Don't Change TSA Policy About Transporting Firearms In Checked Baggage

by GREGORY D. LEE January 9, 2017

With a semi-automatic handgun in his checked baggage, Esteban Santiago, a former soldier inflicted with mental problems, and an apparent Muslim convert, flew from Anchorage, Alaska to Fort Lauderdale, Florida International airport. When he retrieved his luggage containing a declared handgun from the carousel, he shot 11 people, killing five of them.

Airports throughout the country immediately beefed up their security. The bodies of Santiago's victims weren't even cold yet before a local television news reporter where I live, went to the Monterey Peninsula Regional Airport and interviewed arriving passengers about what their thoughts were about passengers authorized to transport a gun in checked baggage.  

No one the reporter spoke with knew that firearms could be legitimately transported in a passenger's checked baggage. One traveler said the thought "gives me pause," and "concern about traveling." Another said she was "shocked." Some passengers were hoping the TSA policy would change. Another passenger exclaimed, "Why would it be allowed; are we are going to wait till countless people are murdered in this country? It's just so stupid."

Apparently, the mere mention of a firearm at an airport to your average Californian is enough to cause widespread panic.

After rushing back to her home state to get some live TV exposure, former DNC chair congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz promptly announced that when she returned to Washington, she was going to see what she could do to change the TSA policy about allowing firearms in checked baggage.

The question I have for Ms. Wasserman Schultz and the uninformed snowflakes of California is: What difference would there be if Santiago drove himself to the airport and shot 11 people, or he brought the gun with him from Alaska in his check in baggage? There isn't. Everyone needs to calm down and think this through.

There have been hundreds of thousands of firearms transported in airline checked baggage since the events of 9/11. Originally, TSA irrational policy was that the firearm had to be in a separate locked hard case in which they attached a bright orange tag that said "Checked Firearm," or something to that affect. The case could not be hidden within your suitcase, but had to be checked separately as if it was radioactive. Nothing like advertising you have a gun that can easily be stolen. After numerous thefts of these firearms by baggage handlers and other thieves, TSA policy changed to what it is today. The firearm must be locked in a hard-shell case, unloaded, with its ammunition separated, and inside checked luggage if the passenger has luggage. The ticket counter agent fills out a yellow tag that is placed in the checked in luggage near the firearm, and a TSA agent will later discretely check the bag to ensure compliance with its policy.

I've flown with my firearm in checked baggage dozens of times, without a problem; although I do hold my breath until I can retrieve my luggage and check inside to make sure my firearm is still there.

Firearms are transported by passengers for many reasons. Under federal law, active and retired law enforcement officers may carry a concealed weapon anywhere in the United States or its territories. Because in most cases, airlines do not allow non-federal active or any retired law enforcement officers to carry loaded firearms in the passenger compartments of their planes, they have no choice but to place them into checked baggage. Concealed weapon permit holders traveling to states where their home state permit is honored, have no option but to use checked baggage. Hunters, sport shooters, and competition shooters all use airlines to transport their rifles, shotguns and handguns to their shooting events.

I think active and retired law enforcement officers, no matter if they are local, state, or federal should be allowed to carry loaded, concealed firearms as passengers on domestic airlines if they have received the proper training about discharging a firearm inside an aircraft. This cuts down on potential thefts of their firearms, and is a force multiplier for federal air marshals. If an off-duty officer was at the terminal 2 baggage carousel at Fort Lauderdale International Airport, he or she could have stopped Santiago's shooting spree.

Not allowing firearms to be placed in airline checked baggage is not the answer to preventing another situation like what occurred in Fort Lauderdale. Keeping firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill is.   

Family Security Matters Contributing Editor Gregory D. Lee is a retired Supervisory Special Agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the author of three criminal justice textbooks. While on DEA diplomatic assignment in Pakistan, he was involved in the investigation of several notable terrorism events and arrests. He recently retired after more than 39 years of active and reserve service from the U.S. Army Reserve as a Chief Warrant Officer Five Special Agent for the Criminal Investigation Division Command, better known as CID. In 2011 he completed a combat tour of duty in Afghanistan while on special assignment to the Special Operations Command Europe. Visit his website at and contact him at

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