One hunter’s guns go missing–for three months.
On June 4, 2017, I arrived at the Miami Airport on an overnight flight from Buenos Aires with two over and under shotguns in my checked baggage. The guns were properly declared in BA to the local authorities and the airline upon departure. My flight arrived at 7 a.m., and after clearing U.S. immigration, I went to the secure luggage area to get my guns and duffel, clear customs, and transfer to my next flight. After my duffel appeared but not my guns, I went to the Information Desk at customs. In the meantime a fellow hunter who was with me on the same trip had neither his guns nor duffel.
Upon inquiry and presenting the claim slip, I was told my “bag is in the building” according to “the computer information” and to wait by the oversize luggage belt even though my gun case is not oversize. After waiting another forty minutes, I went back and explained I was in danger of missing my 9:30 a.m. connection to Los Angeles and asked how to file a missing luggage report. I was told, “Your bag was likely transferred to L.A., which sometimes happens by accident.” I was unable to file a missing luggage report with the Information Desk within customs. So I cleared customs, checked back in for my next flight, went through security, boarded my connecting flight, and left.
In the meantime, my friend had missed his flight. Having nothing to do, he made inquiries and eventually ended up in a U.S. customs office where they showed him his gun case and where, he noticed, my gun case stood in plain view.
My friend presented his 4457 Certificate for Registering Valuables and was given his guns. As soon I landed in Los Angeles, I filed a missing luggage report with the airline. I was told my luggage would be delivered the following day. My duffel bag did arrive, but my hard case with the guns in it had been removed. (I have a double-bottom duffel with wheels where you can put the hard gun case inside the bag.) After a dozen phone calls to the airline and U.S. customs, I finally got to speak with a Miami U.S. customs supervisor, Mr. Amyx. He told me his computer showed no guns seized for the day of my arrival and “the guns must be with the airline.” When I insisted that my friend (who is a medical doctor and 100 percent reliable) had seen my gun case in the possession of U.S. customs, he said that they must have returned them to the airlines. When I asked if U.S. customs would return a firearm to an airline without any kind of paper trail, he said, “You assume we had the guns to begin with.”
Obviously this type of circular logic was getting me nowhere. In the conversation, something interesting came to the fore when Mr. Amyx told me that it was U.S. customs procedure at MIA to “hold all guns in arriving luggage back and wait for the passenger to come to customs to claim their guns.” A search on Google show no such policy posted anywhere, and obviously nobody in the MIA luggage area was aware of this, either.
Later that week I wrote a registered letter to the MIA Port Director Mr. Christopher D. Maston, explaining my situation and pointing out this is not the way U.S. customs should be acting. Then on Saturday night, June 10, I got a call from Mr. Brian Amyx and Herman Ouran of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Without any apology, I was told, “We have your guns here.” I was asked to e-mail proof of ownership and a copy of my driver’s license. Mr. Amyx again repeated the story that MIA airport, for security reasons, holds back guns headed for the carousels. I bit my lip, for I wanted to ask both men, “Why did you repeatedly deny having my guns?”
Now the guns were handed over to a contractor from American Airlines, and I would have expected that they would be placed on the next available flight from Miami to Los Angeles. No such luck. It would take till August 7 before I would see my guns. I was assigned to a Mr. John Hallal in the Phoenix, Arizona, lost luggage center of AA. When I finally got him on the phone he contended that I had “abandoned” the guns and the only way to get them back was to return to Miami and pick them up there in person. After much up and down he agreed that a person with a notarized letter from me could pick them up in MIA. On the day that person was to drive to Miami airport, Hallal changed his mind, so this idea was dropped. I then went up and down with Hallal as to how to get the guns but he eventually settled on this: “An FFL dealer needs to come to MIA and pick them up and transport them to you.” The cost for this service and the transport would be mine.
I made a mistake in trying to work it out with Hallal too long; it was obvious I had done nothing wrong, and Hallal had taken it upon himself to dictate policy at AA. Several calls, even to his supervisor, had no effect. I then did the right thing and wrote an intense, detailed, and very polite letter to AA CEO Doug Parker. That letter was sent on August 2 and arrived in Ft. Worth on August 7 via registered mail. Much to AA’s credit, I got a phone call Monday morning, August 7, saying that my guns were in L.A. I drove to the airport that day and claimed them.
As these events happened, I kept careful note of all dates, names, and occurrences. Now, more than three months later, I feel this was the worst ever gun/airport encounter I have ever had and I have no desire to repeat it.
There are some lessons to be learned: First, some airports have procedures regarding guns that are not posted, and the airline personnel may not even know what they are. Keep asking questions if your guns do not show up. Expect the unexpected.
Second, writing a polite letter helps. In both cases when I did, I had immediate results. Making dozens of calls and sending three dozen emails was much less helpful.
Now that I know what is going on at the Miami Airport, I think it is fine to travel to and from it with guns. But I do wish the ground personnel inside the luggage area and the airline personnel would have told me what the rules were when I inquired.—Henry van den Broecke
The shotgun in the photo above, in their case, went missing at Miami Airport for almost three months.