Hopefully, writing this story will make me feel a little better. But I guess I need to start this cathartic tale with a little background.
As many of you know, my wife Joana and I recently moved from Kentucky to Puerto Rico. So far, it’s been great! We basically plan to live here half the year, and in the Philippines the other half.
One of the first things I did when I got here was to start the process of applying for my Puerto Rico Weapons License. I can’t carry, or even import any of my own guns, until I get this done. So it’s a priority for me. I was happy that I got 100% on both the written test and the shooting test, even though the class was fully in Spanish, and I’m not yet even close to fluent.
Now I am waiting for the last step. I have to have a meeting with the local Police Chief in my little town, and get his blessing. I guess this somehow assures everyone that I’m a good guy. I really don’t know what it’s supposed to accomplish. In any case, I scheduled the meeting in June. The earliest appointment I could get is 18 November!
I don’t know at what point a little inconvenient delay becomes an infringement of one’s rights, but five months seems pretty excessive. Back in Kentucky, people are arguing about whether an ID should be required for someone to exercise their Constitutional voting rights. Imagine if we required people to wait five months and meet with their local Police Chief before being allowed to register to vote.
Anyway, the point of all that is to say that other than my shooting test, I haven’t been able to so much as touch a gun since I got here. I’m sure whatever skills I once had have already deteriorated. For that reason, I decided to bring my trusty SIRT 20C Training Pistol to Puerto Rico and concentrate on dry fire training while I wait for my rights to be affirmed.
If you’ve never used a SIRT before, it’s really a fantastic training device. The weight and dimensions very closely match a real gun (in this case, a carry-length SIG P320), so you can use the same holsters, and the training is very realistic. The only difference is that the SIRT can’t fire actual ammunition; it “fires” a laser beam every time you pull the trigger. Couple that with some good software, like LASR X, and you can safely and easily practice shooting drills at home.
We’re almost to the point of this whole story, I promise. Just one more important piece of background information.
When Joana and I came down in June, I packed my Hornady RAPiD® Safe Night Guard® in one of the many moving boxes. This is a fantastic bedside gun safe. Of course, I couldn’t bring any guns to put in it yet, but I filled the empty space inside with various cables, a few tools, and other unrelated things.
Of course, when TSA x-rayed that box and then opened it, they got very excited. They thought they had caught someone trying to smuggle an undeclared gun. They pulled us away from the boarding gate and asked for the code to open the safe. Once I gave it to them, they gave me quite the tongue lashing for packing a locked gun safe in my checked luggage (even though it didn’t contain an actual gun). I’ll admit, I probably deserved that. I just honestly didn’t even think about it. So lesson learned–don’t pack a locked safe inside your checked luggage.
Now, fast forward to this latest trip. In addition to my SIRT, I decided to bring down a SnapSafe® Lock Box, which is a fantastic safe for handgun storage in a car, or when checking a gun on a flight. Having learned my lesson last time, I decided to leave the safe unlocked this time. I put the SIRT in the safe for protection, and to save space. I even added a handwritten note, saying “this is a laser training pistol, NOT a real gun!”
I fully expected the TSA to open my luggage after x-raying it, and then after seeing the harmless SIRT, they’d move on in their continued search for terrorists. Boy, was I wrong!
The first sign of trouble came as we were at the gate, and just getting ready to board our flight. Joana was paged over the airport PA system to “return to the Delta ticket counter to meet with a TSA agent.” Lovely. So we exited the secure area, and returned to the ticket counter where an apologetic TSA agent passed along her supervisor’s request that “because this thing looks very realistic” we have to go through the normal process of declaring a firearm, affirming that it’s unloaded, etc. And because this particular piece of luggage was tagged in Joana’s name, she was the one who had to declare it.
I calmly explained that we could not, under penalty of perjury, falsely declare this inert training device to be a firearm. Furthermore, neither one of us has a Weapons License yet in Puerto Rico, so we would be declaring that we were illegally importing a firearm.
Of course, now the clock is ticking, and we’re at risk of missing our flight (meaning we’d miss the last connection of the day to San Juan). So the TSA agent calls her supervisor. When he showed up, I couldn’t believe it was the same guy who just two months earlier had given us the strong lecture for having checked a locked gun safe (sans gun) in our luggage. Great.
This time, he jumps right in and explains that we should have declared this “very realistic-looking gun” and stored it in the LOCKED safe inside the luggage. I reminded him that a) this isn’t an actual gun and b) last time, he warned us for locking a safe that didn’t have a gun in it.
I explained to him that the TSA’s own web site is very clear that realistic replicas of firearms can be carried in checked bags, and there is no indication that they must be declared or locked. He wasn’t having any of it. He said it’s a judgment call that’s strictly up to the TSA agent. I told him that just made no sense, and he shouldn’t be asking me to file a FALSE declaration. And I repeated for his benefit that we don’t yet have a Weapons License in Puerto Rico, so we certainly weren’t going to make a false declaration admitting to a crime.
In the meantime, the local Delta station manager was making some phone calls and somehow apparently got a fairly senior TSA staffer in DC on the horn. He handed the phone to the local TSA guy, who was apparently told to back down on requiring the declaration. Woohoo!
But to save face, he still insisted that we had to lock the safe and verbally declare to him that the SIRT “isn’t loaded.” I told him I have no idea what that even means, but I finally just said “I promise you there is nothing at all in any of my luggage that has any ammunition in it.” I handed him the key to the safe, and he headed off to wherever the secret luggage inspection area is located.
Now the gate agent is calling our names on the PA. “Last and final boarding call for Totten, party of two; the boarding door will be closing in two minutes!”
The supervisor returned with my key. And the original, apologetic agent handed us a special red “go to the front of the line” card for security. We ran there, showed the agent our IDs, boarding passes and gave him the red card. He tried to process us quickly, but forgot to give us the new, required green cards for TSA Precheck.
So as we’re rushing to throw our stuff on the Precheck bag belt and run through the metal detector, the agent there stopped us and said we could not proceed without the newly required green card. Fantastic. I turned and started to run back to the ID checker to get the green cards when another TSA agent said “sir, that’s OK, you have Precheck on your boarding pass. Go ahead.”
But then the first agent literally barked out “STOP!” Everyone at the checkpoint turned to look at us. She started arguing with the second agent about the new policy memo that came out last week requiring the green cards, and how no one could pass without one, regardless of what’s on their boarding pass! Seriously?!
While the two TSA agents argued, I went back and asked the ID checker for these magic green cards, showing them that the two of us have indeed been judged worthy of having Precheck. I hand one card to Joana and the other to the barking agent.
Now she still wouldn’t allow me to pass! She says “sir, you need to calm down and follow my orders.” There were a million things I wanted to say, but I just went with “please, have mercy on us; we are about to miss our flight.”
No thanks to the barking chest thumper agent, we somehow got back through the security checkpoint and literally sprinted (as best as two really overweight people can “sprint”) to the gate. Luckily, the station manager had called the gate and asked them to hold the flight until the last possible second. We got there just in time.
So what’s the moral of the story? I really don’t know. I guess from now on, I will be shipping my SIRT pistol to myself.