When you’re the fastest growing federal bureaucracy in history (that’s NOT a good thing by the way) you get to do pretty much whatever you want, regardless of what the law says. After all, they’ve got uniforms, buy lawyers by the pallet load, and if all else fails, have Eric Holder on their side of the kickball team.
In the case of flying with firearms in checked baggage, the law is short, sweet and intolerably (apparently not for the TSA however) clear. Here it is, as written in the Code of Federal Regulations:
Title 49: Transportation, Part 1540 – Civil Aviation Security: General Rules, Subpart B – Responsibilities of Passengers and Other Individuals and Persons, 1540.111 (c) (iv) – The container in which it is carried is locked, and only the passenger retains the key or combination.
Title 49: Transportation, Part 1544 – Aircraft Operator Security: Air Carriers and Commercial Operators, Subpart C – Operations, 1544.203 (f) (iii) The container in which it is carried is locked, and only the individual checking the baggage retains the key or combination;
While the emphasis above is mine, the TSA can’t seem to figure out what might be the shortest and simplest federal law on the books, so I added the bold to help them out. I’ve written about this a number of times (here and here for example) in hopes that fellow
subjects citizens will know how to travel with firearms according to the law.
Previously, I mentioned that the security folks in the Bend, Oregon airport force travelers to violate the law by surrendering their gun case keys to an agent who inspects the contents of your firearms case in a back room where you are not allowed. More recently, my home airport of Charleston, South Carolina has assumed the same practice. Perhaps the TSA has sharing days at CiCi’s Pizza to swap ideas amongst each other?
Here’s the problem. You are not allowed to surrender your keys or combination to your secure gun case, period. No exceptions are stated for surrendering your key ring to federal employees either. You, and you alone, are responsible for making sure your hard travel case remains locked and under your absolute control. Any variation from that and you are in violation of the law.
Would you care to guess who would win in Judge Judy’s courtroom should something happen with your guns after the TSA opened your case out of your presence? I’ll give you a hint, if it comes to a he said / she said legal argument between the feds and you, you’ll go down faster than Piers Morgan’s ratings.
As I’ve written about before, the law as written rules out use of TSA locks, since by very definition, tens of thousands of people have the “key” to your TSA locks. That’s the entire purpose of TSA locks. They have a “master key” so pretty much anyone can open them.
Back to Charleston. Not long ago, when declaring firearms at the ticket counter, the agent would call downstairs to TSA and request an agent. The TSA agent would walk up a flight of steps to inspect your gun case (in your presence) then allow you to lock it back up. That’s exactly how it’s supposed to work.
Now, TSA no longer wants to walk up the steps or maybe they just prefer to rummage through your gun case in private. They want you to send your keys downstairs, while you wait upstairs, so they can do whatever it is they do. No thanks. I love those spiffy TSA uniforms and all, and nothing makes my day like getting groped in the privates, but as much as I like those folks, I’m not going to violate federal law for them.
What do do?
Leave for the airport early in case you have to have a polite discussion with the agents. Quote the law mentioned above. Better yet, print it out. If you’re not making any headway, request an airport law enforcement officer and explain it to them. It’s a pain. You might miss your flight. But if you don’t start pushing back against abuse of power, you might find yourself resisting involuntary cavity searches before the next season of The Bachelorette is canceled.