2014 was a banner year for TSA weapon seizures. What are you packing?

     This undated photo provided by the federal Transportation Security Administration shows pistol parts hidden in a stuffed animal found inside a carry-on bag that was put through an x-ray machine as part of normal security screening at T.F. Green Airport in Warwick, R.I. (AP Photo/Transportation Security Administration)

    This undated photo provided by the federal Transportation Security Administration shows pistol parts hidden in a stuffed animal found inside a carry-on bag that was put through an x-ray machine as part of normal security screening at T.F. Green Airport in Warwick, R.I. (AP Photo/Transportation Security Administration)

    In 2014, the Transportation Security Administration seized 2,212 firearms from carry-on luggage. It’s hard to know how to feel about this.

    In Dickensian terms, 2014 was the best and worst of times for the TSA. It was the seventh consecutive year in which the cache of weapons taken from flyers has risen. But why are so many airline passengers still tossing arms in with inflatable neck pillows and cargo shorts?

    Of those 2,212 firearms, 1,836 were loaded. I won’t let myself believe that all of the pistol packers were thinking about doing harm, however, it’s hard to believe that that many people haven’t gotten the memo about what is not permitted on airplanes. And if they’re so nonchalant about stepping onto flights with weapons, what are they carrying into the Wawa?

    Guns, knives, explosives

    The U.S. Department of Homeland Security detailed what was seized, and the year-end report is jaw-dropping. Anyone who flies has to trust that the TSA is catching most armed passengers; the alternative would dash all hope of having a pleasant flight.

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    Here is some of what was found in 443 million checked bags and 1.7 billion carry-ons that the TSA screened last year:

    A PlayStation 2 console at JFK International held components from a disassembled .22 caliber gun.
    A 94-year-old man arrived at New York’s LaGuardia airport with a .38-caliber gun clipped to his belt.
    At Alaska’s Ted Stevens Anchorage International, a homemade avalanche-control charge was found tucked into the luggage of someone who was prepared for any eventuality.
    At Philadelphia International, advanced imaging revealed that a traveler had taped a pen and highlighter containing knives to his chest. At least it wasn’t a sword; that would have been cliché.

    Texas figured prominently in firearm seizures. Advanced imaging in San Antonio revealed a loaded .38-caliber gun in a passenger’s back pocket. (Did they really need the imaging?) At Love Field in Dallas, an assault rifle with three loaded magazines was found. Three airports in the Lone Star state ranked in the top 10 for firearm seizures: Dallas/Fort Worth International was first with 120, Houston/George Bush Intercontinental ranked fourth with 77, and William P. Hobby Airport in Houston was sixth with 50.

    Even now, more than a dozen years after airport security has been tightened in the United States, a lot of us don’t fly without a knife. On its blog, the TSA reported that “officers regularly find sword canes, credit card knives, belt buckle knives, knives hidden in shoes, knives hidden in thermoses and knives hidden under the bag lining near the handle mechanism.” At Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport in California, an 8.5-inch knife was found in an enchilada. Good grief — do people hate eating with sporks that much?

    A grenade, a mine, and a cannon went into an airport …

    TSA staffers in 2014 found a saw blade hidden in a Bible, a stun gun in a lipstick tube, a hand grenade, a Claymore anti-personnel mine, artillery shells, spear guns, grenade launcher practice rounds, and an unloaded cannon barrel. Presumably all were headed for an overhead bin.

    At Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International, a man walked into a metal detector with a loaded gun strapped to his ankle. Did he not notice it when he removed his shoes? At JFK International, agents opened a suitcase full of household items, and found that the containers of baby wipes, coffee, lemonade, and cat litter held two disassembled handguns, 350 rounds of ammunition, and 33 lbs. of marijuana.

    Passengers concealing armaments can be arrested and face criminal and civil charges. I should hope so. They can also be banned from the TSA’s expedited screening, permanently or — curiously — temporarily. How does that conversation go?

    “I’m sorry madam, but you are banned from expedited screening until 2016 for previously trying to board with a Walther PPK. Please step to the end of the regular security line, and place your Bible in a separate bin.”

    Just say no

    Admittedly, there are a lot of things air passengers have to remember, and prohibited carry-on items change frequently. My favorite nippers were taken from me at Charles De Gaulle International by two smiling security agents, and my cuticles have never been the same since. I wonder if any lipstick stun guns got by those two.

    Naive as I am, I would never have dreamed that firearms were allowed on flights in the United States, albeit unloaded, in locked containers, and in checked luggage. I’d have thought the only people allowed to carry weapons were air marshals or on-duty law enforcement. Incredibly however, TSA regulations permit passengers to bring along the following, provided they are properly secured and in checked luggage:

    unloaded firearms
    small arms ammunition
    BB guns, pellet guns, and compressed air guns
    parts of guns
    flare guns and starter pistols

    Why can’t people rent armaments at their final destinations, like cars or ski equipment? Can’t elite marksmen and weapons dealers ship their supplies on ahead? I think the TSA should take a page from former First Lady Nancy Reagan and just say no. To everything. From cuticle scissors on up.

    They forgot

    Until then, we just have to hope that most armed passengers are more confused than malicious. TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein, quoted by Reuters, noted “the most common excuse we hear from people is that they forget that they had their firearms with them.” Which dovetails perfectly with the comment of TSA spokesman Ross Feinstein that “it is a reminder that passengers should check their personal belongings before arriving at the TSA checkpoint to ensure they do not have any prohibited items in their possession.”


    In the future, my preflight checklist will go like this:

    Remove quart-size plastic bag with three-ounce containers of liquid from carry-on.
    Place electronic devices and their cases in separate bins.
    Remove coat and shoes.
    Make sure ankle holster is empty.
    Discard water and ammo.
    Check pockets for keys and guns.
    Leave sword at home.
    Trim cuticles in advance.

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