Newspaper is Shocked to Learn Air Travel With Checked Guns is Safe and Legal


Newspaper is Shocked to Learn Air Travel With Checked Guns is Safe and Legal

From the pages of the Florida Sun Sentinel comes this profoundly silly piece on guns and air travel, in which an intrepid reporter books a sequence of five flights across the country with a gun in his checked bags, and is shocked and horrified when airport employees at every stage of the trip treat him like a normal person, and not like a criminal or a terrorist.

I almost hesitate to link this piece, because it has been roundly ignored in gun circles, and it deserves to stay that way. I know the author and his editors were really hoping to rile up the gun nuts with this one, but I imagine everyone else in Greater Gunblogistan had the same reaction to this piece that I did, specifically “LOL why was this published?”

You really have to read this piece for yourself to see how nuts it is. I could excerpt it but I’d end up excerpting the whole thing. Still, here’s a taste:

In taking the Second Amendment for a test flight, I found:

  • Two of the five airlines I flew returned the gun case to me by leaving it in the luggage area, untended and unnoticed — fully in line with the law. Airlines are free to follow starkly different policies on how they handle firearms.
  • No one questioned that I was flying on only one-way tickets with only a gun, just as no one questioned Esteban Santiago.
  • Although I was traveling with a concealed-carry permit, no one asked to see it.
  • Exactly how many people check guns on planes is a secret to the public. The Transportation Security Administration says it doesn’t track the number. Only the airlines know, and they won’t divulge it

In short, flying with guns is as much a part of travel as mileage points and middle seats. No one flinches if everything is in order. Anyone in your airport could be flying with a gun just as Santiago did.

Yep, you read that right. He’s absolutely scandalized that nobody was scandalized that he flew with a gun. He can’t get over that flying with firearms is a normal part of air travel, and he thinks that fact is somehow news.

He clearly had the backing of his editors at the paper, all of whom also thought this was news, too. Check it out, they put together the full Pulitzer package for this hard-hitting piece of “travel writing:”

To arm myself with knowledge — and my first gun — I began by buying the Walther 9 mm PPS within 17 minutes of entering the Shoot Straight shop in Fort Lauderdale and completing the legal paperwork. Five business days later, I walked out with the unloaded gun in its box.

Over the following weeks I took a five-hour gun-safety class for a concealed-weapons license; fired a gun for the first time; researched the laws of various states and protocols of various airlines; talked with travel and legal officials; and talked with Sun Sentinel lawyers — then talked with them again. And again.

All to cover concerns about flying with a gun that, looking back, seem like driving down I-95 at 55 mph, wondering whether anything would go wrong.

Did you get that? Lawyers! Classes! More lawyers! All to learn that if you scrupulously follow the law and are not a threat, sensible, professional people will treat you like you’re a law-abiding non-threat.

In this entire piece there’s only one thing this guy uncovered that’s a genuine scandal, and that’s the fact that some airlines will just leave your gun out on the baggage claim unattended and not ask for ID before you pick it up.

I once walked into the Milwaukee airport after getting word from them that my luggage had arrived (due to weather issues I and my bags were separated), and I saw my $2,000 shotgun sitting out in the middle of the floor right near the exit, being stepped over by a mob of stranded travelers. I was livid, not because this was unsafe, but because anyone could’ve stolen my gun.

But the writer could’ve learned the airlines’ various policies on ID requirements (or lack thereof) for firearms at baggage claim with a few phone calls. There was no need for he and his editors to stage a big, expensive attempt at Real Journalism(TM) just to uncover that some airlines don’t require ID to claim guns.

For that matter, he could’ve literally talked to anyone who’s ever traveled with a gun even once, and they’d have told him 100% of what he learned at the end of those five flights, sort of like if you talk to someone from, say, Omaha you can learn the names of various streets and local landmarks and other bits of public knowledge that people with even rudimentary firsthand experience already know and are happy to share.

The final head-scratcher, here, is the fact that the author isn’t some effete New York media type, but a sports reporter from the American South. He’s basically from the very last demographic you’d expect to produce a piece that boils down to, “I’m terrified of firearms and scandalized that others apparently aren’t.”

No recommendations

Apart from the painful inanity of the story, even my attempts to take it seriously as a piece of journalism–and I really did try, because I do respect when a newsroom puts a lot of effort into something these days–were foiled by glaring flaws.

First, I can’t detect anywhere in the article a single recommendation of a policy or procedure or law that would’ve prevented the airport attack that anchors the entire story. Maybe I missed it, but nowhere does the author suggest any measure that might have prevented or even mildly hindered Esteban Santiago from shooting up that Florida airport with a gun that he pulled from his checked baggage.

It’s also the case that, to my knowledge at least, nobody has ever picked up someone else’s gun from an airport baggage claim and then gone on a shooting spree right there in the terminal. But the article tries to terrify you with the possibility that this could happen.

There are thousands of flights every year with firearms in checked bags, and not a single incident where anyone has done what the author fears could happen. And as for the one shooting he does cite, it’s still the case that there are far more plane crashes than there are airport shootings where someone pulls a gun out of check bags and opens fire.

So even if you take the “OMG guns are scary, and the fact that people fly with guns is scary, because there was this one shooting!” angle at face value and agree wholeheartedly with it, you’re still left wondering what, exactly, is to be done.

Sure, forcing all airlines to check ID before releasing a gun from baggage claim would be great, but not because it would make anyone safer (again, Santiago used his own lawfully carried and claimed gun in the shooting) but because nobody wants their guns stolen.

Anyway, go read the article, and maybe you can make more sense of it than I could.

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Jon Stokes is Deputy Editor at

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