA suggested that I pack copes of the ATF form 1’s with the gun case, I told them the forms were confidential tax forms and I was not willing to do so. I ended up showing them my WA driver’s license also.

When I asked if this was something new (asking for ATF forms), they said it was something they always did. When I told them the TSA employees that processed United and NWA luggage never asked for proof of registration, they said they should have.

How often do you guys get asked for your ATF form 1’s or 4’s? Should I be making an issue of them opening my gun case while I was not present? I want to make an issue of it, but I have not read any TSA regulations that require the owner be present for opening luggage.


June 7, 2009, 04:06 PM
Something fishy.

We recommend that you provide the key or combination to the security officer if he or she needs to open the container. You should remain present during screening to take the key back after the container is cleared. If you are not present and the security officer must open the container, we or the airline will make a reasonable attempt to contact you. If we can't contact you, the container will not be placed on the plane. Federal regulations prohibit unlocked gun cases (or cases with broken locks) on aircraft.


You didn't use a TSA lock, did you?

June 7, 2009, 04:27 PM
I never use TSA approved luggage locks anymore. If I am traveling in the USA, I always have guns with. Almost every TSA lock I used has been broken by the TSA or others at the airport. Why, I do not know. They are supposed to able to open them without cutting or breaking as far as I know. In this case I just used the gun case locks that locked with the simple little key. They might have opened them with a screwdriver for all I know. I think locks are unless as a security item. The airlines lost one of my suitcases with six handguns in it one time, I got it back two days later, nothing missing.

We can only count on the integrity of the airline employees to keep our stuff safe when it is out of our sight, nothing else is going to work. I am thinking about getting one of those gun cases that looks like a golf club case though.

I responded within five minutes to the announcement, so they could have waited for me.


June 7, 2009, 04:33 PM
Why would they care if you had silencers in your luggage? Is it their job to keep the planes safe, or to enforce the tax codes? (it sounds to me like they broke federal laws by opening the case without you there)

June 7, 2009, 04:39 PM
I never use TSA approved luggage locks anymore
Not using a TSA lock can cause you some major problems. Like you ending up at your destination but not your guns or luggage. If you use a non-approved lock and they decide to cut them to open the luggage they will not place your luggage onto the plane afterwards since unlocked bags will not be placed onto the plane.

June 7, 2009, 04:58 PM
Good point.

June 7, 2009, 10:38 PM
I have never traveled by air with an actual firearm, but I've had some experience with bits & pieces. I was taking along a rifle stock on one trip to do some practice checkering. According to the airline employees (USAir, some of the least competent I have ever encountered anywhere), any gun part had to be treated as a gun, so we went through an elaborate routine to get my inert chunk of walnut on the plane... secure in its locked, inspected, placard-bearing rifle case.

The TSA people I talked to, and the United ticket counter people I dealt with later on, couldn't have cared less about the stock; the TSA guys said it was obviously no more dangerous than a baseball bat.

My point is, on any given day there seems to be a high probability that your knowledge of firearms laws and regulations - state and Federal - far exceeds that of any law enforcement, airline or TSA people you may encounter. I've found this to be the case with city, county and state LEOs time after time.

Brian Pfleuger
June 8, 2009, 11:02 AM
If you use a non-approved lock and they decide to cut them to open the luggage they will not place your luggage onto the plane afterwards since unlocked bags will not be placed onto the plane.

Yes they will. Well, they should anyway. The SOP is to make "a reasonable effort" to re-secure the bag and let it continue on it's way. Many airports have zip ties specifically for that purpose. Unless the bag contains a very serious prohibited item then it should make it's way with you.

(I was a member of this highly respected profession for about 2 years.)

June 8, 2009, 11:40 AM
If you check firearms they should not open the bag without you present. This is pretty obvious as they don't want firearms making it on the the ramp. Generally what happens is that you go to the check in counter, show you have a firearm and that it meets the transport criteria (unloaded, no ammo, etc) and then you can lock the case with a heavy padlock. They cannot open the case afterwards without you present. If they need to get a hold of you to open the case for them and they are unable to, they will not load your bag. Dunno what these TSA people were doing, but it is consistent with the fact you were flying USAirways. Stick with a real airline next time.

June 8, 2009, 11:52 AM
They cannot open the case afterwards without you present.
That is a misconception. They can indeed, with cause, open and inspect your luggage without you present. They will make every attempt (supposedly, but try and prove they didn't) to contact you first but they can cut the locks right off if they need to do so.

Brian Pfleuger
June 8, 2009, 12:22 PM
Technically, there are several different ideas and misconceptions in this thread.

Many people confuse the general baggage rules with the rules regarding bags containing properly declared firearms.

"Ordinary" bags may be opened at any time that a TSA officer deems it necessary. "Necessary" is not arbitrary and is defined, rather tightly, by the Standard Operating Procedures. Bags containing properly checked firearms have their own set of rules.

There are at least 2 options for the airports screening of checked bags. Small airports often check ALL bags by hand. The rules require all passengers checking a firearm at such an airport to be present at the time of screening. Once the bag is screened and re-locked, it should make it's way directly to the aircraft as there in no further type of screening at these airports. Larger/busier airports mostly have semi-automated x-ray machines than screen checked bags. The passenger is still supposed to be present so that the legality and packing of the firearm can be verified. After that, the bag is screened like any other bag and will be opened like any other bag if there is a reason to believe it contains serious prohibited items (IE, possible bomb/unknown suspicious contents). There are specific protocol in place when a bag containing a gun needs to be opened at these airports (such as LE present) but it should be a rather rare event and if it's highly suspected to be a bomb, the opening method will likely be high explosives.

June 8, 2009, 12:29 PM
The one thing to remember is all those rules contain the legal phrasing of "reason to believe" or similar. That pretty much means they can do what they want as long as they can say they "thought" there was a reason to do it. Don't try to fight the system if you are not willing to see your luggage left behind.

Brian Pfleuger
June 8, 2009, 12:37 PM
I can make it very easy on anybody traveling with a gun:

1) Do not pack your gun in a bag that is jammed full with who knows what manner of clothes, electronics, batteries, wires and anything else that makes it look like it came from a radio shack dumpster.

2) Do not pack your gun in a bag with high density organic items. (Cheese for instance.)

Best bet: Pack your gun in a dedicated, hard-sided case containing nothing but gun related items. Doing so will virtually guarantee that there will be no problems.

June 8, 2009, 12:41 PM
Should I be making an issue of them opening my gun case while I was not present? I want to make an issue of it, but I have not read any TSA regulations that require the owner be present for opening luggage.

Actually whoever checks your bags is suppose to make sure that the only locks on them are TSA approved. If not then they are suppose to make you remove them at that time. Also they can open anybodys bags for random inspections without you present or without informing you before hand.

As for the TSA locks, they are crap. You can just pull them and they pop open. Not that it matters much. When I was getting ready to fly to Iraq, they cut off my TSA locks to inspect my bags. I guess all of my IBA and SAPPI plates must have looked real interesting to the screeners. They did however leave a little note in my bags saying they cut the locks to inspect them.

June 8, 2009, 04:30 PM
AFAIK, you were party to an transfer, there. At no time should TSA or anyone else have a key or way to get into your firearms, NFA or not. :)

June 8, 2009, 06:10 PM
You can use TSA locks on your suitcase which contains a pistol case which has a regular non-TSA lock on it. I practiced trying to pick TSA locks and found you can pick them easier than you can pick your nose and not trip the tattletale that lets you know if it had been opened.

June 9, 2009, 12:10 AM
Best bet: Pack your gun in a dedicated, hard-sided case containing nothing but gun related items. Doing so will virtually guarantee that there will be no problems

I have traveled with checked firearms for over ten years with almost no problems. I have a hardsided case that I pack two handguns, two magazines, a box of ammo, knife and cuffs.

The only problem I have had is a few years ago the TSA guys called me back about the ammo. I had .38 special in the .45ACP box. I explained and was on my way.

July 3, 2009, 12:43 AM
Here is the reply to the complaint I sent a few days after my flight to Vegas.

I am sorry it took so long to respond. The inspector who was present at the time of the incident has been out in the field. I just received his responses to your inquiries.

I hope this answers all of your questions.

It not TSA’s position to cause any undue stress to our travelling public. If this was the case, we apologize.

Q: "...I want to know why the TSA could not recognize that four silencers were in the gun case during the first inspection.. They did not have any reason to suspect that my silencers were unregistered for the same reason they apparently did not suspect (correctly) that my AR-15 was an unregistered machine gun."

A: I cannot speak for the TSOs involved but I suspect that they may have been focused on ensuring the firearms had been properly declared to the aircraft operator but subsequently noticed that other items in the case may be silencers. Contrary to the passenger's belief, I think that most people, to include law enforcement officers, would not automatically think that all silencers they come across are legally registered. However that may be the first question they may ask the person in possession of the items - Are they legally registered?

Q: "... Why didn’t the TSA wait until I reached them before they unlocked and opened my rifle case?"

A: From recollection, the first responding LEO had asked the TSO if they were able to open the case so he could examine the suspected silencers. At first the TSOs thought they did not have a key but a STSO managed to find a key that fit and opened the case for the LEO.

Q: "... Why is the TSA asking for my social security number and proof of registration for firearms? None of these are required to fly with firearms in checked luggage as far as I know."

A. It was a Port of Seattle LEO (Law Enforcement Officer) who asked for the passenger's SSAN. I can only recall the LEOs asking the passenger for documents/registration pertaining to the silencers. It is not unusual for the LEOs to run a NCIC check on the passenger and the firearms. In fact, the passenger carried copies of his registration of the silencers with ATF with him. When I suggested that may want to leave a copy of the registration for the silencers in the case to avoid future incidents, the passenger said that he considered the documents too sensitive in nature to leave in the case which is why he carries them with him.

Q: "... I would also like to know by what authority the TSA has to demand my SSN and firearm registration forms."

A: I don't recall for sure but if anyone asked for the passenger's SSAN, it was probably a LEO. From my recollection, POSPD reports still include a person's SSAN if obtained by the LEO. I do know that TSOs had stopped asking for people's SSAN a long time ago, so I do not think it was a TSO who asked the passenger for it. I have never experienced a TSO asking anyone for firearms registration. Again, I think the passenger was referring to his registration documents for his silencers.

Q: "... What regulations can you show me that allow the TSA to inspect my luggage without waiting a reasonable amount of time for me to be present?

A: The transportation security regulations Title 49 Code of Federal Regulations/

At least three POSPD LEOs responded to this incident to include a SGT and a POSPD Armorer. TSOs suspected that the items may be silencers but were not sure. TSO also did not know if silencers were legal to have in Washington so TSO called for LEO assistance. The first LEO to respond was not a gun expert and after viewing the machine image of the items inside the passenger's case called for a LEO with more experience with firearms. It was when the second officer arrived (a POSPD armorer) that the LEOs asked the TSOs if they could open the case so they could get a closer look at the items. The TSOs then unlocked and opened the case for the LEOs. The LEOs determined that the items were silencers but the LEOs were not sure of the requirements for a person to legally possess such items. In the meantime a POSPD SGT arrived on scene to check to see if everything was under control and subsequently left. The responding LEOs then learned that civilians could only legally possess silencers registered with the ATF. Furthermore, we learned in Washington State… a civilian could possess ATF registered silencers but not to use them within the state. This information was obtained by the officers prior to when the passenger returned to the screening location and is the reason LEOs asked the passenger for proof the silencers were registered with ATF. At the time of the incident the passenger was fully cooperative and did not register any dissatisfaction with the process. In my opinion the TSOs acted responsibly and were professional and respectful in dealing with the passenger.. .

TSA Security Inspector SATO

What do you think?


July 3, 2009, 01:04 AM
As far as I know, they still broke Federal law and their own policies by opening the case without you present.

July 3, 2009, 01:53 AM
As far as I know, they still broke Federal law and their own policies by opening the case without you present.

No, they broke no laws by opening the case. The TSA can open any case at any time if they have reason to think it necessary. Wanting you to be there is just a courtesy and a liability thing.

July 3, 2009, 02:22 AM
Except that they're NFA items. ONLY the stamp holder or proper law enforcement persons can be in possession. Opening the case counts as such, doesn't it?

July 3, 2009, 02:39 AM
Except that they're NFA items. ONLY the stamp holder or proper law enforcement persons can be in possession. Opening the case counts as such, doesn't it?
Nope, TSA has the right to open ANY item it feels might be a danger. The laws are written in a way to give them complete discretion. My father is one of the head TSA guys in Alabama.

July 3, 2009, 03:13 AM
My mistake, then. :)

July 3, 2009, 06:32 AM
two court cases in the past month question whether TSA searches (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204556804574261940842372518.html)—which the agency says have broadened to allow screeners to use more judgment—have been going too far.

A federal judge in June threw out seizure of three fake passports from a traveler, saying that TSA screeners violated his Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure. Congress authorizes TSA to search travelers for weapons and explosives; beyond that, the agency is overstepping its bounds, U.S. District Court Judge Algenon L. Marbley said.

In the case, a man named Fode Amadou Fofana used a valid driver’s license with his real name at a Columbus, Ohio, TSA checkpoint. Because he had purchased his ticket for a flight at the airport just before departure, he was flagged for secondary screening. He didn’t set off metal detectors and TSA’s X-ray equipment didn’t see anything suspicious, according to court testimony. The bags were swabbed for explosive residue and did not trigger any alarms. TSA agents opened the bags and searched inside because he was selected for extra screening.

According to the judge’s ruling, the TSA agent involved testified that she had been instructed to search for suspicious items beyond weapons and explosives and to “be alert for anything that might be unlawful for him to possess, such as credit cards belonging to other people, illegal drugs or counterfeit money.”

The agent found envelopes with cash, which she considered suspicious. Three other envelopes had something more rigid than dollar bills. She testified she didn’t believe there were weapons inside, but opened them looking for “contraband” and found three fake passports.
Limiting Searches

Judge Marbley said the TSA had no authority to open the envelopes. In his ruling, he said prior cases clearly established that airport security searches should be aimed only at detecting weapons or explosives.

“A checkpoint search tainted by ‘general law enforcement objectives’ such as uncovering contraband evidencing general criminal activity is improper,” the judge wrote.

July 3, 2009, 09:05 AM
I think many of the airport security guys and gals are there because they kept burning the fries at Mc Donald’s. You could have just printed out a form 1 or 4, had your kid sign it and put a postal stamp on it and they wouldn’t know the difference. FWIW Many of my police officer friends ask to see my paper work just so they can see what it looks like.

July 3, 2009, 01:35 PM
Those rulings are based on the fact that no weapons appeared to be present and no just cause existed for the searches. They have no bearing on the discussion at hand where actual firearms are present. When a firearm is present TSA can open any bag they chose if they feel a possible threat is present...which the presence of a firearm alone is justification of in the eyes of the law. Passports do not present a danger.

July 3, 2009, 09:16 PM
Having traveled a number of times, here's how I go at it:

Put the unloaded weapon(s) in a lockable hard-sided case with locks only you have the keys to open. TSA locks are not allowed.
Steps that will make it easier to show that the weapon is unloaded - especially when x-rayed.

If the weapon is a


lock the slide open
put a cable tie through the barrel and out the breach to show that the chamber is empty
revolver, flip the cylinder out
Do not put the magazines in this locked case with the gun(s)

it invites questions about them being loaded
if the gun case is "liberated" from the checked bag, the lack of magazines frustrates the thief, since the weapon is now initially a single shot one
Check the airline(s) you are flying on:

Determine if the ammo MUST be in boxes (plastic reload boxes work) OR can fly in loaded magazines.
If loaded magazines are permitted, make sure the pouches fully cover the magazines
The round(s) from the chamber(s)/cylinder(s) must be in a box, not loose
Secure and protect magazines (separately from the weapon) and ammunition boxes from possible damage.
Put the lockable hard-sided case with the weapon and the ammo/magazines into a cheap, non-descript bag - with clear labeling outside and inside - for checking in.

If possible, develop a way to attach in a lockable way the hard-sided case to the piece of luggage it has been placed into.
The labeling should be limited to:

Your Name
Your Cell Phone - if you have one, or your home phone if you do not
Your personal email address - if you have one

Other stuff - like shampoo, mouthwash, toothpaste, etc, could be in this checked bag also.
Have the rules for the airline in hand when you check this non-descript bag at the airport.
Make sure you have the keys to the lockable hard-sided case with you and you alone (Per Federal Regulations 49CFR § 1540.111 Carriage of weapons, explosives, and incendiaries by individuals - http://ecfr.gpoaccess.gov/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=ecfr&sid=1f020769f93df9bc371bd1612b0fd309&rgn=div8&view=text&node=49: at all times. You will have to open the lockable hard-side case

to demonstrate to the airline that the weapon(s) are not loaded at check in (a signed form/tag indicating that will go in with the weapon(s))
if the TSA wants to see
Have the serial number(s) and descriptions of your weapons on you, so if they "disappear" you can report the loss/theft immediately to the:

FAA Regional Office
ATF Regional Office

Other things to consider:

Check www.handgunlaw.us and/or http://apps.carryconcealed.net/packngo/index.php to determine:

If you can possess the weapon at all your stops
Where and how you can carry at all your stops
What are the deadly force rules in each state you are visiting
Have a copy of the Don Young Transportation Letter on hand - http://www.anjrpc.org/DefendingYourRights/us%20letter.pdf. This covers changing modes of travel - car to plane to car - in a single journey.

July 4, 2009, 09:57 AM
On my semi Auto I separate the slide from the frame in the hard case.