Travel Tip: Don’t Bring Spent Brass in Your Carry-On, Like I Did

Heading home from this week’s gun-industry trade show in Calgary, I was at the airport waiting for my luggage to come through the X-ray when the image of a relatively large brass cartridge case in my carry-on luggage caught the eye of the screening agent.

He flagged it to a colleague who inspected my bag, removed the spent .300 Norma casing and said it couldn’t go with me. I gently protested, telling her that I had never had any issues in the past, that I knew ammunition was prohibited, but that empty casings were fine.

Big, Shiny Cylinder

(I had flown several times without issue from the U.S. to Canada with spent handgun brass in my carry-on. Just three days prior to this trip, I had travelled from Las Vegas to Calgary with that same .300 Norma case as a souvenir from SHOT Show. The U.S. officer examined the big, shiny cylinder with its struck primer, placed it back in my bag and sent me on my way. Different countries have different rules for air travel, but I expected the same outcome this time.)

The Calgary agent called over her supervisor. He instantly nodded his head and confirmed that my souvenir was a no-go.

‘Show Me’

“Could you please show me where it says that?” I asked from across the conveyor. “I will, of course, comply.”

It took about four seconds for the supervisor to walk over with his phone, call up the “What Can I Bring?” section on the website of the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) and show me a heading marked “Bullet Casings” and in red underneath: “Carry On Baggage: No” with a big red “X.”

I decided to accept that they were right and I was wrong, and to keep quiet about doubting the existence of “bullet casings.” The agents explained that trinkets, jewelry, or anything else made from cartridge components are a no-no because evil-minded travellers could separately bring in primers, propellant, cases and bullets, and put them together to make ammunition.

No Public Documents

The whole matter was settled in less than a minute. I was thankful that it involved pleasant professionals, and went to board my flight home to Toronto.

CATSA’s “What Can I Bring?” lists several headings related to guns and ammo, including “Bullet casings,” “Ammunition” and “Items resembling any type of ammunition or component thereof.” They all have the same red “No” and “X” for carry-ons. The text of each entry starts with, “Firearms, firearm parts, real ammunition and cartridges are not permitted in carry-on baggage under any circumstances.”

I couldn’t find any official policy or regulation addressing empty cartridge cases. Transport Canada’s Prohibited Items for Passengers on All Flights lists ammunition, but not components or cases. A spokesman for CATSA told me they prohibit empty cases, even though there aren’t any public documents that explicitly say that.

Keychains Prohibited

CATSA also recommends calling the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which manages the Canadian Firearms Program. I called, and although I didn’t learn more about the rules, I did learn that the person I spoke with was a fellow shooter who had a keychain confiscated because it had a tiny plastic pistol.

I can’t decide if I want to shake my head at the silliness of the rules, or bow my head in gratitude at the foresight of the rule makers and the vigilance of the rule enforcers.

At least I’ll understand better when airport-security agents grab my brass.

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