TSA, gun owners forge new partnerships in Indiana, Texas

Tuesday, March 19, 2024
TSA officers at Indianapolis International Airport detect this realistic firearm replica. (@TSA_GreatLakes, X)

With passengers bringing a record number of firearms through our nation’s airports, a pair of TSA inspectors (TSIs) in Indianapolis felt it was time to develop some new partnerships in their community.

TSIs Rick Miller and Paul Bailey embraced the idea to forge connections with local gun owners, educating them on how to fly with firearms.

“We were tired of being reactive and wanted to come up with something outside the box that hadn’t been tried before and that was truly proactive,” said Miller. “We wanted to address the issue before the passenger ever got to the airport.”

With support from TSA Indiana leadership, Miller and Bailey created the Indiana Firearms Liaison Initiative. 

Incorrectly packaged firearms parts discovered in a checked bag at Burlington National Airport. (@TSA_NewEngland, X)
Incorrectly packaged firearms parts discovered in a checked bag at Burlington National Airport. (@TSA_NewEngland, X)

“I had the idea to start going to shooting ranges and gun stores to just talk to business owners, while Paul suggested we look into attending gun shows, which I thought was a brilliant idea,” Miller recalled. “I looked up the next gun show in our area and was able to coordinate a booth for us.”

They wanted enhanced firearms education material to hand out at the shows and connected with TSA Strategic Communications and Public Affairs (SCPA) Assistant Administrator Alexa Lopez to redesign and rewrite the new Prepare, Pack, Declare flyer.

“We wanted something clear and concise that a potential passenger would actually read and find useful,” Miller said. “You would be shocked how many gun show attendees tell us they didn’t even know they could travel by air with their firearm, let alone the right way to do it.”

Miller is an avid firearms owner who has spent a lot of time at gun shows, shops, ranges and competitions and was a marksmanship trainer and coach in the U.S. Army, so this was an easy fit for him.

Traveling with your firearm

“Given my background and Paul’s background with firearms in the Marine Corps, we decided the point-of-sale locations and gun shows would be the most effective way to reach a broad audience who, at a minimum, has interest in firearms,” said Miller. “From the shows, we received considerable interest from various show vendors who asked us to come to their brick-and-mortar shops.”

Their presence at local gun shows has been a huge hit.

“After the first Indianapolis gun show we attended, the show organizer told us vendors and attendees thanked him for our presence, so he would reserve two tables for us at every show free of charge because of how valuable he thought it was,” Miller noted.

DFW tries to turn the tide in Texas

TSA officers at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) detect three to five firearms a day, most are loaded, and believe it or not, many are in DFW’s TSA PreCheck® lanes.

TSA DFW Federal Security Director Kriste Jordan-Smith said, “We embarked on a project in late 2023 to do some follow-up questioning of those bringing weapons to the checkpoints. The overwhelming response was, ‘I forgot I was carrying’ and ‘I was in a hurry and didn’t think to clear my bag before packing.’”

Jordan-Smith also teamed up to lead a workshop at TSA headquarters to come up with solutions to tackle DFW’s increasing firearms numbers at the checkpoint and said participating in large gun shows was an important outcome of the workshop. Her team adopted Indy’s game plan to reach out to gun owners, participating in gun shows during the holiday season including one of the largest shows in the world.

“Rather than reinvent the wheel, we used the materials they developed for rapid deployment in the DFW area,” said Jordan-Smith. “Their guidance and partnership have been invaluable.”

She said a major sponsor of gun shows in North Texas was so impressed, they welcome TSA at all of their shows, like the Indianapolis team, free of charge.

Her team is also partnering with SCPA on a local media plan to adjust their key messaging. 

TSA display at an Indianapolis area gun show. (Rick Miller photo)
TSA display at an Indianapolis area gun show. (Rick Miller photo)

“The message is less admonishment, more meeting travelers where they are – prevent them from having a difficult day of making a dangerous and embarrassing mistake,” Jordan-Smith emphasized. “We believe if we educate on the memory problem and the risk factors associated with that, we can finally turn the tide and reduce the problem at DFW.”

She gave a special shout-out to the DFW inspectors attending the gun shows and hopes all of their efforts send a very simple message to gun owners in Texas and around the country – “Help us help you.”

“A weapon carried through a checkpoint can result in delayed and missed flights, civil penalties of up to $15,000, loss of TSA PreCheck, loss of a job and the personal embarrassment of being deemed an irresponsible gun owner,” Jordan-Smith stressed.

Correcting the narrative

Miller understands TSA has to take the right approach to successfully reach out to gun owners.

“We work very hard to approach the issue purely from an education standpoint and try to correct the narrative that ‘TSA confiscates’ firearms,” said Miller. “We make sure we inform people that they absolutely can travel with firearms, and it is the passenger’s responsibility to know the firearms laws.”

From his interactions with passengers, Miller feels some of the misconceptions related to firearms travel are which locks to use, how much ammunition travelers can bring and where the declaration form (with the airlines) goes once it is completed.

He reinforces, “Passengers can use any lock they want. TSA doesn’t have a minimum lock requirement, although some airlines have specific gun lock policies. Federal regulations only require the gun case to be locked.

“Ammo may be carried in the case with the firearm or separately in checked luggage as long as it is packaged in a container that is designed and manufactured to carry ammunition. Also, declaration forms will sit on top of or in the immediate proximity to the firearms case if it is inside another piece of checked luggage and inside the case with the firearm if it is by itself in a long gun case.”

The bottom-line message Miller hopes to convey to local gun owners is, “There is a right way to do it, and not only will we tell you how to do it, we will show you how to do it.”

For more information on how to prepare, pack and declare a firearm for travel, check out TSA’s Transporting Firearms and Ammunition webpage.

By Don Wagner, TSA Strategic Communications & Public Affairs