Back Home

I’m back home in Philadelphia, after my TSA ordeal. I guess at some point early at the NRA Convention, I slipped my spare magazine into my laptop bag.  Caught a cold Friday, and through the Benadryl, and being up early in the morning to pack, I didn’t remember I had the spare mag for the Kel-Tec with me.

Bitter packed all the luggage up, because she’s more systematic than I am, but I unloaded my guns, unloaded the magazines, and put them back in the locked container to be put in with the checked bag.  Got to the airport, declared the unloaded firearms to the ticket agent, got my orange ticket, checked the bag, and sniffled my way to the security checkpoint.

Shoes off, bag on the belt, laptop out, the whole drill.  For some reason, the belt stopped, and the x-ray person motioned for someone else, and I had to wait.  The guy took me aside, and told me I could watch, but not touch the bag as it was searched.  He ran the explosive residue test, so I figured maybe something in my charger, iPod or iPhone must have looked weird.  I was unconcerned as he searched the bag until he pulled the loaded magazine out of one of the pouches in my laptop bag.

“Oh shit!” I seem to recall saying.  I nearly shit myself.  I apologized to the TSA guy for my forgetfulness, and he took me over, photographed it, asked me how many rounds were in the mag, and what caliber.  Filled out a form, and called the Phoenix Police.  At this point I thought I was in a lot of trouble.  TSA guy said this kind of thing happens a lot, and it’s not really a big deal, which took the pucker factor down a bit.  Phoenix PD showed up, asked me what I was doing with the magazine, I told him I was at the NRA Convention, have a license to carry a firearm, had checked the firearms in my luggage legally, and had simple forgotten I had a spare magazine on me.

The Phoenix PD ran me through their system, and I must have come up clean, because he then asks me “What do you want to do with the magazine?” and I recall saying something like “Don’t you have to keep it?” he said “It would be a shame for you to lose a magazine and your ammo.  I can take you back outside and we can hook you up with an envelope, and you can mail it to yourself.”

At this point I’m wondering what foreign planet I have stepped foot on.  In Philly, I think I would be getting fingerprinted right about now.   The cop says “This kind of thing happens all the time.   It’s been happening more often with the NRA in town.”  The TSA guy says “At least you didn’t forget the gun, that we would have handled differently.  It’s really not a big deal.”   He told me my name would go into a database, not the no fly list, but a database of people who have made my type of mistake, and if they never had a problem with me again, nothing would happen, but that they would likely prosecute on a second offense.

Taking me back out of the security checkpoint, and up to the information desk to mail back my magazine and ammo, I remembered that you can’t send ammo through the USPS, so I asked him if I could turn in the ammo, and just mail the magazine back, which is all I cared about anyway.  TSA was fine with that.  Phoenix PD also said it really wasn’t a big deal.  After that I had to go through security again (passed this time) and was allowed to continue on my way.   TSA and Phoenix PD were courteous the entire time, and the reassurance that it wasn’t a big deal helped me from freaking out.

Truth be told, I’m still a little freaked out by it.  But you can bet next time I’m ripping my carry on apart beforehand to make sure I haven’t forgotten anything.  So given my experience, I offer my readers who are flying with guns a bit of advice:

  1. Make a list of everything you brought with you, including how many rounds of ammunition, how many magazines, and keep it with the case.   When you go to pack back up, make sure that the numbers in the case are the same as what you brought.
  2. Go through all your carry on, every compartment, pouch, etc in the bag.  Make sure nothing prohibited found its way in there.  Check before you cross into the security zone again, just to be sure.
  3. Perhaps a pocket pistol isn’t the best gun to travel with.  Had it been a fully loaded Glock magazine, the weight of the bag would have been heavier than I’m used to, and I might have noticed.
  4. Give yourself plenty of time.  I arrived early for the flight, and didn’t end up missing it because I had plenty of time.

You can bet next time I fly with guns, which hopefully won’t be for a while, I will follow this procedure.  I’m glad TSA is understanding and gives everyone one “Ooops!” but it still bothers me.  I’m usually very careful about these things, but after three days of light sleep, jet lag, and a nasty cold, it’s easy to forget a detail.

38 thoughts on “Back Home”

  1. “”It’s really not a big deal.” He told me my name would go into a database, not the no fly list, but a database of people who have made my type of mistake, and if they never had a problem with me again, nothing would happen, but that they would likely prosecute on a second offense.”

    nope, not the no fly list… the terrorist watch list… you know, the one that they are trying to use to make sure that “terrorists” cant buy guns…

    and what would they prosecute for? possessing ammo on a plane? good thing that the federal government is on the job prosecuting people for things they do on private aircraft.

    so much for living in a free country

  2. Generally speaking, there’s a mens rea requirement for most crimes. Meaning that they have to prove you had intent to break the law. Tomorrow I’ll do some background on this specific law in this regard, but this was a case where I legitimately forgot I had brought a spare magazine with me, and was totally unaware it was in a carry on item. I wasn’t trying to deliberately sneak something past security, and the magazine was in a canvas laptop bag, in a pouch with nothing else in it.

  3. I’m glad you arrived back home on schedule with only the loss of a few rounds of ammo and several minutes of worry. But I find it “irritating” someone would be put on a list to be prosecuted for a second “offense” because they were exercising a specific enumerated right.

  4. Glad you guys got home safe and sound, and had a good time here. You know, other than this little adventure… LOL.

    “At this point I’m wondering what foreign planet I have stepped foot on.”

    We get things right occasionally.

  5. Gotta say I was about to post something akin to Chris’ comment above, but he beat me to it. I will only emphasize that it is disturbing that the TSA has such authority, and that they leveled such a subversive threat on you. “You won’t be charged… unless you have another ‘Accident’, criminal”.

  6. Sounds like you were lucky you had the NRA “cover story” from what i read, they usualy only extend that sort of “understanding” when a celebrity is involved.

    Maybe being with the NRA (and the potential for national coverage) makes us all potential celebrities for a few days. Then again, ammo, (outside of mexico and massachusets) isnt nearly as big of a deal as is say a whole gun, and i have heard of people not being charged for ammo in their bags, though i don’t think they usualy make their flights, so good work on seeming on the up and up.

    I found a single round of ammunition in my carry on (i generally fly only with a carry on) once, on the fourth “once over” i gave it before going through airport security, while i was already in the airport. Somehow (and im not even sure how it got there, had to have been there for weeks, if not longer) i had missed it in the bottom of a side pocket of my bag the first THREE times i thoroughly checked it. Ever since then i always unpack my bag COMPLETELY each and every time i am getting ready to fly, (even if its just a turnaround) turn it upsidown, shake it out, and wipe out the insides with a cloth to make sure nothing is stuck, before carefully packing each item one at a time, and making sure i didnt miss something.

    As far as the list goes, dont worry about it, the way i see it, they have so many different lists that if you have talked to a federal employee more than three times in your life, and provided ID, you are on one list or another. I know i always have to wait at border customs while they read the computer pop-up that started appearing after a day trip i took to a border town in mexico. On my return to the US, the agent asked me what the purpose of my being in mexico was, and when i said to do some shopping and to look around, he thought it was suspicious that i had come so far and only had one small suvenier to bring back with me, (i was only looking for a single gift) if it was a shopping trip and not a run for drugs. After that ordeal, i have definately noticed the delay immediately after my passport is scanned.

    It seems most of the people they station in BP/Customs are slow readers.

  7. Your lucky. Because out here they will throw the book at you. There’s a saying in this state “Come on vacation, leave on probation” Over half of everyone I know is or was in the system, mostly for little petty crap they didn’t know was illegal but the justice system here like the heat is unforgiving.

    I have heard some horror stories about the courts here.

  8. It’s the carry piece that has to be stowed before entering the airport that’s the tricky one, as it is easy to forget where things go in the last minute rush of confusion … Once flew out of Akron/Canton and used my range bag as carry-on since all mags, ammo, pocket knife etc. was inside the suitcase with my pistols. And of course being a 40’ish white male was randomly selected (for some reason this happens to me … a lot) for further screening. My bag was emptied of holsters, electronic earmuffs, cell phone chargers, gun cleaning kit, safety glasses, range timer etc. Heck, they even found an empty brass case that had flown in side it at the range. They swabbed and swabbed till they finally got a hit … on the shot timer. Finding something must have satisfied them, so they let me pack up and go on my way. Thankfully you had a TSA agent that knew, not only his job, but the law. Stoopid TSA supervisor in Bozeman, MT was going to have me arrested for ‘insisting’ that the declaration card goes inside the case with the fireams.

  9. I’ve flown in and out of D.C. (Reagan National) with a handgun or two at least a dozen times in the last 18 months without a problem. But only because I’m obsessive-compulsive about detail.

    Before leaving Indianapolis yesterday I was inspecting my range bag (which I then stuff inside my main suitcase) and I found four spent .22LR cases. They had flown into my open range bag while I was at Eagle Creek Pistol Range on Sunday. So now I have one more damned thing to obsess about!

  10. I had live rounds in my old range bag at rip-snorting Detroit. TSA and police were polite and apologetic. Given their mission, I felt well-treated. First I’ve heard of the “list,” though.

  11. I’ve nearly forgotten the Swiss army knife on my keychain on a couple of occasions; though I usually remember as I’m locking my car to board the shuttle bus at the airport; I unlock the driver’s side door again, remove the knife, and toss it onto the seat.

    I’ve sometimes had to give up my keychain upon entering a court building and retrieve it upon leaving (I feel uneasy without my keys on my person). I have yet to have the opportunity to fly domestically with a gun, though.

    I wonder what they did with the Ammo? Maybe they went and had some fun at the police firing range?

  12. I have not flown since the 1990’s, and stories like Sebastian’s here have just convinced me even further to not even bother with looking into it now. I’ll just keep doing what I have done in recent years – road trips in my trusty SUV.

    I’ll be damned before I ever set foot inside an airport terminal somewhere, and then wind up on some government “terrorist” watch list, just because I forgot that I had one of my spare pistol magazines, a loose round of ammunition, or even just a spent shell casing in one of my pockets and/or inside my carry-on bag.

    Just like Chris said above – so much for living in a free country!

  13. Dealing with the TSA idiots is completely hit or miss. The few times I fly (I avoid it, if at all possible), I carry a CPAP machine. For those who don’t know – it’s a breathing machine prescribed for sleep apnea patients. Depending on the airport, time of day, etc. I either sail through or have the thing practically dismantled. My guess, your experience at Phoenix was influenced by the NRA convention. With the huge economic impact to the city, I sure the the mayor let it be known to work with the attendees, and the TSA bosses probably also put the word out to be careful, to keep clear of any adverse publicity. Now if the rest of the airports would try to act as reasonably as your experience, things would certainly be better.

  14. Don’t feel too bad – I used to carry some lockpicking tools with me at all times (in the zippered pocket of my “money belt”), in case I forgot my keys or locked myself out of my car or house, or for friends/family that did the same. If I was wearing pants, I had a way to open locks. In WI, it’s technically “possession of burglary tools,” but there’s a legal requirement that they be carried with intent to do something illegal for the law to apply, so it’s legit.

    Anyways, I went into a Federal building that happened to also be where you paid traffic tickets issued by State Troopers, and set off the metal detector. Of course, I didn’t even think of the picks until the little wand waved over the back of my belt. I said “Oh, yeah that’s this zipper,” and flipped the belt over to show the zipper, “it’s supposed to be for holding money or something, I guess.” He shrugged and waved me through. I almost went into that same building again a year later, but remembered on the way through the doors, and went back to my car to remove the tools. I also almost went to the airport with the same…

    It’s amazing that something that’s a part of your daily routine, and so familiar to you that you don’t even think about it, can get you in trouble once you cross some arbitrary line.

  15. Couple of years back I had to fly back from vacation on a family emergency out of Melbourne FL. The wife kept the gun to travel by van. I missed the single round of .45 in my bag. Slight delay by TSA but no major problems and no mention of a “list”.

  16. TSA is usually OK. Flown with a firearm a couple of times and have heard that if you want to guarantee your bag will arrive, put a firearm in it. I guess it has to be escorted or guarded.

  17. That second offense could be triggered (no pun intended) by even the most innocuous of events. Even a sample bullet or a spent case in carry on could find you hiring lawyers. I would contact a lawyer pro actively. Do it now and see where you really stand at this point.

  18. So, an empty metal box with springs (a/k/a box magazine) is illegal to have in a carry-on?

    Why? How is it covered in the regulations?

    What other parts? I can see a barrel being a no-no — on the grounds that someone else might sneak a single bullet and someone else a breach block.

    Wooden grips? Okay, or (part of a gun) not?

  19. The more I think about this the more it bugs me.

    Aren’t all events supposed to be (for the most part) independent from one another? Just because someone was convicted of burglary last year doesn’t mean the prosecutor can use that against them in a trial over a similar charge next year.

    And what is the rational for the threshold of two instances? If I flew on commerical airlines twice a week (as I used to) and I forgot (and got caught with) a loaded magazine twice in three years is that the same severity of “violation” as someone that forgets (and gets caught) twice in two trips?

  20. That worries me too, Joe, but even if there is a second subsequent event, they likely will still have to prove mens rea, which means they have to prove you were trying to sneak something past security, rather than you were just forgetful. That seems to me to be the right legal policy. If you were hiding something in a secret compartment, or making efforts to conceal an object, that shows intent to commit a crime. But they should have to meet that burden.

  21. good that you made it back! I would probably have sh*t myself in that situation. “Snowflakes in Prison” would not be as interesting a read as “Snowflakes in Hell” ;)

  22. “Well, it was a loaded magazine.”

    At first. Not after you gave him the cartridges.

    Why did you have to mail the magazine, at that point?

  23. I left from a formation in full gear at Fort Lewis to catch a plane and tossed my LBE into my carry on bag. With a 6 inch long gerber knife attached…

    That was in 1985, when they were not insane, but they got a bit excited. But I was in BDUs IIRC so they just made me sign a roster and I had to mail the knife home. No cops involved, but I did feel like an idiot.

  24. No there does not have to be intent. The statutes are written such that a violation does not require intent.

    Same thing happened to me at Dulles in which I had some work done to my condo and put the .45, mags and a knife in my bag. I remembered to take out the gun but forget about one mag and the knife.

    Same thing … “no big deal but we have to write you a ticket for the knife and keep it”….

    $1,500 later in lawyer fees the TSA lady that was cool at the airport was an absolute demonic bitch in the courtroom saying that I was responsible for 9/11, the plague of the 1900s and the killing of numerous baby seals. 40 hours of community service later……


    I’m also a current pilot with a background clearance to fly within the 5 mile radius of DC’s ring of stupidity known as the ADIZ.

    Those little blue shirt TSA NAZIs are the spawn of hell.

    They even made the head of TSA that wrote the regulations take off his shoes at Reagen National. He stated, “I do not have to remove my shoes if the sole of the shoe is part of the shoe and not detachable (think Nike versus dress shoe).” TSA gimp replied, “Yes you do.”, He replied, “No I don’t and I wrote the regulation.”. Hillarity ensued from that point… hahaha hhahahaha. Government at its finest.

  25. The one thing I’ve learned from this post and the comments is that there are a lot of clueless blockheads out there. If you’re that scatterbrained, I wouldn’t want to be at the range with so many careless shooters. Thanks for the warnings.

  26. Spoken like someone who doesn’t handle guns on a regular basis. When shooting is part of your life, you’ll find ammunition in all kinds of places you wouldn’t expect it to get into. TSA has good reasons for prohibiting ammunition on planes, but they also have good reasons for being forgiving of people who quite simply just forgot. Guns are legal, and their ownership constitutionally protected. It would be one thing to forget the gun, but another thing to forget ammunition.

  27. “The one thing I’ve learned from this post and the comments is that there are a lot of clueless blockheads out there. If you’re that scatterbrained, I wouldn’t want to be at the range with so many careless shooters. Thanks for the warnings.”

    Er what does forgetting to take a mag out of laptop bag have to do with range safety?

    Shooting is part of our life. Forgetting a mag is like forgetting a cell phone but we always know where the weapons are.

    What it sounds like is that people like me shoot all the damned time. So much so that we have shooting paraphernalia on our about or vehicles, home, person that sometimes forgetting can cause some unwelcome attention when compared to decades prior.

    When my Dad flew F-27s and DC-3s for West Coast Airlines the pilots had the option of being armed. When he retired from NWA that was no longer the case.


  28. “Spoken like someone who doesn’t handle guns on a regular basis.”

    Well, you’re right about that. The days of being able to shoot out your back door or on any rural back road are long gone in NW Montana. Now it’s the range or nothing. Unfortunately, I do have to fly a lot. The way the confessions of forgetfulness were going in the comments, I was half expecting someone to tell about the time that they forgot they had a grenade in their pocket, a rocket luncher in their shaving kit or something equally farfetched. Don’t forget to turn your pockets inside out, shake your hair out and check behind your ears. Apparently, ya just never know.

  29. I’ll tell you, I never would have thought I’d ever forget about a loaded magazine tucked away in a bag, forgotten, until a TSA guy pulled it out at a checkpoint. Never would have thought, until I did it.

    You can bet I won’t forget again, though.

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