Guns, knives & grenades at the airport

Photo courtesy TSA

Each Friday on msnbc.com’s Overhead Bin, I track down an answer to a reader’s question. This week the topic was: guns, knives and grenades at the airport checkpoint.

Throwing knives found in a carry-on at BWI

Should you pack your gun, your grenade or your carving knife in a carry-on bag when you go to the airport?

Definitely not, but apparently a number of people do.

According to a recent post on the Transportation Security Administration’s blog, TSA officers have found more than 800 firearms in carry-on bags this year.

And that number doesn’t include the countless knives that still show up at airport security checkpoints daily — it’s so many that the TSA doesn’t even keep count — or the many inert grenades that passengers try to take home as souvenirs.

Last week, for example, a passenger at the Orlando International Airport showed up with three pistols — a .25-caliber, a .40-caliber semiautomatic and a .357-caliber revolver — in a bag that also contained loose ammunition and a loaded magazine. In Baltimore, the TSA recently found three throwing knives in the carry-on bag of a Mexico-bound traveler. And on Monday, TSA officers at New York’s Albany International Airport discovered a loaded gun in the purse of a woman heading to Detroit.

The two passengers with guns were arrested; the traveler with the knives was cited, and his weapons were confiscated.

It’s unlikely that passengers plan to use their weapons during flight, but it’s difficult to know for sure since people often respond to TSA questioning by saying, “I forgot that it was in my bag.”

Given how frequently illicit weapons are discovered, Overhead Bin asked TSA spokesperson Lisa Farbstein for advice on the proper way to fly with firearms.

Farbstein said fliers may transport  firearms, ammunition and firearm parts in their checked baggage even though those items are prohibited from carry-on baggage.

“Basically, travelers must declare all firearms, ammunition, and parts to the airline during the ticket counter check-in process,” Farbstein said. “The firearm must be unloaded and it must be in a hard-sided container [and] the container must be locked.”

You can read more about traveling on airplanes with guns, firearms, knives and other weapons on the TSA’s website, but Farbstein adds that “airlines may have additional requirements for traveling with firearms and ammunition. Therefore, travelers should also contact the airline regarding firearm and ammunition carriage policies.”

Or maybe, just plan to leave your weapons at home.