Mark Howell with the Transportation Security Administration demonstrates the correct way for airline passengers to travel safely with their gun. Last year Memphis International had 23 incidents involving passengers with guns, the number this year is 18 through July. TSA hopes to educate travelers in a move to head off people showing up at a security checkpoint packing a pistol.
Have gun, will travel.
The Transportation Security Administration wants gun owners to know there’s a right way and more than one wrong way to carry firearms on commercial flights.
The worst way is showing up at the security checkpoint with a firearm, as 18 people have done so far this year at Memphis International Airport. That’s on pace to easily eclipse the 23 firearm seizures in Memphis in 2014.
Other miscues, also punishable by a $7,500 civil penalty, include improperly packing firearms in checked baggage and not giving the required notice to the airline.
“You can’t just throw a gun into your suitcase,” said TSA spokesman Mark Howell, who has been making the rounds of Southeastern airports to demonstrate how to legally store and ship guns and ammunition in the cargo holds of airliners.
“The TSA doesn’t want to infringe on anybody’s right to take a firearm with them when they travel,” Howell said. “We just want to make sure they’re packed where they’re not accessible during a flight.”
Standing behind a card table holding a hard plastic case, two dummy handguns and an ammunition container, Howell said increases in firearm ownership and air travel have kept him busy doing education programs.
“The reason I’m jumping around the country is we’re seeing an increase in the number of guns being caught at checkpoints.” The TSA recorded more than 1,600 seizures through July 31, compared to 1,025 in the first six months of 2014, Howell said. Seizures nationally last year totaled 2,212.
“It’s continuing to increase,” Howell added. “More people are traveling and more people are owning firearms. The best thing we can do is get out there and educate people.”
Firearms can only travel in checked baggage, must be declared to airlines when the case is checked and must be stored, unloaded, in a locked, hard-sided container.
TSA doesn’t keep figures on how many firearms are legally shipped as luggage, but Howell estimated it’s “hundreds a day.”
Howell said he has recently done demonstrations in Huntsville, Alabama, and Nashville. “The South is really gun heavy,” he said.
Tips for a hassle-free experience:
- Check for airline-specific rules and state gun laws at the traveler’s destination.
- Arrive for flight 30 minutes earlier than normal. This allows time to declare the firearm at the airline ticket counter and stand by while it’s scanned to make sure everything is secure.
- Make sure the case contains owner’s name and contact information so authorities can get in touch if there’s an issue.
- Make arrangements for the airline to have the case kept off the regular baggage claim carousel, where it might stand out visually and risk being grabbed by someone else.
- Have gun permit and license readily available to show authorities.
- Don’t leave ammunition loose in the case. Either store it in a clip, removed from gun, or in an ammo carrying box.