I got back a few days ago from a 10-day trip to Turkey. I’ll have a full article about my trip posted next week, but until then I need to share some critical information for you shooters who travel by air.
On my flight home leaving Turkey, I had to go through Turkey’s dual airport security system. Since the famous airport bombing and active killer attack in the ticketing area before security, Turkish airports have placed metal detectors and baggage x-ray systems just inside the each airport’s door. In order to make it to the ticket counter, you must place your bags in an X-ray scanner and walk through a metal detector.
After getting your boarding passes and checking your luggage, you must again go through a traditional airport screening system. On international flights, the Turkish equivalent of the TSA also hand searches each passengers carry-on bags and physically pats each passenger down before they get on the plane. It’s quite a process.
I fly a lot. I’ve taken a total of 53 flights already this calendar year. I also flew two previous domestic flights in Turkey earlier in my trip, so I was familiar with their special security procedures and had optimized my packing to get through smoothly.
I put my carry-on and checked bags on the screening machine’s conveyor belt. I had no metal on my person, so I walked through the metal detector without an alarm. I waited on the other side of the detector for my bags to come out the other side of the X-ray machine. My carry-on came through with no problem, but my checked bag was flagged for extra screening. Security asked me to open the suitcase. When I did, the security guard removed my large medical kit and a bag of liquids, separating them from the rest of the suitcase contents.
That didn’t seem unusual and I patiently waited when they ran the med kit, the liquids, and the suitcase all through the X-ray machine separately.
The screener started yelling in Turkish and suddenly two Turkish National Police officers appeared and greeted me in a friendly manner.
The screeners seemed a bit excited but the cops seemed relaxed and were smiling. The problem was that none of them spoke any English (maybe more accurately described as the problem was that I didn’t speak any Turkish). They were all repeating a single word when talking to me. I tried to explain that I didn’t understand what they were saying.
One of the cops removed the magazine from his pistol and pointed to a cartridge (Turkish cops carry ball ammo in their guns, by the way) and then pointed to my bag. The other cop pulled up Google translate on his phone and typed a single word. It was “bullet.” Apparently they had seen a bullet in my checked bag on the X-ray image.
Shit. That wasn’t good.
I shook my head “no.” I was absolutely certain that I didn’t have any ammunition in my bag.
As I wrote about in my book, I have a very specific procedure to ensure that I don’t take firearms or ammunition into other countries. I use a separate set of luggage for traveling in foreign countries. I NEVER use those bags for traveling domestically or for hauling guns/ammo to the range. Additionally, before I pack for each trip, I start with completely empty bags so I know nothing could possibly be left over from any previous trips. I had followed my protocol meticulously when packing for this trip.
Besides, my luggage had already been screened on each of the three separate flights I took earlier in the trip and no one noticed anything alarming. There was no way I had a bullet in my bag.
The screeners and cops ran my bag through the machine several more times. They tore everything apart and couldn’t find what they were looking for. The process was taking a long time. They had been tearing my bag apart for about 15 minutes when the cop with Google translate on his phone started typing.
He typed: “Bullets are prohibited.”
I replied: “I don’t have any bullets.”
Trying to personalize the interaction and ensure that the cop knew he wasn’t dealing with a criminal, I typed: “I am a police officer in the United States.”
His reply was: “This isn’t America. Bullets are prohibited, even for USA police.”
Ouch. This interaction wasn’t going well at all.
The screeners continued going through my bags until they found what they were looking for. In the pocket of a pair of shorts I hadn’t worn on the trip, they found a speed strip loaded with six rounds of .22 magnum ammo.
A couple weeks previously, I had gone hiking and had carried my Smith and Wesson 351C .22 magnum revolver. I tossed a speed strip full of extra ammo in my pocket. I had forgotten to remove the speed strip. It had been through the washer and dryer. The ammo was so light that I packed the pair of shorts without noticing that there was a loaded speed strip in the pocket. I didn’t wear the shorts on my trip and didn’t have a chance to notice the pocket contained ammunition.
The cop was looking at the strip and appearing very confused. He clearly didn’t know what it was. There probably aren’t many folks carrying spare rounds for a .22 magnum in Turkey. I quickly started typing on my phone.
The cop nodded his head, trashed the speed strip and walked away without saying anything more.
I have no idea if I had received some international “professional courtesy” or if that was their normal response to idiot Americans who bring ammo into their country. Either way, I’m grateful the cop chose not to make an arrest for what was clearly a criminal violation in his country.
I never thought to check my clothing for contraband before packing for an international trip. I will be sure to check every piece of clothing I throw in the suitcase before my next vacation. If you are a shooter who regularly carries spare ammo in clothing pockets, you should too.
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