How To Pack Your Gun

Sunscreen, check. Floppy hat and flip flops, check. Glock pistol, double check.

This year, the Transportation Security Adminstration (TSA) has added something new to its list of tips designed to help spring break travelers get through airport security quickly and without drama.

In previous years, this advice has typically included general packing hacks on how to pack liquids, how to remove laptops and electronic devices for inspection and what not to pack in checked luggage. “Some travelers pack the craziest items,” chirped the 2018 blog post.

Two years ago, the TSA reminded travelers to pack any item that could possibly be used as a weapon in their checked luggage. “Anything with a blade, including all knives, cigar cutters and corkscrews with blades,” the agency’s 2019 post advised.

What a difference a pandemic year makes. For 2021, the TSA’s spring break advice features two new tips that reflect these uncertain times in America. The first is a Covid-19 reminder to wear a face mask in the airport. The second is a lesson on how to legally pack a firearm for a flight.

“No guns at checkpoints,” reads tip number 4. “Airline passengers can fly with firearms only in checked baggage. All firearms must be properly packed and declared at check-in. Contact your airline for additional guidance.” 

Guns sales in the U.S. surged last year, driven by a variety of factors that include fears about the Covid-19 pandemic, political unrest, and the 2020 election. Nearly 23 million firearms were sold in the United States in 2020, estimates the consultancy Small Arms Analytics and Forecasting (SAAF). It was the busiest year on record for the gun industry, with sales up 60% over 2019.

With more guns in the U.S., it may make sense that the TSA is seeing more people traveling with guns — a lot more.

Half a billion fewer travelers flew out of U.S. airports in 2020 compared to 2019, which translated to a massive 61% drop in passengers screened. But during the same period when fewer Americans were flying, the gun seizure rate at TSA checkpoints doubled.

Last year, the agency seized 10.2 guns per million passengers screened, twice the five firearms per million travelers screened in 2019. It was the highest gun seizure rate since the TSA’s inception 19 years ago.

Airport security screeners routinely find guns in carry-on suitcases, purses, backpacks, shopping totes and laptop bags — all of which are illegal.

In recent months, TSA has ramped up its education campaign with PSAs on social media. “Travelers should never bring a firearm to a checkpoint, even if you have a concealed carry permit,” the agency tweeted in August 2020. “Doing so will be an inconvenient & expensive mistake. Civil financial penalty for bringing an unloaded gun to a checkpoint is $2,050 & starts at $4,100 if the gun is loaded.”

Those last four words apply to the vast majority of incidents. Of the 3,257 firearms seized at airport security checkpoints in 2020, about 83% were loaded, according to TSA records.

Spring break travelers should also know that the fine for illegally packing a firearm can go up to the current statutory maximum of $13,669 per violation, depending on the circumstances, according to the TSA’s complete list of penalties.

That would be one very expensive souvenir.


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N.J. gun rights groups want no part of any possible armed protest at the Statehouse

New Jersey is preparing for the possibility of an “armed march” Sunday at the Statehouse in Trenton.

But state law says almost anyone who shows up armed in public could face years in prison, and Second Amendment proponents are urging gun owners to stay away.

“The penalties are draconian,” said Evan Nappen, a prominent gun-rights attorney in Eatontown. “Every Second Amendment organization that I know of in New Jersey, every legitimate one, is opposed to any type of armed rally.”

The concern follows last week’s deadly riot in the U.S. Capitol.

Officials have asked residents to report any suspicious activity amid reports of more protests nationwide, although there’s “no known specific or credible threat to our state’s capital,” Jared Maples, director of New Jersey’s Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, said Wednesday.

A State Police spokesman said only one group was recently granted a permit to protest at the Statehouse — and that was NJ Parents for In-Person Learning, which got the green light to rally this past Wednesday.

No organization has been granted a permit for the coming days through Jan. 20, the day of the presidential inauguration, according to Sgt. Lawrence Peele.

With or without a permit, you generally can’t walk around holding a gun in the Garden State.

You can apply for a concealed carry permit, but that can take years and a local police union recently argued in a lawsuit that the process even blocked many retired cops from carrying.

Residents may travel with guns, but generally only if they’re locked up and unloaded, and only if they’re going to certain places, like a shooting range.

Some weapons are banned entirely, including semi-automatic rifles with certain features.

Nappen has represented many people threatened with hard time — from three to five to ten year sentences — because of firearms offenses.

“A warning to all law-abiding gun owners: Under no circumstances attend or support this absurd rally,” Nappen added.

NJ Advance Media staff writer Brent Johnson contributed to this report.

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Blake Nelson can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @BCunninghamN.

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Have gun, will travel. National Guard comes to DC armed and ready to protect

WASHINGTON — Standing across the street from the 7-foot tall black metal fence that now surrounds the U.S. Capitol building, National Guard soldiers shifted feet to brace themselves against the cold wind.

Troops from Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York and Virginia joined those from D.C. Leaving their homes and jobs, the Guard troops are here, three days after five people — including two Air Force veterans — were killed in an attempted insurrection.

They are here to help ensure it does not happen again.

An impromptu memorial for Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, an Air Force veteran, killed during the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol by pro-Trump supporters. (Howard Altman/staff)
An impromptu memorial for Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, an Air Force veteran, killed during the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol by pro-Trump supporters. (Howard Altman/staff)

“I never thought I would see this in my own country,” said one of them, who, like other troops, spoke anonymously without authorization to speak on the record.

The soldier is part of a major mobilization effort that has seen about 6,200 National Guard troops flow into town from several nearby states. The troops are already all in town.

Troops expressed a true sense of duty and urgency, to help protect a city still on edge after the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot stoked by rhetoric from outgoing President Donald Trump and just ahead of the Jan. 20 inauguration of his successor, Joe Biden.

Passersby showed their appreciation with nods and thumbs up.

“Thanks for coming,” many said as the hurried past the troops.

Bad moon rising

Even as Washington licks its wounds and tries to recover from an assault on the seat of government, a new wave of unrest may be about to crest.

Those who stormed the Capitol were able to stall, but not end the certification of the 2020 presidential election making Biden the official winner. Now social media is full of posts extolling what’s been dubbed the “Million Militia March” in which Trump supporters will return to the Capitol ahead of the inauguration.

Private chat groups on Gab and Parler are full of posts talking about possibly disrupting Biden’s inauguration, the New York Times reports.

There is chatter about ride shares, where to find lodging in the Washington area — and what to bring. Baseball bats, perhaps, or assault rifles.

“We took the building once,” one commenter posted, according to the Times, “we can take it again.”

The Washington Post reported a call for armed marchers around the nation.

“REFUSE TO BE SILENCED,” said one online post cited by Alethea Group, calling for an “ARMED MARCH ON CAPITOL HILL & ALL STATE CAPITOLS” for Jan. 17, the last Sunday of Trump’s polarizing presidency. Another post called for action at “DC & All State Capitols” and was signed by “common folk who are tired of being tread upon” declares: “We were warned!”

Ready to protect

Guard officials would not comment on the specifics of the Million Militia March.

“The DC National Guard stands ready to support the incident command and is committed to supporting our local and federal agency partners,” said Air National Guard Senior Master Sgt. Craig Clapper, a DCNG spokesman.

Ready, in this case, may mean that these troops are authorized to stand watch armed, if needed. But that’s something that has yet to happen.

Some of the National Guard troops who have rushed to the nation’s capital brought weapons, but do not initially plan on carrying them, said Clapper.

“We are not carrying weapons now, but any changes in posture will be determined by intel reports and risk assessment,” he said.

For Guard troops standing outside to guard the Capitol, watching the Jan. 6 attack unfold was reminiscent of what many experienced on Sept. 11, 2001.

“We knew right away that we were going to come here,” said one Guard soldier.

National Guard troops stand watch at the Capitol building. (Howard Altman/Staff)
National Guard troops stand watch at the Capitol building. (Howard Altman/Staff)

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