SAF Issues Travel Warning for Turks and Caicos After US Gun Owner Charged for Possessing Ammo

The Second Amendment Foundation is advising all U.S. gun owners to avoid travel to the Turks & Caicos Islands in the Caribbean after an Oklahoma couple was stopped and arrested at the airport when security officials discovered four rounds of ammunition in their luggage. TSA here in the United States apparently missed the ammunition as Ryan and Valerie Watson were on their way to the islands, and now Ryan Watson is facing up to twelve years in prison for unlawfully possessing the hunting rounds.

“They had their lives turned upside down when they tried to return home, as local airport security found four rounds of ammunition unknowingly left in a duff[le]bag from a deer hunting trip,” a description on the family’s GoFundMe page states. “It was not noticed by TSA when leaving America. Now, they are facing a legal system that is unfamiliar, daunting, and expensive that operates differently than the American Justice System.” 
The U.S. Embassy in the Bahamas issued a travel alert in September 2023 telling Americans not to bring ammunition to the islands. 
“TCI authorities strictly enforce all firearms related laws,” the alert states. “The penalty for traveling to TCI with a firearm, ammunition, or other weapon is a minimum custodial sentence of twelve (12) years.” 
The embassy further stated that Americans should “carefully check” their luggage “for stray ammunition or forgotten weapons before departing for TCI.”

According to SAF, at least eight American tourists have been charged with violating the island’s gun control laws since November 2022 for accidentally leaving ammo in their luggage. The 2A group notes that in the past, tourists in similar predicaments have been able to resolve their case by paying a fine, but beginning in February of this year violators are now subject to “severe prison time.” 

At a court hearing on Wednesday, Ryan Watson was told he could be freed on $15,000 bail, but he cannot leave the islands and must report to police twice a week until his case goes to trial. According to the family’s GoFundMe page, Watson did make bail yesterday, but isn’t scheduled to return to court until June 7th. 

The family has raised more than $150,000 for their legal fees and Watson’s living expenses while he’s stuck on the islands, which should be enough to hire an experienced attorney who can hopefully convince a judge to let him go after paying a fine. 

While SAF is warning gun owners not to travel to the Turks & Caicos Islands because of their draconian gun laws, I feel like Bearing Arms should issue a travel advisory of our own: CHECK YOUR LUGGAGE BEFORE YOU TRAVEL. 

I feel terrible for Ryan Watson, and I know how easy it can be to miss an errant round or two (or four, in this case) in the folds of a duffel bag when you’re packing. Heck, TSA apparently didn’t spot the ammunition when they scanned Watson’s luggage on his way to the islands. Spending twelve years, or even twelve days behind bars for a simple mistake like that would be an injustice, and I hope that he’s able to quickly resolve the charges against him and return to his family. 

But Watson’s ordeal could have been avoided with a little more time and attention while he was packing for his trip, and as gun owners, it’s ultimately up to us to make sure we’re complying with the law when we’re traveling, especially overseas. Before heading to the airport, double and triple-check to make sure your baggage doesn’t contain any stowaways that don’t belong there. At the very least, you’ll save yourself a potential headache and fine if TSA spots loose rounds or a forgotten firearm, but you may also be sparing yourself from the possibility of wasting away in a prison for a decade or more because of an innocent mistake. 

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