On December 15, Amtrak will begin allowing passengers to travel with their firearms, permitting them to stow their unloaded guns in the checked baggage car of a train for the duration of the trip.
Amtrak has spent a year and approximately $2 million “making modifications to 142 of the baggage cars, as well as some modifications at stations to safely and securely handle these weapons while they’re in Amtrak possession,” said Steve Kulm, a spokesperson for Amtrak. They did so in order to comply with the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2010, passed in December 2009.
Kulm adamantly stressed that this did not mean that anyone could just board a train with a gun. “This is not a carry on,” he said. Passengers who wish to travel with firearms must agree to stow them in the checked baggage car.
The number of people who will be able to take advantage of this policy is limited. Fewer than five percent of Amtrak trains are equipped with a checked baggage car. Moreover, of the 500 train stations to which Amtrak trains travel, less than one-third have checked baggage service. So, Kulm says, travelers who wish to bring a firearm “need to be traveling from a station that has checked baggage service to a station with checked baggage service.”
Furthermore, there are strict procedural rules for traveling with a gun. “They need to call us 24 hours in advance,” said Kulm, and when they arrive at the station, they must “sign a declaration form” saying that they have a gun. The gun itself must be “unloaded, in a solid locked case.” After that, Kulm said, it’s “just like airline baggage: they hand it over, and then Amtrak takes custody until the end of the trip.”
The $2 million price tag has caused some consternation. “This strikes me in a time of very tight budgets…as an unnecessary measure,” said Ladd Ezeritt, director of communications for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.
“It’s just another measure we’re seeing that treats a minority of gun owners — gun rights activists who have been very vocal about this — as super citizens,” he said, “and places their wishes and demands basically above those of all other citizens.”
The money was used to update Amtrak’s checked baggage cars “to provide for a secure storage space,” Kulm said. He said Amtrak also had to “revise our reservation system” so that people could indicate that they would be carrying guns. Also, Amtrak had to train employees in new procedures for dealing with firearms.
The National Rifle Association was approving of the policy.
“I think it’s a reasonable for law-abiding people who wish go with their firearms for whatever lawful purpose that they be allowed to do so while they travel on Amtrak,” said spokesperson Andrew Arulanandam, noting that, for example, some people use Amtrak to go on hunting trips, and that others may wish to carry a firearm for protection when they go to their winter home.
“Ideally, this would be available to anyone who wishes to travel by rail and transport their firearms with them,” he said, “but I think this is a good start.
Some congressmen are not as happy as the NRA with the new policy. “Allowing guns on Amtrak is just bad policy,” tweeted Rep. Bennie Thompson, the Democratic chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, on Wednesday.