Revell v. Port Authority: Legal Transportation of Firearms Updated

Last evening, I had the benefit of a flight cancellation due to weather that allowed me to spend an extra evening visiting with my daughter. In 2005, Greg Revell had a flight cancellation, that was not so lucky.

All travelers know that on rare occasions, flights get canceled or delayed and we may thus get stranded in some unexpected city overnight. It happens. In 2005, it happened to Greg Revell who was traveling from Salt Lake city to Allentown Pennsylvania. He was lawfully carrying an unloaded firearm and ammunition in his luggage. One may transport a firearm unloaded in a locked case inside checked luggage as long as you notify the airline at time of check-in. Normally, this is no big deal.

When Mr. Revell's flight landed late at Newark for a connection to Allentown, Mr. Revell missed his connection. By mistake, his luggage had been given a final destination of Newark. As a result, Mr. Revell also missed that bus by which the airline planned to take passengers to Allentown that night. Mr. Revell retrieved his luggage and spent the night in a local Newark hotel. He did not open his luggage at the hotel. The next morning, he checked in for his flight to Allentown and quite properly notified the airline at check-in about the firearm and ammunition in his to-be-checked luggage. Apparently because he did not have a New Jersey gun permit, the airline notified TSA who called the local police. Mr. Revell spent either 3 or 10 days (reports differ) in jail. A few months later, the police or prosecutor dropped the charges, but the gun was not returned to him until 2008, after filing suit.

Mr. Revell sued the Port Authority for a violation of his civil rights, because federal law generally permits transporting unloaded inaccessible firearms as long as possession of the firearm is legal at both the point of origin and the destination. Interestingly (as a side note), the Port Authority brought a third party claim against Continental Airlines. Here is the Third Circuit opinion in .pdf..

Affirming dismissal of Mr. Revevell's complaint, here is what the Third Circuit. in 20-20 hindsight, said Mr. Revevell should have done:
Although we conclude that Revell fell outside of §926A’s protection during his stay in New Jersey, we recognize that he had been placed in a difficult predicament through no fault of his own. However, Section 926 clearly requires the traveler to part ways with his weapon and ammunition during travel; it does not address this type of interrupted journey or what the traveler is to do in this situation. Stranded gun owners like Revell have the option of going to law enforcement representatives at an airport or to airport personnel before they retrieve their luggage. The careful owner will do so and explain his situation, requesting that his firearm and ammunition be held for him overnight. While this no doubt adds to the inconvenience imposed upon the unfortunate traveler when his transportation plans go awry, it offers a reasonable means for a responsible gun owner to maintain the protection of Section 926 and prevent unexpected exposure to state and local gun regulations.
The court does not give Revell the protection of the federal statute of transportation of firearms, because the firearms were accessible to him during his overnight stay.

Wow. Under that reasoning, if you travel by car, you must completely pass through any state that does not permit you to possess a firearm. Or, maybe you can leave it in th trunk of your car exposing it to potential theft. However, since the car is stopped, a firearm in the trunk may be accessible? What if you must stop for gas?

The case does not mention the Second Amendment, so apparently Second Amendment right to transport firearms is not at issue. The court did not discuss the theory underlying the third party complaint against Continental.

the Third Circuit decision has been appealed to the United States Supreme Court and a decision whether to hear the case is expected today. I will post it as soon as I can.

Update: The decision was not issued today. I will keep following this.
Further Update: The Court decided not to hear the case. Justice not done.


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