Loaded Gun in Checked Luggage at LAX


Media reports are expressing alarm about the fact that a loaded handgun was found by Alaska Airlines baggage workers loading planes on a flight at LAX on Sunday. The Los Angeles Times declared, "Security officials at LAX fail to detect loaded gun in bag,"  The gun fell out of a duffel bag that had been screened along with the rest of the checked baggage for the flight.

Despite all the hand-waving, guns in checked baggage are not illegal (though they are supposed to be disclosed to the airline and packed unloaded). Nor are they a threat to the safety of flights. And the idea that TSA should minutely inspect everything in checked bags would not only add costs and time to the bag-screening process. It would also make an already overly-intrusive TSA into even more of a threat to people's privacy and liberty.

We need to distinguish here between what is being looked for at passenger checkpoints and what is being looked for in checked baggage. At the passenger checkpoint, TSA is instructed to look for anything that might be used as a weapon by a passenger during the flight—knives, guns, explosive vests, underwear bombs, shoe bombs, etc. Many aviation security experts believe, correctly in my view, knives and guns are not as serious a threat as they were prior to 9/11. That's due to both strengthened and locked cockpit doors and the vigilance of passengers and cabin crews to resist any attempt to gain access to the cockpit.

Checked baggage screening is a different story. Here, the threat being guarded against is explosives. It is to detect explosives in checked bags that airports and the TSA have spent billions purchasing several thousand huge explosive detection machines. They use equipment similar to CAT scanners to check for objects with a density similar to known explosive substances. If a potential object of this type is detected by the machine, the bag is flagged for closer visual inspection.

If TSA policy were changed to require the baggage-screening system to flag any bag containing a long list of items not permitted in carry-on bags (knives, guns, etc.), the number of flagged bags would soar. Inspecting all of them by hand would require more airport security screeners, and significantly more time. That would balloon TSA's already bloated budget and could easily make flights depart late, further inconveniencing air travelers.

Even more serious, in my view, is that this would further interfere with the right to travel unmolested. TSA is not a law enforcement agency. Yet mission creep has affected the agency from the start. A good example is its Behavior Detection Officer program, which now has several thousand agents standing around observing passengers in airport terminals, taking aside for questioning any that look suspicious (based on a check-list each BDO must memorize). That program has not caught a single would-be terrorist. But TSA touts as successes its having nabbed scores of illegal aliens, people carrying small amounts of drugs, etc. There are serious civil liberties issues in giving a non-law-enforcement agency this kind of power. Pawing through people's checked luggage for things that pose no threat to aviation would only expand this threat.

NEXT: Nick Gillespie Talks Honest Budget Act B.S. on CNN's Out Front with Erin Burnett

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  1. TSA Screeners Leave Passenger A Nice Note About Her Vibrator

    Of course, being Jezebel, some of the commenters feel they have to rush to the defense of the poor, hard-working Federal employees.

    1. Wow, that mind meld we did worked after all. It’s scary inside SugarFreebrain and I want out.

      1. Filipovic told BoingBoing that she’d been traveling with a “Silver Bullet”


        I’ll bet she prefers missionary with the lights off, too.

          1. Sleeper?

            1. Annie Hall

        1. Is that like a totally mainstream vibrator or something? What masturbatory aides are the hipsters ironically using?

          1. Bamboo and over-wound clocksprings made out of recycled bra underwires.

            1. Fleshlights decorated one of those little mustache finger-tattoos and a set of thick-rimmed glasses.

                1. OMFG

                  1. Dude, H&R rule number 3: NEVER EVER CLICK A SUGARFREE LINK!

          2. Apparently this thing. I I don’t get it. What goes in where?

            1. Genealogical tools for mutant women, or maybe just their running shoes.

              1. Genealogical? So we are looking into their family history now?

            2. I saw one of those at a Hotel Caf? show. I thought it was a cellphone.

            3. I’m no engineer, but I think the narrow part goes up and in.

              I saw this and thought of you.

              For Warty

              1. Is that some sort of penis-stapler? That looks like a terrible idea.

                Also, +1 on the Hitachi. Using it almost feels like cheating.

            4. I guess you’d kinda… straddle it? That looks incredibly unappealing but that’s coming from someone with zero interest in fucking inanimate objects so what do I know.

              1. Kind of like a reverse bicycle seat, maybe?

                1. Whoa, Sug, this whole brainsharing thing has really gone too far. Don’t tell Warty what I really think about him.

                  1. As long as you don’t think I’m without substance. That would be too much.

          3. If the TSA had attached a note to her Hitachi, I’d offer to buy her a new one and ask her to be my future ex-wife.

          4. A vintage Schwinn bicycle banana seat hotglued to an old Perfection game.

        2. Not everybody uses the dildosaw, dude.

    2. Tara Babcock @GreatWhiteGoddess
      Anti-bacterial anything is bad news. It encourages bacteria and viruses to mutate into superbugs that resist antibiotics. Use soap and warm water.

      What a lack of substance.

      1. Could somebody explain what this “substance” insta-meme is about? I’ve been working today.

          1. Well, it was Warty who introduced me to the Kantian relationship of noumenon to phenomenon. Granted, it was indirectly through German death metal, but still.

            1. Did I post this one? I can’t keep track of my metal.

              1. I was making the whole thing up, then you go and confirm it.

                Really, MNG has wronged you wrongfully.

          2. Now, bash MNG all you want, but I’ve heard tell that he makes more money than either of you.

            Based on statistical representations of average incomes, no less.

          3. To be fair, concern trolling is hard.

            And MNG’s a dick.

    3. Outstanding thread-jack – so to speak.

  2. Rest assured, people. The TSA may miss loaded guns but they will definitely catch your sex toys. And then leave a creepy, unprofessional note so you know your privacy has been violated. Keeping America Safe!


      1. There is no substance to that comment SF. And besides you don’t have a PHD and make less money than me.

        1. Some of the Jezebel comments are hilarious. They’re worried that some TSA person(s) might have stuck the vibrator up their asses (what, there are no vaginal-Americans at the TSA? Sexist, ladies!) and they were talking about the woman throwing the thing out. Some helpful commenterers suggested cleaning it instead:

          If you don’t know if someone touched it, CLEAN IT. Don’t throw it away. That’s just dumb.

          Well, saying it’s dumb is going a bit far but ya, I have anti-bacterial spray for the toys.

          You don’t know what else they did with it.

          That’s true of anything you check at an airport, but I think it’s pretty unreasonable to assume they shove your posessions up their asses, including a vibe. And, seriously, even IF they did, clean it and move on. Just about anything they could give you doesn’t do well once exposed to air.

          Seriously. Just run it through the dishwasher (after removing batteries of course).

          1. Wow. Just clean it and move on. Wow.

          2. They do that a lot. Have these oddly intense discussions about totally trivial, personal shit, and then get all huffy when people don’t take their advice. It’s like your bitchy mother-in-law taking it personally that you don’t, I don’t know, peel potatoes her way. These women are absolute nightmares.

            1. That’s interesting. I wonder if they’re responsible for regulations that require one part per eleventy billion of dangerous substances when the danger doesn’t exist below one part per one hundred thousand?

              1. I kind of doubt it. If you’re going to clean something you think someone might have put up his ass by tossing it in the dishwasher, I doubt you’re overly concerned about toxicity thresholds.

                1. I meant those who objected to merely cleaning it.

                  1. How do you clean things that were in other people’s asses?

          3. They’re worried that some TSA person(s) might have stuck the vibrator up their asses….

            It’s cool…I’m very clean up there.

  3. Can I pack a killer-drone in my luggage?

    1. It was a “Silver Bullet”: So either it was a knife missile or some sort of motorized Stephen King novella.

      1. What happens if you pack a panacea?

        1. I find that incredibly offense. You are well aware that my panacea doesn’t work.

          1. Not Joe’s fault you are incense resistant.

      2. What was that movie with the flying orb with a knife in it? Phantasm?

        1. Excellent – yes. The prongs came out right before its flight path intersected with someone’s forehead.


              1. You know, you’d think people wouldn’t want to actually purchase an orb that can kill you gruesomely.

                1. The market has spoken.

                  1. Sreiously – how fun would that killer orb be at a frat party?

                    1. Humans are fascinated with spherical merchants of death. The Phantasm orb. The orb from The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. Star Wars with its training orb and giant orb of planetary destruction. And so on.

                    2. And don’t forget that orb of death Fat Boy. And The Penguin in the Batman with Michael Keaton.

                    3. And the sun in Greek mythology. Positively orbical.

                    4. And Roy Orbison.

                      No, wait…

                    5. No, please continue.

  4. I guess that’s what you get with LAX security?

    1. Like we don’t hear that a thousand times a day.

      Get over here like the rest, Sir.

      1. Careful, I had Indian food for lunch.

        1. Of course we’ll respect your request for a private screening.

        2. I didn’t know you were a hunter gatherer!

          Oh – you didn’t say “White” Indian food…never mind…

    2. I gotta applaud that.

      +1 internets

  5. Inspecting all of them by hand would require more airport security screeners, and significantly more time.

    I’m sure they view that as a feature, not a bug.

    That would balloon TSA’s already bloated budget and could easily make flights depart late, further inconveniencing air travelers.

    Delays which will no doubt be used as an excuse for more government solutions.

  6. Behavior Detection Officer program, which now has several thousand agents standing around observing passengers in airport terminals, taking aside for questioning any that look suspicious

    Now you know. That weird dude in the restroom — he’s *BDO*.

  7. While the substance of this article is correct, never fear: the hand-wringing hysterical masses will demand…demand…increased security to ensure this catastrophic near-miss can never happen again. Someone could have been hurt. Do you not know what that means? How DARE you sit there and talk about freedom, when lives are at stake?

    1. Suddenly, I feel like Butters –

      “Aw, hamburgers…”
      *looks down, rubs hands together*

  8. So the baggage handlers “accidentally” discovered this guy’s gun which “fell” out of his luggage and reported it. Hands were wrung, reports filed, commendations written.

    Here’s a better story from the same paper:
    Counter-terrorism becomes part of law enforcement

    From the New York Police Department to small rural sheriff’s departments, agencies have added counter-terrorism to their traditional crime-fighting duties ? a shift that has cost billions of dollars and changed not just the equipment police use, but the way they approach law enforcement.

    Police officers now monitor extremist chat rooms, study the tactics and weaponry of the Taliban and Iraqi insurgents, and travel to Muslim countries to develop their own intelligence.

    The NYPD has more than 1,000 officers engaged in counter-terrorism, including a dozen based overseas. It recruits foreign-born New Yorkers and trains them in secret for undercover work.

    Drug War 2.0. Bigger, better, more federal grants!

    1. It is worse than that. It is not the drug war. It is the end of the intelligence law enforcement wall created by the Church Commission and EO 12333. They are running intelligence operations on the American people. If you can’t use the CIA to spy on Americans, no problem, just give the NYPD the same capabilities as the CIA.

      1. Well, it makes sense. They already tried “if you can’t use the military for law enforcement, just have law enforcement use military tactics and equipment,” and that went over pretty easily.

        1. “Police officers now monitor extremist chat rooms”

          At least we now have an explanation for o2.

    2. Jesus.Fucking.Christ. I was happier when I didn’t think about this.

      Of course, I was happier when I was 18 and immortal, too, so – whatever.

  9. Is this the thread for us to be cut-ups and post nothing of substance? Because here’s a mom who must want her kid to get swirlies every day from now until he graduates from high school.

    1. I am sooooo glad we didn’t have an 8mm camera when I was a kid, and that there was no YouTube….

      “Look – he’s crying”

      Yeah – thinking about the next year of HELL at school…

    2. Cat just sits there… like a BOSS!

    3. That is precious.

      It would have been better, however, if the cat had been dead.

  10. I give better than even odds that this is something the ATF cooked up.

    1. Was the owner a Mexican drug lord?

    2. It’s a top secret program called “The Gun In Mary Lou’s Handbag.” And the DoJ knows NOTHING, sees NOTHING…

    3. The traveler told authorities he had flown out of Portland with the same bag, with the gun inside, three days earlier. It was not clear whether he had notified the airline about the gun that time.

      So, the passenger volunteers hauling the gun out of Portland, but mums up about declaring it.

      SF, I think you’re on to them.

  11. Checking a gun at an airport is an interesting exercise. You have to open your case at the checkin counter for the inspection.

    When I would fly out of Madison, WI to hunt, the sudden unveiling of an Engine of Death caused some pearl-clutching and clenched buttocks amongst the prog/PC in the audience.

    At DFW, it draws an appreciative crowd, with knowledgable questions and an informed discussion of the pros and cons of various firearms.

  12. Uh, doesn’t ammunition (and thus a loaded gun) contain explosives? Unless my training and experience at the range has been woefully misguided.

    1. You’re allowed to check ammo. But not, as I recall, black powder. Explain that one, Mr. TSATF Man.

      1. Without checking, I’d suspect that it has to do with the properties of each. Black powder can be set off by a spark or heat, whereas modern ammunition requires a shock to set it off (I think). *Assuming* that this differentiation is the basis of the prohibition of one and not the other, I’m still at a loss to figure out what the practical difference is. One explodes in the crash and the other burns in the fire afterwards?

    2. It’s been a few years, but when I dropped a friend off at the airport with his rifle in checked baggage, they put a ginormous red tag on the bag so everybody in baggage handling knew there was something going on with his bag.

      1. That’s not allowed any more–it is a federal offense for a common carrier to label a package as containing a firearm.

    3. Gunpowder isn’t really an explosive. It doesn’t have the high velocity shockwave of an explosive like dynamite. And ammunition, by itself isn’t that dangerous, even if it’s in a fire and lights off.

      1. D’oh, I should have read farther down the page.

    4. Smokeless powder combusts rather than explodes. It is only dangerous when there is something to contain and channel the released energy (eg the casing and chamber of the gun forcing the expanding gases out the barrel). Without the gun to direct the combustion, there isn’t a risk of significant damage–a round of a ammo will just make a little pop if put in a fire.

      Black powder, OTOH, is a low explosive and isn’t allowed to be carried on planes.

  13. That was a relatively reasonable and educational article for the non-packing set, but it still held a bit of the breathless wonder that all of these “you can actually fly with firearms” articles seem to have. I’m glad no one saw fit to mention that if everyone’s actually following the laws, TSA isn’t allowed into a locked container if there’s a declared firearm inside. I think some people’s heads might explode.

    1. Starting with the TSA bozos at the airport. I know people that routinely take firearms on their travels – and they print out the TSA policy and present it to the TSA employees.

  14. The best empirical resource I’ve found for this stuff is from a colleague of mine at

    That’s where I learned that if you don’t want the government in your luggage, the best way is to pack a gun in it.

    By the way, it’s a violation of US law to put any externally visible indication that there’s a firearm in a bag, so if your airline puts the red tag on the outside or prints a little line of “FFFFFFFFFFFFF’ on your baggage claim label (I’m looking at you United!), you have every right to throw a fit.

  15. I’m one of the Baggage handlers there at Terminal 3 with Alaska Airlines. Sunday morning as I clocked in at about 8:30AM, I went outside to see an officer writing down a report. The flight was delayed due to the situation. One of the crew members working the flight told me a gun had slipped out of a bag. Immidiately i though to myself, who’s at fault for a LOADED weapon to slip past screening, out of a regular DUFFLE BAG. It is TSA’s fault for not detecting it. Whoever was sitting behind that screen must have been not giving their job their undivided attention. That gun is made out of metal and scanners pick that up right away.

    Now ask yourself this question. What if, on the morning of October 23rd, that gun would have been a Bomb, instead of a loaded handgun. What if that duffle bag that Bomb would have been in, been closed, and gone unseen by the crew working the flight that morning. More than 100 lives on the Alaska Airlines Seattle bound flight would have been lost all on the account of The Transportation Security Administration.

    The only reason why a loaded weapon was caught was because that duffle bag by a miracle or whatever you may call it, was partially open and the handgun happened to slip out.
    I hope someone got fired because of this. Feel free to email me at

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