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The looks on the airline agents’ faces were priceless. “You can’t be serious,” they mumbled as I hefted the gun case onto the scale at the check-in desk. It was an understandable reaction, since they had just printed my boarding pass to London’s Heathrow Airport and now they were watching me try to hand them something they knew would never be allowed. And yet, somehow I wasn’t insane. Let me back up here a second . . .

I needed a vacation. Last year was an insane flurry of activity, with my time split between writing for TTAG, practicing and shooting with Team FNH USA, my day job and studying to finally take my CCNA exam. There was barely time for sleep, let alone getting any rest and relaxation. And even when I found some time to go home for a bit, I kept writing instead of relaxing. So I decided that after SHOT Show was over in January, I’d go visit some of my extended family in Trieste, Italy.

My aunt was happy to put me up for the week, but she did ask one favor: there was a lamp she wanted from an American company and she requested that I bring it with me rather than pay for the overseas shipping fees. Naturally I gladly agreed, and given the dimensions I figured it would fit nicely in a small carry-on bag. But when the box finally came I realized that I sucked at math more than I realized — the lamp was four feet of solid aluminum tubing.

For days I tried to figure out how I was going to get this thing on the airplane. Carrying it aboard was right out, since the long metal tube was definitely going to be classified as a “weapon” by our friends at the TSA. And while it came in a nice cardboard box, that wasn’t going to survive being chucked around through the baggage system and tossed into the cargo holds of a couple airplanes. I needed something durable yet disposable. And then it hit me: I needed a gun case.

A quick trip to the local Academy Sports yielded an acceptable case for the small sum of $16 that fit the lamp and all of its accoutrements exactly. And while I would normally lock my gun case once it was packed, since I wasn’t actually transporting a firearm I opted instead to zip-tie the thing closed and then wrap it with an excessive amount of clear tape. When it was all finished, it was perfect.

By now the fine American Airlines employees at San Antonio International Airport are starting to recognize me. After the number of trips I’ve taken with various gunpowder-consuming toys over the last year, taking the same early morning flight every time it’s only natural. So when they saw me coming with the black case, they already had an idea what was inside. So when they pulled up my itinerary and saw that the final destination was in Italy, the expression on the woman’s face turned to one of immense concern — and she also seemed to do a quick scan for the nearest manager.

The moment I saw that look, I decided to try and resolve the issue. “It’s a lamp” I said.

She seemed confused. Clearly this was a gun case and not a lamp. “A what?”

“It’s a delicate lamp. It’s just packed in a gun case.”

She seemed to get it at that point. “Oh! But when you land in London, it might get you some unwanted attention you know.”

I had already anticipated that. In fact, there was a betting pool back at the office as to whether the case would be allowed into the country and, if so, its condition once it arrived. “I think it will be fine,” I said.

She didn’t seem satisfied. “Well, just to be sure, let’s put a note on it.” She grabbed a blank luggage tag, slapped it on the case, and quickly scrawled the words “CONTAINS LAMP” in block letters. Satisfied with her work she handed the case to the rampie behind her, who started to turn towards the security office instead of putting it on the conveyor belt with the rest of the bags. She grabbed his arm and stopped him — “no, it’s just a lamp, it’s fine!” The rampie had a look of pure happiness on his face, which he later explained: “It means I don’t have to go through the security area. That takes forever.”

I spent the next day and night in transit. First to DFW with a six hour layover, and then an overnight flight to Heathrow. And while the flight was enjoyable enough, in the back of my mind I was worried about what would happen at the end. Would I have a problem with customs in England? Would security stick me in a room and question me until I had missed my connecting flight? I just didn’t know.

The last time I landed at Heathrow was the summer after freshman year of college, close to a decade in the rear view mirror by now. At that time customs was still handled the old fashioned way: everyone went through passport control, then you went wherever you were going next. Apparently things have changed a little bit, and international transfers don’t even interact with passport control anymore — you just go through security again and then you’re off to your next flight.

In London, there were no problems. I breezed through security, there were no announcements demanding my presence at the nearest security office, and I successfully boarded my connecting flight to Milan without incident. It was easy. Too easy.

When I finally landed at Milan’s Linate airport, the gun case was waiting for me on the baggage carousel when I stepped through passport control. I was still slightly concerned about how Italian customs would react to a gun case — with the words “GUN CASE” clearly molded into the plastic itself — coming through their borders. But I became less concerned when I discovered that apparently customs in Linate airport consists of a single bored looking officer behind a folding picnic table staring at his phone as hundreds of people walk past.

For the rest of the trip, no one even batted an eyelash. The bus from the airport to the train station, the train ride to Trieste, the cab to the apartment…not a single question about the long black case I was carrying.

I get the feeling that part of the reason that no one cared is that they have no reference as to what that item is. The ticket agent at San Antonio arport had seen hundreds if not thousands of these black cases, but the baggage handlers in the UK and the somnolent customs agent in Italy had probably never encountered one before. They had seen golf cases and ski cases by the thousands, but rarely if ever a gun case. In much the same way that open carry desensitizes people to the carrying of guns by civilians, the constant drumbeat of cases that don’t typically carry guns have probably desensitized these employees as well.

The gun case arrived at the apartment at Trieste intact, with all of the original zip-ties in place, and having never been opened. Despite being a long metal tube in a gun case.

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  1. This may explain how terrorists manage to get their AKs all over the world – put them in a gun case labeled “contains lamp.”

  2. I thought Milan Linate was suppose to be closed, back in the early 2000’s? I use to love flying into that airport, for some reason?

    • Milan has Linate and Malpensa airports. Linate handles the domestic and short haul international flights. Malpensa is the big one. Think Midway and O’Hare by comparison.

      • I’ve actually heard that said in a serious context. However, it as the drowning polar bears not “The Children” this particular collectivist was worried about.

      • Actually, this is the best comparative argument that I have heard yet. Up until now, I used an engine displacement / horsepower analogy. Now I will use light brightness.

        No one needs a 100 watt light bulb. They can use a 25 watt light bulb in a small lamp and move the lamp to their location for reading or whatever. Besides, if they really need 100 watt light output, they can just purchase four lamps and install 25 watt light bulbs in all four lamps.

        And the additional benefit of that analogy: hopefully the person realizes that if they can purchase four lamps to achieve 100 watt capacity, a violent criminal could purchase three revolvers and have more capacity (without reloading) than just about any semi-auto pistol.

        • Not only do you not NEED a 100 watt light, but you are PROHIBITED from having more than four 25 watt lamps in the same room.

        • Maybe you could own a 100 watt bulb, but you have to install a dimmer switch so you can’t use more than 70 watts? Your home would be subject to unannounced government inspection, of course.

  3. Firearms aren’t rare in Italy, they just tend to be shotguns.

    I’ve only spent a small amount of time in Italy and I’ve seen gun cases more than once.

    • Having lived in Italy for over 13 years I can tell you that Italians can get there hands on any semi automatic gun or rifle there is to be had….and there is no such thing as SBR or SBS or NFA for that matter. In fact I had a B&T MP5, a Turkish MP5K, Thompson SMG (in semi auto that were from old russian stock..given to them by the US Govt on a lend lease program). All guns are registered there…although if you saw how they were registered you’d have a laugh. In a book that looks older than Jesus and everything hand printed….it is Italy after all! 😉

      • My time in Italy was limited, but it was apparent that firearms were much more common than other places in Europe where I’ve spent time.

        You’d see firearms in homes.

        We had lunch at a Vineyard, and the Vineyard had shotguns and rifles on the wall. Nobody cared.

        I didn’t know there were so few restrictions in Italy. Good to know, I learned something today.

        • Actually in Italy a lot of people are hunters or has some relatives used to be. But you have to follow a lot o regulations, apply for a permit to buy and register your purchaise in 72 hours. No shall issue but, as in California, you have to demonstrate the need to carry….so very few people are allowed to carry legally.
          Hermes from Italy

      • one of the guys over on AKfiles that has one of the bigger military rifle collections is in Italy. the restrictions are pretty much nonexistant.

        • In italy you have a hard limit to the maximum number of guns you can own, but you can request a collection license which has no limits. You are forbidden to own ammunition for the weapons in your collection, though.

  4. So was it really a lamp? Or is this just an elaborate cover story for the notorious international arms smuggler Francois Croissant AKA Nick Leghorn?

    Very Clever François! Disguising a gun, as a lamp, in a gun case. You have foiled us yet again!

  5. Great story. Sometimes our personal perceptions are not reality.
    I also have to travel a lot all over the US with a sample area light product, that to me at least, looks just like a rocket launcher when it’s closed up.
    I have walked all though downtown’s, casinos and airports with it and have not been looked at askew once (that I have noticed).
    On another note, I went to a local gun show last week with a airsoft RPG on a sling, the guys at the check-in safety table asked ” what is that thing” I told them it was airsoft and they waved me thru, didn’t even look twice at it or ask to check if it was real (it is a highly realistic replica),

    • And the other side of that coin is, if they did make a big deal out of it, there is a good chance you or somebody else would be making a big deal out of the fact that they made a big deal out of a replica. Damned if you do, Damned if you don’t.

    • This gave me a chuckle. I’m now picturing a camouflage military truck hauling some item shaped similar to a Howitzer cannon, covered in an olive green tarp, with the “CONTAINS LAMP” tag on it …

      • I’ll buy one.


        Velcro patches for tactical bags. Has the TTAG logo in the corner and says “CONTAINS LAMP”

        So basically

        I CONTAINS l
        l LAMP (ttag)l

  6. Interesting.Could the lack of reaction be due to the disconcerting possibility that Englishmen , not being exposed to firearms, had no idea what a gun case actually was?

    It would be like showing a Glock pistol to an 1870s frontiersman. They’d think it was a block of coal ,not a firearm.

    • Airport check-in and security would certainly know what a gun case is. If you’re checking in, the staff will check the gun is unloaded and legally owned. No big drama, unless you’re flying a budget airline and freak out when you discover just how much they charge for extra baggage.

    • To Italy?

      OK, here you go. I guessed at a lot of it, but here’s what I used…

      Ship from: UPS Store chosen at random in San Antonio, 78229

      Ship to: Postal code chosen at random (34125) from a residential looking address in Trieste, Italy

      Package size: 42L x 12w x 6h, 7 pounds

      Declared value: $100

      Ship date: today, 2/18

      Shipping options (the only three available):
      Worldwide Express, delivery by 10:30 a.m. 2/20: $319.68
      Worldwide Saver, delivery by end of day 2/20: $308.47
      Worldwide Expedited, delivery by end of day 2/25: $302.20

      The dimensions I used were the rough dimensions of that gun case. I guessed at 5# for the lamp, add 2# for the case. But let’s say you could find a smaller way to pack it. Probably can’t do much about the height and width, but let’s cut the length in half, to 21 inches. With all other options the same, the prices for the same three services above are now $215.34, $207.68, and $203.30.

      No matter how you slice it, paying $16 for the gun case and $35-50 for the baggage fee, you’re still coming out ahead by more than half.

  7. Italian gun laws are actually pretty cool, (compared to the rest of Europe). You can get a carry licenses at 18, only valid while hunting, and on private property. 15 round limit on handguns, 10 on rifles. The only banned ammunition is 9mm for handguns, but not for rifles.

  8. See I think no one in Italy cared because who puts their guns in a gun case? Now had you been walking around with a violin or guitar case people might well have been terrified!

  9. ” they have no reference as to what that item is”
    That is the truth.
    I once borrowed some gunsmithing jigs from a guy who used to do AK building parties.
    We met at the parking lot of some chain fast food place in LA.
    As he was explaining the set up and use, he paused and remarked that all the people passing us by would probably have a cow if they’d realized the purpose of the objects we were holding.

    • Unless there was a very specific need to take something back in the gun case, why bother? It cost $16 to buy and even if it is empty, will cost $35-$50 in baggage fees.

      • Or you pitch it, because it was sixteen bucks, and those cheap blow-molded cases are really not secure enough to pass the “finger test” in order to actually transport a gun.

  10. My wife was checking in her 1911 Colt 45 at the ticket counter in Tulsa. The agent asked her to open up the case so she could see the weapon. My wife did so and the agent peered at the gun. She looked it up and down. She examined it very closely. Sheesh, we wondered if we had done something wrong.
    Then the agent looked at my wife and said, “It looks just like mine at home!” and told us to have fun on our trip!

  11. bored looking officer behind a folding picnic table staring at his phone

    …and you’ve successfully described every Italian civil servant.

    I once saw a Carabinieri taking a nap on a bench in Termini Roma with his Beretta M12 on the bench beside him.


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