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24/03/2009 – How Can Guns Get Stolen From Check Baggage & Go Unnoticed?
Last week it was reported that law enforcement has busted a theft rings at St. Louis’ Lambert International Airport (STL). This theft ring was made up of a handful of contractors working for Delta Airlines, and as it turns out the theft ring had been going on for approximately 15 months.
While I am not shocked by the theft ring, and I am even less shocked that these ramp agents worked in a secure basement area that has no security monitoring cameras, I am shocked about one specific aspect of items recovered by law enforcement.
When police completed their raid, they recovered two handguns. These two hand guns had seemingly been removed by the airport thieves from checked luggage! This to me poses a serious problem with the security of how checked firearms are dealt with in terms of airport security on two fronts.
The guns ended up being stolen one of two ways
1) The guns were properly declared, packed, locked and sent on with the baggage
2) The gun were not properly declared, not locked and secured, packed in regular checked baggage and completely missed by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) baggage screeners.
Lets explore Option #1 first…
When a passenger checks a firearm of any kind they must declare the weapon to the airline counter agent. The airline must contact the TSA, who in turn often contacts law enforcement to inspect the weapon. The firearms are inspected to ensure it is not loaded and that the firearm and ammunition are packed properly.
Once the firearm and shipping case inspection is completed, the passenger must lock the TSA approved hard-sided case with locks that DO NOT comply with TSA/Sentry Lock guidelines. This ruling on locks is in place so that only the passenger may unlock the weapon once it has been secured within the case, and TSA baggage area agents, or anyone else who has access to ‘Sentry Keys’ cannot open the case while in transit.
The secure firearm case is generally marked for ‘special handing,’ tagged and sent along.
Given the security in place for placing a gun into the custody of an airline for transport as baggage it is alarming that the thieves were able to gain access to the locked gun case and get the handguns out of the airport undetected. This is a serious security breach and one that can cause massive problems with commercial aviation security.
For this crew of thieves to have broken open an approved firearm case and its locks, someone had to notice the bolt cutters being used in a busy baggage sorting room. If this is the case, where is the oversight? How did the airline not report losing a firearm in transit? A lost firearm from an airport should have triggered an alert at every airport that handled the firearm case. Once a gun goes missing in an airport, it means quite simply there is an unknown weapon present in a secure section of a ‘sterile’ airport environment.
…now into Option #2
Option #2 is that two passengers packed their firearm in their regular checked baggage. They packed their clothes, their shoes, their toiletries, their handgun and maybe some sunscreen; they zipped up the bag and checked in it at the airport without ever declaring their weapon to the airline counter agent.
If passengers are checking guns in their baggage it should be spotted by the Tsar’s baggage screeners. 100% of passenger checked baggage is x-rayed by the TSA. 100% of bags are expected to be viewed by a human and bags with blind spots or something that looks like…oh I don’t know…maybe a gun…is supposed to be opened and inspected by hand.
If multiple guns where checked, unsecured in non-compliant checked baggage, and not spotted by the TSA, there is a serious training issue with the TSA at STL that needs to be immediately addressed.
I have contacted multiple people within the TSA as well as the public affairs office at St. Louis Lambert International Airport trying to find out how ramp agents could come into possession of firearms that were in the checked baggage. At this time I have only spoken with the Public Affairs official for STL, who only had access to the written protocols for passengers flying with firearms.
I have yet to hear back from any one of the five people I left messages for at the Transportation Security Administration regarding this issue.
Once I can find more answers on how two handguns go missing from two different pieces of checked baggage at one airport I plan to follow up on this issue.
Either way these handguns ended up in the hands of thieves working in the secure ‘sterile’ area of an airport and I am deeply concerned due to the potential ramifications of how this went unnoticed.