Civil Liberties

Flying Out of NYC, Gun Owners? Not So Fast. The Locals Want To Bust You and Steal Your Firearms.


Gun lock boxes

The tale of a 65-year-old engineer, flying home to Alabama through LaGuardia Airport, and then dragged off in handcuffs after following all of the Transportation Security Administration's extensive rules for getting his .22 pistol from Point A to Point B, features in an Associated Press story.

As it turns out, Mike Connolly was arrested simply because he owned a firearm and was within the grasp of New York City authorities. City officials used the opportunity to mug him and steal his gun.

From Jake Pearson at Associated Press:

Mike Connolly thought he was doing everything by the book after a vacation last fall when he packed his handgun for the flight home from New York's LaGuardia Airport.

Following Transportation Security Administration guidelines, the 65-year-old Alabama engineer locked his unloaded Ruger .22 in a hard-sided container, put it in a checked bag, handed it to the ticket agent and told the agent the weapon was inside.

That's when he was slapped with handcuffs, arrested on a felony weapons possession charge and hauled off to jail.

Such incidents—travelers passing through New York City with locked, unloaded firearms and being arrested just because—are sufficiently common that at least one Queens Attorney maintains a page on his website devoted to his expertise in such matters. According to Martin Kane:

If you have been arrested for possession of a firearm or other weapon at JFK or LaGuardia airports in Queens County, NY, you probably share several traits with almost all of my airport gun arrest clients:

1) You are a law-abiding citizen who is careful to follow the law.

2) You recognize the responsibilities of gun ownership and are careful to handle, store, and transport your handgun in the safest way possible.

3) When you flew to New York, you carefully checked with both your airline and the TSA as to whether it was legal to transport your firearm in your luggage. You also learned and followed the strict requirements such as unloading and segregating ammunition, using a TSA approved lockbox, and submitting a TSA Declaration form.

The Associated Press agrees, saying of the 25 travelers arrested at New York City airports last year, "They were hardly nefarious gun runners. Most were otherwise law-abiding gun-owners who mistakenly thought they had appropriately packed their heat for travel."

For their troubles, if they don't fight, the "offenders" get their charges reduced to non-criminal violations with hundreds of dollars in fines—and city officials steal their guns. That's in addition to the time the travelers spent in jail for trying to do things by the rules.

If they fight, they face felony charges.

Why has New York City become such a trap for gun owners who are trying to follow the rules to get out of the place? Writes Kane, "The short answer is that New York has the toughest gun control laws in the world and does not recognize the legitimacy of any out of state licenses as conveying any rights in New York. To make matters worse, our current mayor has made gun law enforcement a signature issue and accordingly, the Queens District Attorney has set up a separate bureau headed by a high ranking official just for gun cases."

Queens Executive District Attorney Robert J. Masters, who sounds like quite the jerk, puts the blame on the arrestees. "There is, frankly, an element of irresponsibility. They've traveled. They realize that licenses are different around the country."

Remember, these travelers were trying to get out of New York City, so there's no pretense of keeping residents safe from (**gasp**) unloaded, locked guns. So licenses may be "different," but this is just a game of gotcha.

Update: And another New York attorney addresses gun-owning travelers busted at airports, and another, and another.

In 2012, the Guns & Patriots newsletter at Human Events called these incidents "shakedowns," noting that travelers who call airlines or LaGuardia to check on legal processes for transporting firearms are given no warning of special restrictions beyond TSA rules at all. They just face arrest once within the grasp of New York City officials.