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A police officer's experience with LEOSA carrying in NYC

Pre-trip planning can help avoid delays that might cause a concealed carrier to miss a flight; here are some conceal carry tips from a LEO's experience in NYC


Content provided by CCW Safe

By Steve Moses and Ed Monk

CCW Safe members are not all the same. They can range widely in terms of ages and life experiences. Some conceal carry on a regular basis, while others almost never do. Some are parents with children still in the house, and some are not. Many of our members are elderly or physically compromised in some significant manner, while others are extremely fit and capable. Some members have been practicing concealed carry for decades, while others purchased their very first firearm this year. I make an effort to occasionally address the needs of a particular subset of CCW Safe members from time to time, while fully understanding why some readers might think that a particular article is not relevant to their interests.

Budget an extra 30 minutes into your departure out of a NYC airport due to waiting on the police officers that the check-in agents will call after you declare your guns.
Budget an extra 30 minutes into your departure out of a NYC airport due to waiting on the police officers that the check-in agents will call after you declare your guns. (Photo/Getty Images)

This article is directed to law enforcement officers who carry while off-duty under the Law Enforcement Officer Safety Act (LEOSA). Municipal, county and state peace officers who travel out of state have no police powers in states other than their own. It was written by Ed Monk, co-owner and instructor at Last Resort Firearms Training in White Hall, Arkansas. Ed retired from the United States Army as a Lieutenant Colonel and Battalion Commander. He is a graduate of the US Military Academy (West Point) and has a MS degree from Kansas State University. He formerly taught high school and served as a deputy sheriff and is currently a part-time police officer. I first met Ed at a Rangemaster Tactical Conference that took place in Little Rock, Arkansas, where I attended an excellent block of instruction covering active shooter response that he taught.

Why might persons who are not law enforcement officers still want to read this particular article? The manner in which Ed prepares for commercial air travel contains some great information for any concealed carrier who wants to minimize drama with an over-zealous or poorly informed TSA agent during the pre-flight check-in. A little pre-trip planning can go a long way toward avoiding delays that might even cause a concealed carrier to miss his or her flight. The excerpt below is written by Ed Monk. — Steve Moses

I have traveled to New York City six times in the past six years. As a state-certified, sworn law enforcement officer, I may carry a concealed handgun in all 50 states pursuant to the Law Enforcement Officer Safety Act (LEOSA). So, I did transport handguns to and from NYC on commercial flights, and carried my handguns concealed while in NYC on each trip. The purpose of this article is to provide my experience in case it helps other LEOs who want to travel to NYC and wish to carry guns while there. On all three trips, I flew Southwest Airlines between Little Rock, Arkansas, and LaGuardia Airport in NYC. And, except for travel between my hotels and the airport, I spent all of my time (4-5 days each trip) in Manhattan and Brooklyn. My experience was mostly uneventful and pleasant. Your results may vary.

My understanding of TSA and airline regulations require handguns to be unloaded, with magazines not in the gun, locked inside a hard-sided container, within your luggage. The luggage that contains your locked gun case may be unlocked or locked with a TSA approved lock. The hard-sided container holding your guns must be locked, and the TSA regulations say only the owner should possess the key or combination to that lock.

In addition to my two handguns and (removed) magazines, I also keep three additional items inside that locked case. One is a printed copy of both TSA and airline regulations about flying with guns so that I have them should a question arise. Another item I keep inside my gun case is a printed copy of the LEOSA, again, just in case questions arise. The third item inside my gun case is one of my police badges on a belt holder. My theory is that when TSA X-ray machines look at my gun case and see what looks like a badge with my guns, or if I am asked to open the gun case (which I was asked to do on all but one of my trips by NYPD officers in LaGuardia Airport) and they see my badge with my guns, I may be less likely to be "selected for additional screening." Having the badge in the gun case may be of no benefit, but I do it just in case.

On each of my trips, I carried two handguns in an aluminum case that locks with an integrated combination lock. I do not want to keep up with (and possibly lose) yet another key. I carried my self-defense ammo for both guns inside the same ammunition box. I wrap a few rubber bands around the ammo box to prevent it from opening and spilling ammo in my luggage during luggage handling. I then place the ammo box inside a running shoe in my luggage, so it is protected and easier to find. 

When I check in with my airline at the airport and declare my guns, the SWA ticket agents ask me to fill out a small card. This includes information on me, information on my flight, and my signature stating that I understand the rules and affirm that my guns are unloaded. For years now, I keep an extra stack of those blank cards at home and fill them out ahead of time. Doing so saves everyone time. The ticket agents and everyone behind me in line seem to appreciate that. The SWA agents sometimes want to tape that card to your hard-sided gun case inside your luggage. So, it helps if your gun case is easy to get to, not buried under layers of clothes.

My primary carry handgun on my NYC trips was either a S&W M&P Shield 9mm with a 7-round mag, or a GLOCK 43 with a 7-round mag (+1 base plate). My backup gun was a Kel-Tec P-32, also with a 7-round mag. I also carried only the P-32 while running each morning in the streets of Manhattan and in Central Park. I made sure that I had qualified with both guns as off-duty guns for my PD, and that my PD had a record of it.

My understanding* is that New York has a law (SAFE Act*) restricting magazine capacity to no more than 7 rounds of ammo. And I have never read any information that LEOSA exempts out-of-state officers from this restriction. Since I do not want to risk being a test case, I only take and carry 7-round mags to NYC. 

I have never had issues after landing in LaGuardia because no one in NY yet knew I had guns. So, I just carried. I made sure if I left a gun in my hotel room while I was gone, I locked it inside my luggage so it would not freak out any housekeeping staff. The few NYPD officers I encountered who found out I was carrying were cool with it, but this was only a handful of cops out of tens of thousands in NYC. Again, your results may vary. 

You can enter the ground floor of the Empire State Building, but to go up the elevators to the observation decks, you must go through metal detector screening. You will also pass through metal detectors to enter the 9/11 memorial museum, Radio Center Music Hall and to board ferries to the Statue of Liberty. There was no security screening to ride the subway. I went to see two Broadway shows on each of my trips. Theater security asked to look in any bag or purse that audience members brought in, but there were no metal detectors or wands used at the theater I attended. I went inside several big or historic churches that are open to the public with no problem. I also entered Trump Tower and Rockefeller Center.

While walking along the sidewalk outside Rockefeller Center during my NYC trip of 2014, a very polite voice behind me said, "Excuse me, sir." I stopped, turned and it was a uniformed NYPD officer. He asked, "Is that a knife in your pocket?" I was carrying a small folding knife inside a front pants pocket, with the clip exposed on the outside of the pocket. He very politely asked me to unclip it from my pants pocket opening and slide it down inside my pocket. He said NYC has an ordinance that makes it a crime to carry an exposed knife. He said I should hide it because I could run into an officer who might make an issue out of it. He then asked where I was from and what I did. When I told him I was a cop, he asked if I was carrying a gun. When I told him I was, he said he did not blame me. A genuinely nice, professional encounter. 

Several locations in Manhattan had a heavy police presence. Times Square, Wall Street, 9/11 area, Trump Tower, etc. Most big tourist places did. At night, Times Square probably had over 100 uniformed NYPD officers. Some were in full tactical gear with M4s, some on horseback, and maybe a few armored and specialized vehicles. I never saw a NYPD officer alone, or at least not within eyesight of another officer. It occurred to me that if I ever had to use my handgun in one of those locations, the chances of getting shot (or shot at) by one or more of those officers due to misidentification was considerable. 

I always planned to arrive at LaGuardia Airport at least two hours prior to my return flight out of NYC at the end of my visits, just in case checking in my luggage with guns caused a delay. Each time it caused about a 20-30-minute delay. After checking in at LaGuardia Airport’s SWA ticket counter for my return flight after my first visit, and declaring my guns, the SWA agent called for NYPD officers and asked me to step aside and wait on them. About 10 minutes later, three uniformed NYPD officers working airport security arrived. 

They were very polite. They asked to see my driver’s license and police ID. They wrote all information from both IDs in a small notebook.  Then they asked to see the guns. So, I opened my luggage and the locked gun case. They looked at both handguns. They did not seem to know a lot about handgun models. They asked me the make, model, caliber and serial number of both guns. None of the three NYPD officers seemed familiar with either of my guns. They also asked me how many rounds of ammunition each one held. I do not know if this was to verify compliance with the SAFE Act, or they were simply curious. It was a very polite, casual conversation, not a subject interview. After writing down all the information on both guns, my identification, and my phone number, they escorted me and my luggage to the area where TSA runs luggage through the security machine and told TSA they had cleared my guns. We then shook hands and said goodbye.

Before my second trip to NYC, in attempt to save time, I made a color copy of both sides of my driver’s license and police ID. I also included the written make, model, caliber and serial number of both guns, and my phone number on that piece of paper. As before, when I declared my guns while checking in for my flight out of NYC, the airline agent called for the police. When the officers (again three) asked for my IDs, I gave mine to them, but also gave them the sheet of paper (to keep) with copies of my IDs, my gun info, and my phone number. The NYPD officers were very thankful for that and said it would save them a lot of time in preparing some type of report they have to generate about such incidents.

Leaving NYC on my third trip went similar to my previous year’s departure, but better. On my third departure from La Guardia Airport when the responding officers arrived and I gave them the paper copy of my driver’s license, police ID, and gun information, they did not even ask to see the guns. The ranking officer just said, "He's good," to the airline person and escorted me and my luggage to the TSA luggage checkpoint. Then the ranking officer gave me a NYC Port Authority Police coin, led me to the front of the line for TSA ID check, and then had a TSA friend lead me to the front of the security screening line.

Checking in at La Guardia on my last three NYC trips was remarkably similar to my first three trips, except that on my last trip only two NYC officers arrived when called by the airline check-in agent instead of three officers. The biggest takeaway is to budget an extra 30 minutes into your departure out of a NYC airport due to waiting on the police officers that the check-in agents will call after you declare your guns.

So, there you have it. What I remember from my six trips to NYC packing heat under LEOSA over the past six years, and a few recommendations you can take or leave. Remember, this was the experience of only one cop, flying one airline, in one NYC airport, and interacting with only a handful of officers out of a HUGE NYPD.   

*My understanding is that the SAFE Act originally allowed NY residents with previously owned magazines with 8-10 round capacities to keep them but mandated that they load no more than 7 rounds in those mags (really, not making that up). I have read that upon court challenge to that part of the law, a judge ruled that NY residents with previously owned magazines with 8-10 round capacities can actually load mags to full capacity. But I do not believe this applies to non-residents visiting the state. I could be wrong.

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