You can’t just walk into an airport with a holster on your hip. Naturally, if you’re anything like I am, you wonder if all the hype over Tactical Pens makes them a good alternative for self defense when you fly. I decided to take a look at the facts behind the stories and what I found was somewhat unexpected.
So are tactical pens allowed on planes? It appears the TSA has a history of confiscating some tactical pens, but not all of them. This depends on what they see when they look at you and your pen. The short answer is maybe, but it’s better not to take the risk until you know the possible consequences.
What Does the TSA Say?
Sure, the TSA isn’t the only agency you might encounter, but they are known for being among the strictest. Ask TSA (on Twitter) fields questions from the public about flying. You might expect this to be a great place to get exact and detailed information. Unsurprisingly, last year someone did ask about Tactical Pens. The response was not quite as clear cut as you might expect.
“The final decision rests w/ our officers on whether to allow any items on the plane. Tactical pens may fall into the prohibited items classification; therefore, we recommend placing them in checked bags. Safe travels.”
That isn’t the sort of precise answer you might have hoped for. So, your Tactical Pen might get taken, or it might not. Furthermore, please remember, because it is up to the individuals who are doing the searches to make that call, what you take on one trip may be banned at a different time or place. That includes stops on the same flight.
If You Want to Find Out, You Have to Try
Given how useful it is to just ask a direct question, I decided to dig a little deeper to find out what they take at the security checkpoints. It turns out the TSA blog does a weekly report of what they have confiscated from passengers. You’ll be surprised by some of the crazy things that people have tried to carry on to planes. However, if you’ve been paying attention, you won’t be surprised when you see the collection of Tactical Pens that show up in these reports.
What Does the Public Say?
Some people, obviously, believe that you can do as you please… as long as you don’t get caught. You may find that it’s true for you or you may be shocked by the idea. Do you take the risk? Seems like more information is needed.
The Company Line
Companies that market Tactical Pens and other items with concealed self defense features tend to go one of three ways in handling the question.
1- They claim you can get past security checkpoints. If you sell lots of duplicates to replace lost items, this is one way to accomplish that goal.
2- They tell you up front that it is not legal to carry their products everywhere. Hence, most companies who take this route specifically mention airport security as a concern.
3- They simply gloss over the issue, making more blanket statements about your right to defend yourself.
Incidentally, all of these may be true, but one of those answers could get you in a lot of trouble.
Since You Asked
Any discussion board about EDC and Preparedness online is likely to reach a tangent about Tactical Pens and security checkpoints. As a result, just like the companies that sell defensive pens, there are two common, entirely opposite, perspectives among the people who own Tactical Pens.
Plenty of people claim to take their Tactical Pens on flights regularly. You will likely notice the suggestion that having one defensive pen, mixed in with other writing utensils in your carry-ons, helps. In contrast, others claim that the problem is color, because black, grey or silver are what security agents look for. Thus, having an unusual color could help you pass it off as harmless.
On the other hand, you will see lots of complaints from those who say they threw away money and some cool gear because they tried to get it past a security checkpoint. Inconsistent experiences are part of the bigger picture.
Who Should I Listen To?
Which group has the ‘real’ answer? It’s hard to verify statements made online. As a result, common sense would dictate that both sides have part of the story. All the evidence so far supports this theory.
What Else Could Go Wrong?
Deciding whether it is worth the risk to try and carry a Tactical Pen through airport security is a personal choice. Logically, learning the facts about the consequences may help you make an informed decision. If you fly within, or through the US, here’s what happens at security checkpoints.
Confiscation and Investigation-
If an agent of the TSA sees anything you are carrying as a potential threat they will take the item in question. This will most likely trigger a more in depth search of your person and belongings. As a result, you may delay boarding for the flight. You won’t be allowed to board at all in some cases.
Assuming you are waved through after they take your pen (or other questionable item), the issue is not ended. No matter what anyone says at the time, there will still be an investigation.
Notice of Violation-
Most noteworthy, if an investigation concludes that you had a prohibited item in your possession then you will receive a notice which informs you that TSA is initiating an action for a civil penalty against you. Fortunately, civil penalties do not generally go on your permanent record.
You will have 30 days to make a decision and respond. All responses must be in writing. There are five options for how to handle this notice.
1- Pay the penalty.
2- Request an informal conference with a TSA representative.
3- Submit evidence that the alleged violation did not happen as presented.
4- Claim financial hardship.
You could end up paying $340 to $13, 333 per violation, per person. Repeat offenders may see higher fees.
TSA and other airline authorities do not make the decisions about criminal charges. You would be notified separate from any civil action. Certainly, it is possible that you may face both civil and criminal penalties at the same time.
Alarmingly, if you are charged by a prosecuting attorney then you will most likely face court time. You may get arrested. The result of this type of formal charge can end up on your permanent record. If you are facing criminal charges you may want to seek a lawyer.
You can find more detailed descriptions of violations and penalties on the TSA website.
Can I Get My Gear Back?
No, you will not get anything back because federal law restricts any item you surrender at an airport security checkpoint from being returned to you. When security officers seize contraband they are required to turn it over to local law enforcement.
However, once removed, many of the confiscated items eventually make their way to the public for resale.
State agencies that have purchased the contraband through appropriate channels can legally make a profit flipping seized property. You might salvage your lost gear, but only if you don’t mind buying it twice.
There is always an advantage to being well armed in an emergency, of this there is no doubt. If you choose to take a risk then being informed about, and prepared for, the consequences is vital. Can you take a tactical pen on a plane? It seems possible. You have to decide for yourself whether the risk of prosecution and lost gear outweighs the risk of not having it when you may need it.
What Self Defense Items Can I Carry On a Plane?
In truth, your best defense will always be good training. Spending time on learning hand to hand combat can save your life. Here are a few handy items you can use to make that training go further.
1. Key Chains- Leave the Kubotan at home, but you can carry your keys and wear rings.
2. A Hardback Book- Expect TSA to inspect it for hidden items in the spine or pages.
3. Small Flashlight- Make sure your flashlight doesn’t have any, “Threatening features,” like sharp edges, or it may still be taken. Also, don’t forget to check the guidelines for carrying batteries. It pays to have a higher lumen rating to blind potential attackers.
4. Sock (Or Other Small Bag) Full of Change- In this case, you will look odd and possibly suspicious, but it is generally not against any rules.
5. Hairspray- Let’s preface this by saying that you need to check the guidelines for carrying liquids. However, as anyone who has ever sprayed themselves can tell you, hairspray will at least temporarily interfere with vision and could cause blindness. It also hurts… a lot!
What Weapons Can I Take In Checked Luggage?
1. Guns and Swords- You can take Firearms and ammo in locked hard sided containers and swords in sheathes. You must declare these to the airline before travel and they also must not violate any local or national laws.
2. Self Defense Sprays- You can have one 4 fl. Oz container of mace or pepper spray. If you try to bring any spray with more than 2% mass of tear gas (CS or CN) it will be confiscated immediately.
3. Miscellaneous- Finally, most other weapons and tools, provided you own them legally and can have them both at the departure point and the landing location(s), are permitted. Always check to see what you need to declare. In general you can pack; hammers, TASERs, meat cleavers and ice picks among other things.