By Jeff Knox
Delta Airlines has implemented new “security protocols” in response to the horror last January in Fort Lauderdale, when an arriving passenger with a properly declared handgun in his checked luggage, retrieved the gun in a bathroom, and began shooting people in the terminal.
Delta says that under the new protocols, luggage containing firearms will be identified with a special tag indicating that it should not be placed on the regular baggage carousel for passenger pickup, but rather be hand-delivered to the airline’s baggage office, where it will be zip-tied shut and only released to its owner after an ID check.
In theory, this doesn’t seem unreasonable, but practical application often fails to track with theory.
I spent several years working with the TSA at a major, international, hub airport. I tested their security, and closely observed their practices. I am also a fairly frequent flier, who often transports firearms, so I have some particular experience and familiarity in this arena.
From a passenger perspective, I have often been bothered by the fact that my luggage, with my expensive, and well-loved firearms inside, is unceremoniously dumped onto an unsecured baggage carousel where anyone with a little chutzpah could simply pick it up and walk away with it. There was a problem with that happening at Phoenix Sky Harbor a few years ago, and the airport added some security, and began doing random claim-check matching, but that soon faded due to costs, and that thieves figured out that most luggage just contained cheap, dirty clothes.
That’s why treating your bag with its valuable, and potentially dangerous cargo, the same as any other bag makes sense. As long as few people know there is a gun in a bag, it is unlikely to be singled out for theft or pilfering.
For a time, the government mandated that luggage carrying guns be labeled with a big, orange tag that said “FIREARM INSIDE.” Few gun owners were surprised when that resulted in thefts of firearms from luggage going up significantly. That policy was reversed, and actually made illegal, in 1986 with passage of the Firearm Owners Protection Act. This has proven to be prudent, as anonymity in a crowd is a traveling gun’s best security. As long as people don’t know a bag contains a gun, it is less likely to be targeted by thieves.
There is some question as to whether this new Delta policy violates the prohibition on visible labels indicating that luggage contains a firearm. Even though the special handling tags apparently don’t actually say that the bag contains a firearm, if they are used exclusively, or almost exclusively for bags containing firearms, Delta is probably breaking the law by using them. At a minimum, the bar-code on the tags, which can be read by any baggage handler with a reader, must indicate that the bag contains a firearm, so even if the tags are used for various purposes, if they are an indication of higher-value contents, they are at the least a bad idea, and very probably a violation of law.
Another problem likely with Delta’s new system is that airlines are often under-staffed in their baggage claim areas, meaning that travelers could face significant delays in retrieving their luggage containing firearms. If the baggage claim office is unmanned at the time your flight arrives, is your bag going to be locked in the office, or as I’ve often seen, stacked outside the baggage office door – unattended, but labeled as probably a gun or something else of high value? If the baggage claim agent is busy dealing with other passengers who have lost or damaged luggage, are you going to have to wait an extended time for the agent to get to you?
Aside from just being a nuisance, this could potentially interfere with making connections on other airlines, buses, or trains?
Finally, there is the question of verifying that the gun made it safely to the destination. If the bag is zip-tied shut, and you’re not supposed to open it until you’re off airport property, you have no way of making sure the gun is still there. When I arrive at my destination and retrieve my luggage, the first thing I do is open the bag to see that the hard case containing my pistol is still there, and the locks are still in place. I also feel the case to make sure its heft indicates the contents are still there. That might seem a little paranoid, but I’ve been in busy baggage basements, and seen TSA officers and baggage handlers remove items from bags. With TSA’s handling procedures in some airports, it would be a simple thing for a baggage handler to mark a bag containing a firearm so that accomplices down the line could easily identify the bag later.
All of these problems and potential problems would be fairly petty, if the policy actually did something worthwhile. The reality is that Delta’s new firearm protocol accomplishes nothing positive at all.
To my knowledge, there is only one case in all of recorded history of an airline passenger legally transporting a firearm in his checked luggage, reaching his destination and immediately using that firearm for illegal purposes. Had Delta’s new procedures been in place in January, they would not have prevented the attack. The perpetrator still could have gone into a restroom, or to some secluded corner of the pick-up area, cut the zip-ties, and retrieved the firearm to commit his crime.
This was a bizarre, and highly unusual incident, and it is ridiculous to use it to justify adding another layer of risk and inconvenience to passengers traveling with firearms.
About Jeff Knox:
Jeff Knox is a second-generation political activist and director of The Firearms Coalition. His father Neal Knox lead many of the early gun rights battles for your right to keep and bear arms. Read Neal Knox – The Gun Rights War.
The Firearms Coalition is a loose-knit coalition of individual Second Amendment activists, clubs and civil rights organizations. Founded by Neal Knox in 1984, the organization provides support to grassroots activists in the form of education, analysis of current issues, and with a historical perspective of the gun rights movement. The Firearms Coalition is a project of Neal Knox Associates, Manassas, VA. Visit: www.FirearmsCoalition.org