A surprising counter-trend in travel is unfolding due to lobbying by the National Rifle Association. With the massive security apparatus designed to keep guns off airplanes, some travelers may be caught off guard when they find out that beginning Dec.15, gun owners may bring their weapons on Amtrak trains with checked baggage service.
According to Associated Press, rail cars are being retrofitted with gun storage lockers to accommodate the new rules. Gun owners will be required to give Amtrak 24 hours notice of their intention to travel with a gun, unload the gun and pack it in a locked, hard case. During travel, the gun will be stored in a gun locker.
The gun lobby spent millions lobbying for this change in law, $2.1 million in the first half of 2009 alone.
The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence opposes the change, noting that it will make it easier for terrorists to bring guns on trains with the intent to do harm.
While the new rule runs counter to ever-more-restrictive baggage trends, it is consistent with the rules governing guns in checked airline baggage. With airline baggage, however, it is the individual air carriers that set policy, determining whether any guns are allowed or special fees apply. Guns transported in airline checked baggage must be unloaded and secured in a locked, hard-sided case, just as the new train rules require. For both air and train travel, the traveler checking the gun must remain in sole possession of the key during travel. Ammunition must remain in manufacturer packaging and also must be checked.
Is this policy likely to create risk for fellow travelers? It’s hard to say, but one point worthy of noting is that gun owners who fail to comply with all of Amtrak’s new policy will be denied boarding. Is boarding denial going to anger some gun owner enough that he uses his gun in the train station to protest? Denied boarding for failure to comply could result from not making advance arrangements or from failing to properly secure the gun and ammunition. Unsecured guns and ammunition in the hands of an angry gun owner in a crowded train station could be unsettling at best and potentially lethal.
But if the experience of the airlines is an indicator, violations of weapons restrictions though frequent is usually harmless. Violations typically result from gun owners with no nefarious intentions forgetting to unload a gun before placing it in checked baggage or to remove a gun from a carry-on bag before boarding.