What does TSA say about tactical pens, anyway?

Tucked in your pocket or used to sign a contract, a tactical pen appears to be a stylish writing implement. It even uses premium ink cartridges and fits most hands ergonomically to make filling in the blanks a pleasure. Essentially, it look like a regular pen but is actually a multi-tool miracle gadget.

But you don't want to be on the wrong end of the writing stick. When the removable cap comes off, a pointed self defense end can shatter a watermelon with one swift blow. So, can you carry a tactical pen – or any other dual-use self-defense weapon – onto a plane?

Writing tool or weapon?: Tactical pens

TSA (Transportation Security Administration) doesn't specifically mention tactical pens as prohibited items on their website. But when you pay $40 or more for a pen, you don't want it confiscated. You also don't want civil and criminal penalties that can result from trying to bring a weapon through airport security. They do say that tactical pens with blades that are longer than 2 inches are prohibited, while tactical pens with blades that are shorter than 2 inches are allowed. If you plan to carry this writing instrument onto your flight, you must declare its presence to TSA during security.

Trying to hide your writing pen on your person and get through the metal detector won’t work. They are usually made with sturdy metals like stainless steel that will trigger the alarm and result in a physical pat down.

Tactical pens are touted on self-defense and prepper websites as one of the "surprising things" you can get onto a plane. Tactical pens aren't specifically prohibited, although they're a sharp object and a weapon. Just remember that non-specified items are up to a TSA agent's discretion. If you want to be safe, pack it in your checked luggage. Another commonly confiscated item at TSA is pepper spray, so individuals usually pack it in their checked luggage so it gets to their destination with them, even if it’s not on the plane with them.

Can’t see?: Tactical flashlights

If you've ever fumbled around after a flash photo has left you briefly blinded by large spots, you've experienced the dynamics of a tactical flashlight. Tactical flashlights use high-lumen LEDs to temporarily blind an attacker, allowing you precious moments that can work to your advantage. A beveled striking surface on the crown lets you bludgeon the assailant as you make your escape.

You might or might not get this self-defense tool on board a plane. The TSA website allows flashlights under 7 inches. However, if your flashlight's crown has serrations that make it appear weapon-like, it could be confiscated. TSA reserves the right to pull any item that appears harmful.

Locked and unloaded: Firearms in the sky

Yes, you can bring a gun on a plane – as long as it's properly packed in your checked baggage. Pack your unloaded gun in a hard-sided, locking container to which only you have the key or combination. Declare it to the airline at check-in so you don't find TSA security waiting for you at your destination.

Sais matters: Martial arts weapons

Martial arts weapons can ride in your checked baggage. Pack items with sharp edges such as throwing stars in such a way that there's no chance of them protruding through your suitcase or injuring TSA inspectors. These include:

  • Billy clubs<br>
  • Blackjacks<br>
  • Brass knuckles
  • Nightsticks
  • Sais
  • Swords (including foam toy swords and those hidden inside a cane)
  • Throwing stars

Being prepared: Your pepper emergency kit

Survivalists thrive on being prepared for anything, and flying on a plane is no different. Although much of what is in your EDC bag will need to ride in your checked bags, a well-packed crossbody carry-on bag will increase your chance of survival should you make an emergency landing in the middle of nowhere.

Bring a disposable lighter and ferro rod, scissors that measure less than 4 inches from the fulcrum and a first-aid kit for starters. Tuck a few empty collapsible water bottles in your bag to take through security. You can fill them after you've passed through. Socks, cash, N95 masks and 550 paracord all fly through security with no issues. You can even bring a parachute if you want.

Know before you go

If you're in the habit of toting an EDC (everyday carry) for self defense, don't start packing until you completely empty your carry-on bag and any personal items you'll be taking on the plane, such as a backpack, purse or laptop case. You might be in love with hidden pockets and compartments, so double-check carefully and squish up the empty bag to feel for concealed items.

A final word

Don't heed the advice on tactical gear websites about what you can bring in a carry-on bag. They simply create a need for you to buy a replacement if your tactical weapon gets confiscated. If you're not 100 percent sure about an item, pack it in your checked baggage. Better yet, look on TSA's website and use their "Can I bring?" FAQ tool, or ask for clarification on the Ask TSA Facebook page.