Traveling Armed Part 5: When You Get Screwed

| November 23, 2016
Categories: Learnin'
Tags: travel

Traveling Armed Part 5: When You Get Screwed

Dave Merrill

In the second edition of our Traveling Armed series we covered airplanes (read it here). While all those rules still apply, recently the TSA updated some language on their webpage. Take note of this portion:

You may transport unloaded firearms in a locked hard-sided container as checked baggage only. Declare the firearm and/or ammunition to the airline when checking your bag at the ticket counter. The container must completely secure the firearm from being accessed. Locked cases that can be easily opened are not permitted. Be aware that the container the firearm was in when purchased may not adequately secure the firearm when it is transported in checked baggage..

[emphasis added]

Sounds good, right? Well…

Recently I had a long conversation with an intelligent TSA Agent (though they are a rare bird, they do exist) about this particular line. Apparently there’s been an issue in the past with people flying with flimsy rifle cases and insufficient locks, so that the case could just be opened from the side and any longarms removed. Exactly like how no one is supposed to open your firearms containers not in your presence, the idea is to protect both parties. The issue is that the words “adequately secure” is subject to a little interpretation. 


[The clarification is to prevent someone from putting a single lugagge lock on a cheap case like this]

When flying with just a CCW, I’ve been throwing it into a lockable OEM handgun case then securing it in my luggage for a couple years now. While on a trip I had one of those rolled metal boxes break, and had to come up with a suitable alternative to make my way home. It worked well enough that I just kept using it. Until…

So there I was… arm deep in four in the morning, checking into a flight home from across the country. And while I was on this short trip, TSA changed the rules on me with their added clarification. Because a pinky-finger could be inserted into the case (the firearm itself could not be removed, which the additional lines were intended for) I wasn’t allowed to check the gun. As far as I know, the “pinky-finger” ruling is completely arbitrary.

I’d already turned in my rental car.

I am not a local.

There is no USPS or UPS or other shipping agency either open nor near.

And there’s no way I’m leaving without my handgun.

The airline employees and TSA were… unsympathetic. Miss my flight and I would have to pay a large fee plus the difference in airfare.

Ultimately, I woke someone local up because thankfully I had a phone number and they managed to answer before 5am. Unfortunately, they would not make it to the airport in time to pick up the pistol. In a stroke of luck, the company they worked for had an association with a nearby hotel. Off I ran a half mile to the hotel, to hand a pistol case to a concierge with the instruction “please hold this for XYZ from ABC“. Not a perfect scenario by any means, and I barely made it back in time for my flight. And of course the handgun had to be shipped to me. Had I not been able to find a solution, the best I would be able to do was miss the flight and pay the fees.

So what would the alternative be? This is where the conversation with the aforementioned intelligent TSA Agent came in. Here are the steps he told me to follow in the future if something similar happens:

-Remain polite in the face of unthinking bureaucracy, and calmly explain the situation

-If that doesn’t resolve your issue, ask to speak to a TSA Supervisor

-Remain polite in the face of unthinking bureaucracy, and calmly explain the situation

-If that doesn’t resolve your issue, ask to speak to the Security Manager

The Security Manager will not be in ‘TSA Blue’ and will be in plainclothes, which is an easy way to know who you’re talking to. Most importantly, they’re not strictly bound by TSA regulations and are allowed to make exceptions given the right circumstances (you know, exactly like if they changed the rules while someone was in the middle of a trip and there was no security risk). In other words, Security Managers are allowed to use their brains. Weird.


Mad Duo, Breach-Bang& CLEAR!

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About the Author: A combat veteran of the United States Marine Corps, Dave “Mad Duo Merrill” is a former urban warfare and foreign weapons instructor for Coalition fighting men. An occasional competitive shooter, he has a strange Kalashnikov fetish the rest of the minions try to ignore. Merrill, who has superb taste in hats, has been published in a number of places, the most awesome of which is, of course, here at Breach-Bang-Clear. He loves tacos, is kind of a dick and married way, way above his pay grade. You can contact him at Merrill(at) and follow him on Instagram here (@dave_fm).



  1. Ben Branam

    Same thing happened to me and Bob Mayne of the Handgun World Podcast. They said he had a case that he couldn’t fly with, we had nothing and were on the road.

    Only difference, once we where in theTSA area for handgun checks the TSA agent said we couldn’t take our guns back and we couldn’t leave our guns with him.

    So we had a bag that couldn’t go, but he wouldn’t give us the bag back. He also said we couldn’t leave him alone with our bags. Talk about pissed!!

    I was able to get him to agree to check my bag in so he would take custody of it and give it to the airline and then I ran down to the bag sales area and bought a $5 case and a couple $5 dollar locks for Bob for a total of $35.

    We did make our flight but are still pissed about how stupidly the TSA agent acted. Also wondered if he was getting kick backs from the shop?

    Anyways, TSA earns every bad thing that is said about them. But you must remain calm or they are the bully that will win

  2. Billy

    Realistically, it is far better to find an FFL at your destination. Ship your weapon to him via FedEX or UPS. Since there is no transfer of ownership, no A&D entry is required or Form 4473. The FFL may want a few bucks for the effort. FedEx requires either the sender or recipient to possess an FFL and the weapon must be shipped Priority Overnight (BIG bucks!). UPS is much more lenient and not near as costly. See #5 below. You must ship the weapon to yourself!

    You can actually UPS ship your weapon to yourself at an out-of-state address. You can only ship via UPS unless you possess an FFL.

    See #5.

    I ship as much, if not more often, then checking a weapon with the airline.

    But, all said, I’ve never had an issue with an airline/TSA or FedEX/UPS.

  3. Joseph Burge

    I recently flew roundtrip with a locked handgun. Leaving, absolutely no problem. Returning was a CF. They required me to walk (accompanied) my luggage to the other end of the airport, sit for 30 minutes, then asked for my lockbox keys to inspect the interior without myself present.

    • Billy

      Every airport is different in how they handle/inspect checked weapons. Best to expect the unexpected that takes a lot more time then you anticipated.

      Regardless of the case you choose, if a clasp(s) can be opened and allowing a person to gain access to the weapon (or the weapon slide out), that case will not be allowed onboard unless you find a better way to secure the weapon; ie, additional locks.

      TSA regs have been interpreted this way for many years.

  4. Realist

    I had a problem with TSA where they did not like my case. It had a place for two pad locks and I only had one. They wanted a second lock on the other side. I ended up taking a cheap lock I had on one of my bags. It was one of those cheap airline locks but they accepted it. Had I not had another lock I would have been screwed.

  5. Tony

    So here’s the real question: What if you weren’t able to get someone to secure your weapon? Rock/Hard Place. What do you do?

    Render the weapon useless (if even possible) and sacrifice it to the TSA Demon? I think another possibility would be to find an LEO and ask for help.

    I think the point here is that you may be put in a position where you have no choice but to leave it behind or miss the flight or eat the cost.

  6. strych9

    A couple things here.

    First, this rule is stupid, arbitrary and capricious. There is no way “The container must completely secure the firearm from being accessed. “ because that’s literally not possible. Any security developed by man can be defeated by man. On top of that the weak point on any gun case is the hinge side of the case which can be levered open with a pry bar. Those aircraft maintenance folks certainly have the tools to bust open your case should they desire to do so. (I ran into a problem with this some years back, same sort of thing as Mr. Merrill, where TSA changed rules without notifying anyone in advance. Fortunately for you, Mr. Merrill, you didn’t end up in a situation where a federal charge was up to the Security Manager the way I did. Thankfully he came down on my side because he understood there was no way I could know and that I was trying to enhance security rather than undermine it.)

    Secondly, something I learned from my mom’s cousin: She retired and got bored. So she picked up a job working for TSA. She quit after about three months because of the training. Four different trainers all trained her completely differently. In short there was no continuity in the training and the result was that no one who was new to the program had a fucking clue what the rules actually were. (Funny, the previously mentioned Security Manager ran into that with me. He didn’t know what the rules were because they were not clear.)

    So yeah, be careful with TSA. Two TSA agents may have completely different ideas as to what’s acceptable and, on top of that, they may apply whatever rules they think are in effect in ways that make absolutely no sense. If you run into this situation, just hope you get lucky like I did so you don’t end up in prison.

  7. Billy

    As a retired airline captain and one who still frequently flies with a weapon stowed/locked in checked luggage, always best to avoid the ability for anyone to interpret the regs to your disadvantage. That means, purchase a Pelican, Storm or other dedicated weapon case for your weapon. Sadly, such cases and locks eat into weight allowance very quickly.

    I use difficult to pick/bypass padlocks on the weapon case. The weapon case padlocks should NOT be a TSA lock! If you stow your weapon case inside another bag, the outer bag should have a TSA lock. If TSA enters the outer bag for any reason, they should not need access to the weapon case, assuming it was inspected by TSA at the point of original departure.

    While some TSA employees will try to help you out of a jam, most will not. Plan your trip accordingly and avoid major inconveniences and expenses.

    • Random Man

      Bingo , you just have access and lock in their presence during the inspection.

      Of course, TSA has lots of little heads that still ride the power… polite ask to see the regulations , or ask to see a supervisor. Do your homework first, so if it comes down to missing a hunt or that LR Rifle course because of a misinterpretation of rules and regs , what is an extra trip to the airport before departure, besides peace of mind.

  8. Infantryman55y

    Same thing happened to me earlier this year flying out of Pittsburgh. Luckily Jet Blue sells a “TSA Approved” Plano brand double pistol case at the ticketing counter. And, believe it or not, Jet Blue didn’t price gouge.


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