Unsafe Abroad? Another American Arrested In Turks & Caicos After TSA Failed To Catch Ammo At Airport

A 30-year old American has been arrested after two bullets were found in his backpack prior to boarding a cruise in Turks & Caicos. He now faces 12 years in prison. The Virginia resident is a father of an 18-month old child and says he didn’t realize the bullets were there.

Didn’t we just hear this story? Why yes, we did. Those were other tourists who’d done the same thing in Turks & Caicos. In that case, an American says he even checked his bag prior to travel and made a mistake not to catch the four rounds of hunting ammunition in his bag. Another American is awaiting trial over ammunition found in his checked bag.

The problem stems from a change in Turks & Caicos law based on a new court ruling in February, and from TSA’s persistent failure to catch bullets going through security checkpoints at U.S. airports.

The sentences are harsh. Historically tourists could pay a fine – until a court decision just handed down in February that didn’t get much coverage beyond the islands. The U.S. has pressured countries over their laws before. Famously, the U.S. has pressured Singapore over chewing gum.

There’s a bit of a cultural divide in reaction to these cases. If you’re anti-gun, you probably feel like the tourists are getting their comeuppance. You have to know the laws wherever you go. Not everywhere is like the United States. And who is going to be so stupid as to bring ammunition into a foreign country?

Grace Bay Beach, Turks & Caicos

If you’re pro-gun your reaction is different. These people made an honest mistake, didn’t mean to hurt anyone, and it’s a bad look for a country hugely dependent on tourism. To them, they see draconian reactions as a signal that the destination is risky for Americans to visit, while to those opposed to guns, they see no risk to themselves in gun laws.

Providenciales International Airport

What I see in this is repeated failures by TSA. They keep letting ammunition past security checkpoints. These tourists are boarding planes at U.S. airports, bringing the ammunition past the watchful eyes of the TSA. We’re spending over $10 billion annually on the agency, surrendering rights, identifying ourselves and taking off our shoes and in exchange we don’t even get security from ammunition inside of airports and on planes.

TSA Queue

Former American Airlines CEO Doug Parker, who calls himself instrumental in creating the TSA, should learn a lesson from that.

And it’s important to know that laws abroad – often not enforced against tourists – sometimes can be. And things that you assume are fine at home may not be at your destination. Did you know that bringing vaping products into Australia is now illegal even with an Australian prescription? Your medicines may not be allowable. Your speech may not be ok, too. Don’t speak ill of the king in Thailand, or lament the loss of liberties in Hong Kong while visiting there.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Ironically the people who are pro-guns and are saying it was a simple mistake are probably on the same side of the Venn Diagram saying Brittney Griner should have died in a Russian prison for carrying essential oils.

  2. I am no fan of the TSA, but the “security” which contracted private “security” screeners care about is all about the money too — it’s about contract security and job security.

  3. If it’s not the machines, it’s the machine operators and the authorities priorities.

    Given how easy the TSA and prosecutors tend to be on those caught engaged in unlawful transport of guns and/or ammo at US airport security screening checkpoints, it seems pretty clear to me that the the TSA and other governmental authorities in the US are less obsessed about interdicting and seriously punishing bad gun and bullet owners than authorities in other countries.

    Just think about the following scenario:

    A gun-owning “high income professional” in the US assaults her/his spouse and the police and prosecutors find out about the domestic violence. When, if at all, do the police confiscate the firearms of the reported, domestic violence perpetrators in a place where there are a lot of M A G A supporters? Even in right-wing small town Sweden, the Swedish police come in and confiscate the gun in a matter of days at most — even well before the weapon owner comes into court for prosecution. Just goes to show how priorities matter.

    And speaking of priorities, if you want the TSA to get better at stopping guns and ammo at the passenger screening checkpoints, then demand they eliminate their passenger ID/identification checks. Those TSA-mandated ID/identity checks result in a de facto de-prioritization of stopping passengers from bringing guns and ammo as part of cabin baggage and consume resources that could be used for something that actually is useful: stopping the illegal flow of guns and other restricted armaments at the passenger screening checkpoints.

  4. I expect our government to do as much as they did for that wnba chick when she took weed into Russia.

  5. “When in Rome….” Whether one is a left wing looney or a far right wing conservative, one’s politics have nothing to do with the issue. The issue is, one’s rights might be way different in the United States (where one is presumed innocent until PROVEN guilty) or other countries (where one is presumed guilty until PROVEN innocent). I’m in the airline business. I am a responsible gun owner too. I am keenly aware that the laws are different from state to state and if one decides to legally fly with a weapon one better understand the rules and risks. If one flies to another country, the penalties for carrying a weapon OR anything considered legal in the US might not be legal elsewhere and DOUBLE CHECK before heading to the airport. Again…”when in Rome…”

  6. You need an export license to take ammo out of the US. The passenger needs to be charged by US authorities also.

  7. Another issue when traveling is RX prescriptions. I travel with an elderly group and some use very strong pain management prescriptions. We’re talking oxycontin. They want to store the pills in their weekly pill planner (Sunday thru Saturday). I insist they bring the RX bottle(s) as well!!
    From a prior post, I under stand Singapore and the Middle East are very strict about this. If you bring too much meds, you could also be hit with intent to distribute.

  8. It is beyond careless to travel with ammunition, drugs, firearms etc.

    It is ignorant beyond comprehension to believe that offenses in the US that would be perceived as minor won’t be prosecuted harshly in other jurisdictions.

    The rest of the world isn’t soft on crime and decriminalizing drugs like America. You want to get high, stay in blue cities. You want to shoot guns and have ammo, stay in Texas

  9. I disagree. It’s not the TSA’s job to protect passengers from breaking laws in foreign countries, even if it’s their job to find ammo in carry-ons, and no one should rely on them to do so. For example, in Japan and Singapore (among other countries) there are extremely strict penalties for bringing in certain medications, including some popular ones which I take. There’s a whole onerous process to make sure you can bring them in, which I make sure to do before going, but at the end of the day, the responsibility is on me as the passenger to make sure I’m in compliance.

    In this case, if the TSA did their job, the person wouldn’t be facing these charges, but they had the responsibility to make sure they wouldn’t be breaking any laws when going to a foreign country. The State Department website makes it pretty easy to check, as they usually flag laws like this where certain acts have far more severe consequences outside of the US. Also, while it most likely wouldn’t have resulted in more than a slap on the wrist and forfeiture of the ammo if the TSA had caught the guy, it still is against the law to travel with live ammo in your carry-on in the US. I often jam water bottles in my carry-on that I also use daily when not traveling without thinking of it. I always try to do a quick sweep before heading to the airport to make sure I take them out. One would think that the guy would have done a similar sweep for stray ammo before taking his hunting bag on a plane with him.

  10. Let’s face it, the “12 Years” is ClickBait … that sentence would be reserved for major and repeat offenders not these one-off incidents.

    Simply, don’t treat ammo so nonchalantly, with in the US or if you travel; if you treat it so lightly, you will get into trouble sooner or later. Same with weed.

  11. Two can play this game! Any high level dignitaries (or family of) coming to America?
    Better let the diplomats settle this nonsense……sooner rather than later.
    Turks and Caicos are now lowered in my eyes. This is what dictatorships do, like in Russia, North Korea, etc. in trying to find any infraction or mistake someone makes. They call it…upholding the law. In actuality it’s just playing….Ha, ha….I got you. Iran has made $Billions playing this game and Russia uses it to get their henchmen back home.

  12. Doug Parker is responsible for the trashing of American Airlines into an overpriced ULCC and underperforming carrier, as well as being “instrumental in creating the TSA,” therefore may lay claim to being most instrumental in making travel miserable in USA.

  13. A bunch of the senior folks at work went on a hunting trip in South America. The VP of Finance decided to stop over in one of the islands on the way home and was detained because he had live ammo in his checked bag. Ultimately, charges were dropped, and it became a warning story.

  14. I get that people make mistakes. Maybe you left a liquid item that you didn’t put in the required clear bag (like lipstick or deodorant). Once we had a corkscrew because we’d had to buy one while traveling and forgot to discard it. Bullets? We are gun owners. If we traveled with a gun and ammo, we wouldn’t just forget to remove them from the bag. I also don’t understand loose ammo. Were the bullets just lying around in the bag? Usually, they’d be in a box. It is our responsibility to check our bags out and make sure we don’t carry items such as ammo or guns to airports, especially when traveling abroad.

  15. “If you’re anti-gun, you probably feel like the tourists are getting their comeuppance.” Yea? People who think like that deserve all the terrible things that befall them. its one thing if someone brings a gun into a foreign country, but pieces of ammunition are tiny and can fall out of containers and be sitting at the bottom of a bag and not easily seen (notice how TSA didn’t even find them). Pieces of ammunition are completely harmless if you don’t have a firearm. To send someone to prison for 12 years because a piece of ammo was found at the bottom of their bag is just absurd. The only people who would think this is ok is people with zero experience with firearms who don’t get just how easy it is for this to happen given how small a piece of ammo is.

  16. “You need an export license to take ammo out of the US. The passenger needs to be charged by US authorities also.” because 12 years in prison isn’t enough for two pieces of ammo?

  17. Ammo is allowed in checked luggage, and you say at least two of these guys had the ammo in their checked luggage when they left the US. So what does TSA have to do with this? They weren’t supposed to catch this anyway. Would you be happier if they pulled passengers aside (at the gate? When, if this is checked luggage?) and interrogated them for something that was potentially completely legal? Even by Gary’s standards, this is really dodging personal responsibility and blaming the government for your own mistakes.

  18. Gary, you are obviously under the mistaken impression that the TSA exists to protect the security of domestic flights. Whatever guns and ammo they find is tangential to their primary mission of defending the monopoly profits of those who sell bottled water in airports.

  19. I’ve had frozen brisket scanned, I’ve had my genitals essentially groped (I’m a male and so were the guards), and I’ve most recently had my camera and plane spotting gear snooped through. But somehow, miraculously, people’s ammo keeps getting past TSA.

    And let’s talk about the amount of privilege it takes to truly believe that rules aren’t meant for you.

  20. I’m a gun owner and hold two NRA Instructor certs… Sure, the TSA royally failed here, but you can’t blame them for this idiot getting caught with ammo in his backpack. I probably have half a dozen backpacks, bags, etc around my home and in my cars that have at least one loose live round in them. None of them will ever see the inside of an airplane though. I do multiple checks of all my bags and luggage before packing them for a flight, especially whatever I plan to use for my laptop and carry on (though mostly for knives)… Just in case. Simple mistakes can easily be avoided by putting just a little thought in beforehand. But common sense isn’t all that common anymore. Just look at the TSA reporting they detected *6,737* firearms in carry-on luggage last year. How do you not notice there’s a pistol in your bag when you’re packing it for a trip?

  21. I’d feel bad for these people, but since December, 1996 the State Department has provided Travel Advisories listing everything you need to know about traveling to foreign countries. The first set pretty much concerned themselves with active issues, but they were there. http://web.archive.org/web/19961125131548/http://travel.state.gov/travel_warnings.html Had any of these people taken 5 minutes to go that website, they would have seen that there has been a notice about not bringing firearms and ammunition to T&C since September. So you could check that and think “Huh, maybe I should check my favorite backpack to make sure I don’t have any loose ammo before I leave.” It is your personal responsibility to understand what you can and cannot do in a foreign country. We expect tourists to follow US laws when they visit us, so we need to do the same when we visit different countries.

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