Airbus A320 Airplane

Stun Gun on an Airplane?

A story in the news several years ago discussed a stun gun that was found in the magazine storage behind a seat on a JetBlue flight. The story brings to light several issues. First, stun guns  are nonlethal weapons—but weapons, nonetheless. So, because the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) deems them such, they aren’t allowed on airplanes. So, how did the stun gun make it past the TSA? If you want to carry a stun gun or Taser from one place to another on a plane, you have to put it in a checked bag. So, it’s unclear how it ended up on the flight. The second issue is why was it left behind. Was it some kind of a plot? These issues bring to light how dangerous stun guns can be, especially in the setting of a plane.

How Stun Guns and Tasers Work

A stun gun can incapacitate someone for five to ten minutes and is one of the most effective self-defense products in the world today. Police officers across the country carry some version of stun gun or taser. On average, they are close to 90 percent effective. Popular stun guns work by applying an electrical charge to an assailant that overwhelms the muscular system, causing it to work very rapidly and depleting it of all blood sugars. The person stunned has no energy left to fight back.

Tasers use neuromuscular incapacitation (NMI) to immobilize possible threats. The technology uses electrical pulses like the ones in your nervous system to affect the sensory and motor nerves. It incapacitates threats by interfering with their ability to use the muscles of the affected area. That area affected can be a large or small group of muscles, depending on where the taser prongs strike the individual.

 high voltage stun gun

Similar Incidents Illustrate the Constant Challenges Airports Face in Detecting Threats

Another incident occurred on an American Airlines flight from San Francisco to Charlotte Douglas in 2017. A passenger noticed something odd underneath a seat and notified the staff. American Airlines asked for assistance from law enforcement. Once the plane landed, K-9s and a bomb squad checked out the plane and discovered what appeared to be a cell phone was actually a stun gun. Before we pass judgment on the TSA, it’s not entirely their fault, as someone truly bent on using a weapon always finds a way to beat the system.

The Security Analyst for WBTV, Karl de la Guerra, explained that it’s still unclear how the stun device ended up on the plane. One thing is sure: When figuring out how to disguise a weapon, a criminal is only limited by his imagination. De la Guerra continued saying that, unfortunately, the detection curve is always way behind the development curve. You can even buy similar devices online, and this is extremely dangerous for airplane environments with foreign and domestic terrorism a constant threat.

In 2018, another woman raised cause for concern when she told a news station that she forgot a stun gun in her purse when boarding a plane. She didn’t realize it until she reached into her bag for her charger after boarding. Worse yet, not only did it make it through security, her seat was in first class, very close to the pilots. The woman didn’t have any inappropriate intentions to use the weapon; she simply forgot it and didn’t point it out to security.

Balancing the Right to Self-Defense and Airplane Safety

With stun guns being such a popular self-defense tool, more people carry them than you realize. Airports have the difficult task of balancing the safety of other people and peoples’ right to defend themselves. It’s a challenge that won’t disappear anytime soon, and someone is always going to test the limits of every rule.

It also makes you wonder, if stun guns are making it on planes, what else is there we don’t know about? By May of 2018, security at Richmond International Airport in Virginia had already confiscated four weapons at checkpoints. One woman was arrested with a pink handgun loaded with eight pink-tipped bullets in her carry-on luggage. Passengers can travel with weapons and firearm accessories, but they must be declared with the airline and stowed in checked luggage. There’s clearly a right way to do things and a wrong way.

tsa agent searches luggage

The stun gun problem for airlines represents security flaws that TSA keeps trying to correct. However, it’s one thing to fix a problem with stun guns in their original form but something completely different when they’re disguised. As technology advances so do security measures, and airport security indeed does a remarkable job, in general, keeping the public as safe as they can. There is no fool-proof way to do it, so we must each do our part to remain vigilant and help enhance security wherever we can.