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Why People Get Arrested at Airports with Firearms

Why People Get Arrested at Airports with Firearms

Why People Get Arrested at Airports with Firearms

When I’m teaching my concealed carry classes I always cover how to properly fly with a firearm so you don’t end up behind bars. However, after I explain this there are often one or two people who tell me the story of the poor gun owner who got arrested at a New Jersey or New York airport, even though he was following all the rules.

Well, I’m going to tell you why he was arrested, but remember I’m no lawyer and furthermore I don’t like lawyers, even though my sweet and lovely wife graduates from law school in less than two weeks. But let’s get back to why gun owners get arrested in these pain-in-the-butt states.

Federal law allows us to fly all over this great nation as long as our guns are properly secured in our checked luggage. This means the guns are unloaded, in a hard side case and have a lock on them.

And this is exactly what I do as I fly all over the country for training.

However, I have never flown to New York or Jersey and I don’t plan to. But there are a lot of gun owners who do have to fly to or have a layover in these crazy states and some get arrested and some don’t, so what gives?

Well, as I just mentioned, Federal law allows us to fly all over. So, if John Doe was flying from Florida to Maine and had a connection in New Jersey, he would be fine and have no problem at all if he simply went from one plane to the next and the airlines transferred his luggage as they always do.

But, let’s say John Doe flies into Jersey and he misses his connecting flight. Let’s say there are no other flights out that night so he decides to get a hotel room. And since John Doe is a responsible gun owner he goes and retrieves his bag from the ticket agent because he doesn’t want his bag containing a gun left in the airport until the next day.

Well, the next day arrives…

And John Doe walks up to the ticket counter in the New Jersey airport and declares his firearm and ammunition, as he should. And as soon as he does this the ticket agent picks up the phone, calls airport police and John Doe is arrested for having possession of a weapon.

Now, John Doe will get all charges dismissed and nothing criminally will happen to him. But, he will have several hours of his day wasted and the hassles of getting his gun back. So why was he arrested? Because he took possession of the gun. In other words, if John Doe had never taken possession of his luggage and just left it where it was with the airline until the next day all would have been well.

But when he went and retrieved the gun he violated the crazy laws of places like New York and New Jersey. Again, remember that I am no lawyer, but this is the way it has been explained to me.

So if you happen to fly through cities or states that are not gun friendly and you have a longer layover or something happens I wouldn’t take possession of your gun if I were you. I would simply let the airline transfer the bags as they are supposed to, that way you shouldn’t have to worry about running afoul of any laws.

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  • John Coleman

    Man you are so right!   I grew up in New York City and their Sullivan Laws are the toughest found anywhere.   Basically, you can’t have a gun period.   There are exceptions but unless you’re a VIP you’ll never qualify.   As a retired law enforcement officer who spent three decades in another state, I cannot to this day return back to New York City with my concealed weapon and permit!   The Mayor’s office wrote me back on my inquiry to say my gun was unacceptable and I would be arrested if I entered town with it.

    However, traveling NYPD cops are pretty much welcomed everywhere else with their concealed weapon.    I’m with you.   I’m done with New York and the cesspool of crime that it has turned into because they disarmed the honest citizens and don’t even want traveling law enforcement officers there either.   I feel as you do about lawyers as well, but congrats to your wife for her accomplishment.   Hopefully, she can go to work supporting our issues.

    • Rcfcolumbo

      FYI.. Have someone who is qualified in your current state certify you under Federal Statue HR 218.  I am retired from Florida and was just certified in Georgia.. most agencies have someone who will take you out to a range and sign off on your paperwork. GA POST sent me a card showing I qualified under HR 218 and it is good for one year..  it was real easy in Georgia and a pleasure all within one week.

      • Cobrawing

        Hi and thanks for the thought, but those bases were covered long ago.  I was a police officer for nearly 30 years.   I’m retired with a pictured ID card with full concealed rights carry.   I attend range with a Federal Range master (from the Treasury Dept) who signs off on my carry weapons per HR 218.   I even have a carry card from my old agency that conforms to HR 218.   I was an FFL dealer for decades as well.    All of this was made know to the Mayor and Police Chief of New York and they indicated to me I would STILL be arrested if I visited NYC with a firearm!    

        New York City has become like an island to itself.   It totally ignores and violates second amendment rights and federal carry rights because they feel they simply can do it and get away with it.   So far that’s exactly what they’ve been able to do.   They won’t even honor professional courtesy to a fellow officer just passing through with his/her firearm.   I’ve decided to stay out of that cesspool city until their laws change, which won’t be anytime soon.   Their crime is rampant and they haven’t a clue that disarming the honest citizens is a primary reason why.   That town is going down a toilet and it deserves what it’s getting.

        • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_YALE4YPKUTFF55GPNDQ63VZOXQ charlie S

          Get caught…and then file a 42USC Section 1983 Constitutional Rights Violation against the Officer who arrested you, his boss, and His AH, the Mayor.  Sue for damages to your reputation, your “absolute Rights” under the 2d Amendment, and for fees, etc., as well as punitive damages for these “…officials acting outside the scope of their duties,” as none can have ANY “duty” that would violate any Citizen’s Constitutional Rights to keep and bear arms for self-defense, especially a retired Law Enforcement Official (you have made a lot of enemies in your line of work).  It’ll take some time, but it has to be done–everyday these AH’s violate Our Rights…they need a History Lesson.  The NRA Should, or WILL JOIN YOU AND PICK-UP THE COSTS, ETC., BUT DO IT!!

        • Craig Brockman

          Nonsense. At this time I am in Staten Island, NY. I live in FL and I am a retired NYPD officer with no carry permit in NYS at all. I fly out of Newark tomorrow. I declare my unloaded firearm in my locked box with ammo in a paper box. Under the LEOSA of 2004 I am covered as long as I properly carry and declare. I also put copies of all my id’s in the box with the specific airlines/FAA/TSA rules. I have an up to date 218 card and all is lawful.

      • Mac

         Rcfcolumbo,

        I am an NRA pistol instructor in Georgia.  If I understand what you wrote it means that I might be certified as a state instructor by someone in POST.  If I have that right I would love to hear how that is done.

        I have never been an LEO.  I have a bunch of time teaching weapons for military and civilian students.

  • Justinc

    Fu** NYC and NJ. That’s the most respectful thing I have to say about them. I better stop now before I say anything unkind.

    LIVE FREE or DIE

  • cawpin

    “But when he went and retrieved the gun he violated the crazy laws of places like New York and New Jersey. Again, remember that I am no lawyer, but this is the way it has been explained to me.”

    Then it was explained wrong. As long as he is in the process of traveling through, no matter if he has a layover or not or takes possession of his luggage or not, he is protected under the Firearm Owners’ Protection Act of 1986. What New York and New Jersey are doing is in violation of federal law and all involved should be prosecuted.

    • Samuel

      The Safe Passage provision of the Firearm Owner’s Protection Act of 1986 (18 USC § 926A – INTERSTATE TRANSPORTATION OF FIREARMS) applies to vehicles when the firearm is in a separate compartment in the vehicle not accessible from the driver or passengers.  The law also states that you must not be in possession of the firearm or ammunition.

      As this article states, if you pick up your firearm and ammunition you are not protected by this law.  So you are incorrect on the law, and if the state charges you there no violation of federal law.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dan-Ess/100000666571492 Dan Ess

    Directed to Jason: Are you saying it is against the law to possess a firearm in those states? How could that be, if the 2nd Amendment allows it? Question #2: will the same happen if I go to Chicago O’Hare and take possession? I am flying into and out of there at the end of next month. Is Chicago O’Hare trouble; anyone who has experience there, I’d like to hear from; thanx!  : )

    • Samuel

      Are you being facetious?  When you’re in another state, your subject to the state laws with very few exceptions.  Just because we have the Second Amendment, it doesn’t give you a blanket to do what you want in every state when it comes to firearms.  It’s unfortunate, but that’s how it is.

      • coachdb18

        If a state can make up its own gun laws as it goes along restricting the Constitutional protections of the Second Amendment (the liberal way), why do they then say (vociferously) that the states cannot make any laws regarding immigration, that it’s a Federal thing, strictly? Liberal lawmaking isn’t lawmaking at all, it’s simply arbitrary control freaks out of control themselves. Time to reign it in!!!

  • tarawa1943

    Do USA Airlines (in NJ, NY, MD, HI…etc) maintain secure enough facilities to store luggage or permit transfer of luggage without taking possession? Even when transferring at some NY/NJ airports, if your moving from International (or domestic) to Domestic, you have to take possession of your luggage. That could be a “gotcha” on your very valid point, thank you btw. ICYMI: I am not giving legal advice neither am I a lawyer! (but I did work for the airlines!). I did live in NY, sorry to proclaim that, and there are some very very skilled shooters in NY and NJ. 2nd Amendment freedom fighters!

  • Tionico

    fine in theory.. sort  of. TSA rags prohibit airlines from taking luggage for flights leaving the next day. I have been caught in this black hole more than once. SO… when a flight is cancelled you have no option but to take possession of your checked bag. It is not illegal to possess handguns in New Kersay, byut in order to do so one MUST have their stupid Firearms Owners Certificate.. which takes a LOT of time to get, and can’t be done except in person. So, stranded in Newark overnihgt, you can;’t get one, and unless you have this, your handgun inside your previously checked luggage makes you a felon. And the New Jersey and Newark police LOVE to make hay on that catch 22 situation, and do on a regular basis. New York’s laws are equally insane. o
    The Congress have made a few inane attempts at clarifying the FOPA, but so far nothing has excaped that trap. What NEEDS to happen is a rash of federal civil rights lawsuits against such gun-trap settings, using FOPA as the basis, the offense being unlawful arrest and denial of Second Ammendment and FOPA protections. When a few such jurisdictions are forced to pay out a few millions in legal fees, and overturned charges, perhaps they will face their tyranny and change their tune. Perhaps. Meanwihle, scrupulously avoid all such areas… or even nearby ones, on the chance of a flight being diverted into one of them.

    • tarawa1943

      One solution might be:  Use FFL shipping to/from your destination(s) that cross into communist territory! Could be cheaper than jail and lawyer fees.

      • Cymond

        Won’t work.
        For example, a resident of California could ship his guns to West Virginia, but he would be unable to pick them up from the WV FFL, since we can only “transfer” handguns in our home states (GCA 1968).
        There are some references that indicate it is legal to ship a gun to yourself, but I have never found a way to do it, because USPS is out of the question, and all of the common carriers (UPS, FedEx) have regulations against it.

  • Niwenterprises

    I always wondered what would happen if I cut a quarter inch plate to mimic a 1911 and stuck it in my belt?  Here I used to board a plane fully armed on my way to pick up a prisoner.  Those TSA guys would go ballistic now.  I won’t even fly now. 

    There were two bills submitted in the Senate dealing with interstate transfer of guns.  One, by the gun grabber Dems, got all the press–even by the NRA. Those two senators have a record of gun grabbing.
    Another, proposed by Republicans (surprise, surprise) is much better written (Thune) and does not provide for the Feds and the BATF to intrude or take over states rights. Real quiet on this bill,

    How do various states or cities override a much higher rated–constututional “right”?  Beats me.  Everyone thinks they have some “right” or another when the only rights are in the Constitution or its amendments. 
    Lessee…..where are those Starbucks who let groups of “open carrying” guys sit down an have coffee?
    I think that HR 218 is known as LEOSA or Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act.  It over-rides any state or local laws.   Thor

  • Rochester Personal Defense,LLC

    Jason:
    Good article to inform travelers about the differing laws but, It’s not the STATE of NY or NJ…it the CITY of NY that has the laws about possession of a firearm in any airport, bus station, subway, etc. that is owned or controlled by the NY Transit Authority.  Feel free to fly into ANY other city or airport not under the auspices of the NY Transit Authority and you’ll be fine. I do it all the time!

    • Letsgobuffalo

      Ummmm….the STATE of NY still requires a Permit for Possession/Ownership of a Handgun.  Since you cannot legally possess without this Permit….and NY STATE does not recogonize any other States CCW….you would be just as guilty in Buffalo as NYC

  • blogengeezer

    Retired State highway patrol LEO, on advice from FBI associate, openly ‘declared’ his concealed firearms at Canadian port of entry, with verbal assurance ‘They’ would transfer weapons to his nearby point of Departure. Wrong. He barely escaped imprisonment and confiscation..   Because of LEO status, and after several Hours of International discussion, they gratuitously ‘allowed’ him to ‘Back Away’ to USA side of ‘the wall’. He NEVER again travels Canada.

  • Samuel

    Jason, if you’re going to give legal advice to your class and post a story on it why didn’t you actually list the law?

    The actual law is 49 C.F.R. § 1544.203   Acceptance and screening of checked baggage.

  • utimmer43

    The problem with your simple explanation is that it is not just happening during layovers.  It is also happening when someone is originating from one of those airports.  

    • Samuel

      If you’re originating from that airport then you are subject to the state and local laws.  If it’s not legal for you to possess that firearm in that state, then you have no business being in that state with that firearm.  Can you clarify your statement a little better?

  • Wes

    There is no way he could’ve been able to pick up his firearm when he missed his flight.  
    If HE missed his connection, the baggage handlers would not have known this and his CHECKED LUGGAGE would have still been forwarded and sent to it’s original destination, at which time he would pick it up the next day when he finally arrived.

    This is merely a troll…

    • Ed

      Wes the problem is he was flying either a Continental flight or  Delta code share flight operated by Continental.  The “flight” from Newark Liberty Airport to Lehigh Valley International Airport (Allentown) is always serviced by a bus, and has been for as long as I can remember. So the process is you claim your bags in Newark and hop on the bus to Allentown. A lot of people do not realize this leg of the flight is on a bus.  Continental also use to sell tickets for flights that originated out of Philadelphia via Newark that the Philadelphia to Newark leg was via Amtrak.  You would originate out of 30th Street Station to Amtrak’s Newark Liberty Airport station and then take the airport’s mini train that runs between the terminals, parking garages, car rentals and the Amtrak station to get to the terminal to chack in for your flight.

      With that said I fly out of Newark to Anchorage often.  I live in Pennsylvania, do not have a NJ FOID, and check both my Glock 26 and Ruger Alaskan.  I take no hollow point rounds and the Glock 26 and not the Glock 17 since NJ has a max magazine limit of 15 rounds.  I have a few of the “Brady Bill” 10 round Glock 17 mags, but if I am going to limit myself to 10 rounds, I might as well take the Glock 26.

  • Moonpie1016

    the three worst states in our union…Illinois, New York and New Jersey…enough said…bunch of communists

  • Michael from NYC

    An unfortunate story, detailed in Revell v. Port Authority (3d Cir. 2010): Gregg C. Revell was flying from Salt Lake City to Allentown, Pennsylvania, via Minneapolis and Newark. He had an unloaded gun legally checked in his luggage, which was supposed to meet him at Allentown.

    Supposed to. In fact, the flight to Newark was late, so Revell missed his connection. He booked himself on the next flight, but the airline changed those plans. He was supposed to get on a bus, but his luggage didn’t get on the bus with him. He found the luggage, but the bus had left, so he had to stay overnight at the hotel, with his luggage.

    Aha! That’s where the crime came in. The Firearms Owners’ Protection Act protected Revell on the plane, and would have protected him on the bus. But the moment the luggage came into his hands or otherwise became “readily accessible” to him outside a car — here, when he got the luggage to go to the hotel, but it would have also happened if he had gotten the luggage to put it into the trunk of a rental car — he violated New Jersey law, which requires a permit to possess a handgun (and which bans the hollow-point ammunition that Revell also had in a separate locked container in his luggage). Revell was arrested when he checked in with the luggage at Newark Airport, and said (as he was supposed to) that he had an unloaded gun in a locked case in his luggage; he then spent four days in jail until he was released on bail. Eventually the New Jersey prosecutor dropped the charges against him, but Revell didn’t get the gun and his other property back until almost three years later.

    Revell sued, and lost; the Third Circuit concluded that once he took the luggage in hand in New Jersey, it became “readily accessible,” and the FOPA immunity was lost. And this is indeed a sensible reading of the statutory text:
    Notwithstanding any other provision of any law or any rule or regulation of a State or any political subdivision thereof, any person who is not otherwise prohibited by this chapter from transporting, shipping, or receiving a firearm shall be entitled to transport a firearm for any lawful purpose from any place where he may lawfully possess and carry such firearm to any other place where he may lawfully possess and carry such firearm if, during such transportation the firearm is unloaded, and neither the firearm nor any ammunition being transported is readily accessible or is directly accessible from the passenger compartment of such transporting vehicle: Provided, That in the case of a vehicle without a compartment separate from the driver’s compartment the firearm or ammunition shall be contained in a locked container other than the glove compartment or console.
    So what do you if this happens to you?
    Stranded gun owners like Revell have the option of going to law enforcement representatives at an airport or to airport personnel before they retrieve their luggage. The careful owner will do so and explain his situation, requesting that his firearm and ammunition be held for him overnight.[18]
    [Footnote 18:] Of course, this suggestion leaves unanswered the question of what the gun owner should do if the law enforcement officers decline to assist him. It may be hoped, however, that officers will not compound a blameless owner’s problems in that way.

    Hope does spring eternal, but I suspect that airport police and airport staff aren’t going to be willing to hold people’s luggage for them overnight, especially when it contains a gun. And of course the airport police or staff would then have to personally check in the luggage for the owner, since the owner can’t take it in hand without losing the FOPA immunity.

    So watch out when you travel with your gun in checked luggage. If your flight gets routed to a different city, or you have to stay overnight at one of the stops, you could be arrested. Or if you drive across country but your car breaks down, and you need to move the luggage to another car, you could likewise be violating the law (though you’d be less likely to be caught, since you have no obligation declare your gun when you switch cars the way you do when you get on a plane). FOPA gives you a good deal of protection on your travels — but, as Mr. Revell learned, not complete protection.

    • Cymond

      It makes me wonder what would have happened if Revell had simply not left the ‘secure’ section of the airport and waited for his next flight, the same as any other layover. Sure, it would have meant going a day or two without a shower and without a bed, but maybe he could have stayed out of jail.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chuck-Peterson/1226047357 Chuck Peterson

    Your article pretty well sums up why I hate to see an East Coast or A Ca. license plate here in Arizona. Most freedom loving gun owners in AZ feel the same way