A couple years ago, I wrote an article called Flying With Guns. In it, I described the conflicting advice the TSA provides with regard to locking gun cases when traveling by air.
“Also, a strict interpretation of the law seems to mandate that the lock on your gun case must NOT be TSA-accessible. In practice, I have not found that to be the case. The TSA itself has a different interpretation of the law on its website. They directly state: “You may use any brand or type of lock to secure your firearm case, including TSA-recognized locks.”
No one has ever even mentioned the fact that my gun case is secured with a TSA lock. In fact, it has sped up the check-in process a few times for me. With that said, it might be prudent to bookmark the above-linked website to show any potentially inept TSA agents you encounter.”
I had been placing TSA- accessible locks on my gun case just to avoid hassles. I caught some heat from some very security conscious friends about my practices. I re-evaluated my decision and began to use non-TSA accessible locks on the gun case itself.
After hearing frequent reports of TSA agents trying to pry open a corner of the gun case (to claim it was unsuitable for properly securing your gun), I also switched to carrying a Travel Armor gun case. With its unique latching mechanism, there is no way to access the case when properly locked.
I flew for more than a year without any issues while using the Travel Armor case and the non-TSA locks.
….until a couple weeks ago.
I flew out to Gunsite to teach at the Pat Rogers Memorial Revolver Roundup (summary article coming next week) using the travel armor case and non-TSA locks. No problem going there or coming back. I was home for one day and then had a quick turnaround flight to Florida to celebrate Thanksgiving with some friends.
I packed the same Travel Armor case (this time loaded with autopistols instead of revolvers) and locks. It was a nightmare trip. I was flying Delta and had a connection in Atlanta. My plane departed early (0600). I was supposed to be in Sarasota before 10 am. The flight boarded on time and we started taxiing down the runway. The pilot aborted the takeoff because of a warning light.
Did I mention that I was flying on Thanksgiving day?
Most of the mechanics had the day off. They couldn’t fix the plane. We went back to the gate and deplaned. Delta sent another plane from Atlanta to pick us up. That caused a four hour delay.
I quickly re-booked my connecting flight using the Delta App on my phone. When I finally landed in Atlanta and turned on my phone, I found that the new connecting flight had been cancelled when I was in the air. Did I mention it was Thanksgiving day? The airlines were running with a skeleton staff. Hundreds of passengers were in the rebooking line.
The app saved the day for me. Instead of waiting in line or on the phone, I rebooked instantly and got the last seat on the last plane going to Sarasota for the night. If I had to wait in line to change my flight, i would have been stuck in Atlanta for at least two days and would have missed Thanksgiving dinner.
But that meant another five hour layover in Atlanta. I sucked it up, drank a few beers, and got some reading done in the airport. My plane boarded and I arrived in Sarasota a little after 8:00 pm. Now the fun really starts.
I get my bag and go pick up my rental car. Once I got to the car, I proceeded to arm myself.
I normally like Delta airlines. But the one thing I hate is that they continue to zip tie any bag containing guns. They don’t want a passenger to immediately open up the bag and begin shooting up the baggage claim area (that happened in Ft. Lauderdale in 2017). Consequently, when I fly Delta I always pack a pair of trauma shears in my carryon bag. Those shears make short work of their zip ties.
I unfastened the TSA accessible lock I had on the outside of my suitcase. It had been securely locked and there was no damage to the exterior of the bag. I opened the suitcase up and this is what I saw.
The locks I used on the pistol case were no longer on said pistol case. My immediate first thought was that TSA had done an additional inspection on the bag and had failed to lock it back up again properly. Then I looked a little closer.
The locks were fastened closed. If TSA could have somehow opened the locks and failed to re-secure them, the locks would have been open. I looked a little closer. The guns inside the case were still there and not damaged. The case itself was broken. Someone pried or cut the case fasteners to gain access to my guns. Take a look at the photo below for details.
How did that happen? I suppose it theoretically could have been caused by rough handling. But the gun case was wrapped in some clothing for protection. There was no damage to the suitcase. There was no damage to any other contents of the bag. I’m not buying the story that my bag fell off the truck. Nothing else had been damaged (including the bottle of whiskey I had packed as a gift to my hosts).
Any amount of of rough handling would have most certainly also broken my bottle of hooch.
I suppose thieves could have done it. But nothing was taken from either my bag in general or the pistol case in particular. Why break into a case and not take its valuable contents? And thieves wouldn’t have taken the time to re-lock the outer suitcase padlock.
Someone had to have a TSA key to get into my bag. That same someone’s motivation for entering the bag had to be something other than theft. That someone still had enough common sense to try to deter a future theft attempt by locking up the bag after destroying my gun case.
What kind of person meets the criteria above? It had to be the TSA. Rather than phone me (number written on gun case itself) or make an announcement over the airport P.A. system to ask me to open the bag for inspection, they simply broke the case to get in.
Interestingly enough, the TSA agent who likely broke my gun case did not leave the customary “we opened your bag” card the TSA uses to alert folks that their bags had been opened. My guess is that he realized he screwed up, but didn’t want anyone else to tie his presence to the crime scene.
The TSA agent knowingly chose to allow a bag containing firearms and ammunition to be loaded on the airplane in violation of Federal law. Two pistols and a bunch of ammo would have belonged to any criminal who bought the TSA master keys on the internet or dark web. Nice work, folks. Way to keep the sky safe.
My new Travel Armor case arrived yesterday. I’m flying from Texas back to Ohio for New Years festivities. You can bet that I’ll go back to running TSA locks on my gun cases in the future.
I hope this article saves you all from some of the hassles you’re likely to experience traveling by air with guns during a global pandemic.