On Sunday, an airport ramp crew at LAX was loading baggage on an Alaska Airlines plane bound for Portland when a loaded .38 caliber handgun tumbled out of an unzipped duffel bag. As the Los Angeles Times reports, the gun did not go off and its owner was eventually allowed to proceed to Oregon. However, this raises serious questions about the TSA screening process, and why the weapon went undetected.
What the TSA Looks for in Baggage
A TSA spokesperson seemed to pass the buck, telling the Times that “while the agency screens carry-on luggage for firearms, it is not the TSA’s responsibility to screen checked-baggage for guns.” What do they screen checked-bags for? According to the spokesperson, explosives only.
However, the TSA website tells a slightly different story:
“We electronically screen millions of bags for explosives and other dangerous items each day at over 7,000 baggage screening locations and at over 450 airports nationwide.” - TSA website
Is a loaded gun a dangerous item? The answer would seem to be “yes” but as the TSA spokesperson pointed out, the owner of this undiscovered weapon could not have gotten his hands on the gun during the flight.
Meanwhile, the TSA seems to be shifting blame for the loaded gun incident to the airline and the passenger, by pointing out that it is their responsibility to transport firearms correctly.
How to Transport Firearms on a Flight
Alaska Airlines, like all airlines, does have strict gun transportation regulations:
- Firearms must be unloaded
- They must be transported in locked checked-bags
- Owner must tell the airlines they have a firearm and sign a declaration
However, it seems only common sense that the TSA screeners should have been spotted the gun. What went wrong in this case? Probably a cascade-effect of mistakes, but at this point it’s not clear. Meanwhile, if anyone out there is thinking of transporting a firearm, please check your airline’s website for the proper procedures, and make sure you never transport a loaded gun.