While traveling to California and back, I was certainly glad that, for whatever reason, the TSA did not ask my family to undergo the scary full body screening. I was apprehensive about being asked to choose to do either that or go through a rather unpleasant pat down that some people have characterized as feeling like being molested. I have always wondered how efficient the TSA really is at actually catching people who are up to no good, and when I found out about a gentleman who somehow made it past the TSA and flew without either a valid ticket or a passport, I really had to wonder. It therefore made me raise an eyebrow when I read about the case of Tam Nguyen, who was imprisoned because he brought a handgun to the airport — albeit not intentionally.

“I would love to get this story out in The Bee so people don’t think I’m a stupid terrorist,” said Nguyen. “I’m not that stupid that I would go to the airport knowing I have a gun in my backpack.” Nguyen said the .22-caliber handgun belonged to his wife’s cousin. He used to go target shooting with the cousin. Since then, the gun has been stored in the bottom of the backpack for safe-keeping, he said. He grabbed the backpack on Thursday and stuffed it with socks, underwear and other travel needs for an Fourth of July holiday trip to visit a friend in Mississippi.

There are two possibilities that can be entertained here. Either the truth is being told and the gentleman really had no intent to bring the gun with him to the airport, or he somehow thought that he could sneak the gun past security and into the plane. From that second possibility, there are two sub-possibilities — he could have been trying to take the gun with him for recreational purposes and forgot to apply for a permit to carry in a reasonable time frame or he could have been trying to get it on the plane for the purpose of doing something like hijacking the plane or similarly unlawful.

The one thing leading me to believe that Nguyen is innocent of wrongdoing is that no person genuinely trying to get a gun on a plane for malicious purposes would do so by just shoving it in the bottom of a backpack. They would be acting not alone but with a team of associates who would get it sewed into the lining, encased in something undetectable, or the gun would be made of a different material. No real terrorist thinks they are going to get away with a gun in a backpack — it just wouldn’t happen.

And so, while people continue to sneak onto planes without tickets and law abiding travelers get groped an irradiated, a most likely innocent man sits in a jail with no defense other than good old fashioned forgetfulness.


  1. That’s a strange story, Gordon! I would think it would be easier to mistakenly carry a knife on an airplane than a gun. Knives have several, functional, uses throughout a busy day — while guns are really only good for one thing.

  2. Lets also take into account that no sane individual would attempt to hijack a plane with a .22.. Although any gun can kill-that includes a .22- I would bring something with a lil more stopping power. Also, don’t forget about the businessman who carried a Glock past the TSA on his flight out of Houston.
    He simply forgot it was there. Although i know at all times the location of my firearm, i can’t speak for anyone else. There are people out there who sometimes forget things when in a hurry or due to leading busy lives.

    1. I like your very relevant analysis, Tomasz. How long before you travel do you have to notify the airline that you are bringing a firearm? Does it have to be checked in or can it come with you as a carry on ever?

  3. Putting on my legal hat, forgetfulness and ignorance is never considered a valid excuse. Everyone knows that firearms, weapons, incendary or explosive materials are an absolute no-no and thus if your to busy, rushed or in a hurry and get caught out, you will be found to be negligent at the least. It is as simple as going through a red light in peak hour traffic in the middle of a city – unless you have the rights to have a siren and a flashing light, you know you cannot, should not and must not.

    1. Well writ, sir. This gentleman was definitely negligent — but should he be languishing in jail for so long as though he were intending on using the weapon on the plane?

      1. When looking legally one has to be neutral and regard the facts only. We actually do not know every aspect, such as the attitude, interview questions and responses that were recorded and used as evidence.

        Rather than look dispassionately and thus harsh, I would rather answer by saying what does the law say and what flexibility (range of sanction or punishment) is available to the judiciary?

        For me these are the important factors as the subject is about the action not the law, if we are not happy with the law then comment on that and try and have it changed. But since the law existed then we must talk again about negligence. An example is that in Thailand any quantity of hard drugs found on someone that is considered a “seller’s quanity” is an automatic death penalty. The government tells everyone and even on international flights you are warned before embarkation on the plane, but when westerners are caught they attempt to argue they did not know and the judge will dismiss that plea asking “did you walk to my country?”. The point being the laws a clear and everyone knows you cannot do these things and if they know the punishment is going to be severe, there is less excuse.

        A last comment, the subject of intention. Intention is often taken out of the equation in a judicial environment if the subject is dealing with “life risk”, which means dangerous or deadly acts. Thus in a fatal car accident, the intention of driving the car was not to kill someone even though they were drinking excessively, but it did and thus shall we cut the punishment because “of course he did not intend to kill”? The courts, except with a jury of peers, will immediately disregard the intention and concentrate only on the reputation of the person if that has a bearing (thus it is not typical of him to do so). Carrying illicet weapons on an aircraft breaks many codes and regulations, fire-arms (regardless of caliber) are considered a dangerous or deadly item, the usual reason for carrying an illicit weapon is simply hijacking or assassination, ignorance or negligence is “not an excuse” and I can already imagine that it was not one charge but mulitple and since we do not know the actual conversations and impression he gave to the courts – I see a lengthy punishment already starting to build.

        1. With driving I believe that intent is crucial — the charge is manslaughter which carries a different punishment than murder of any degree — lesser, that is. I agree on the airplane gun issue — intent is irrelevant given the danger.

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