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TRAVEL ADVISORY: Paradise Lost, Avoid Turks and Caicos

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The Second Amendment Foundation offers this warning to all U.S. gun owners: Do Not Travel to the Turks and Caicos Islands, a British Overseas Territory located southeast of the Bahamas. And if you have already made plans, reconsider your destination.

SUMMARY: Since November 2022, at least eight American tourists have faced “firearms prosecutions” for inadvertently having ammunition in their luggage. In the past, tourists had been able to pay a fine, but as of a judge’s ruling in February of this year, violators are subject to severe prison time.

Firearms and ammunition are strictly forbidden in Turks and Caicos. The U.S. Embassy in the Bahamas last September issued this warning to travelers: “Firearms, ammunition, and other weapons are not permitted in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI). TCI authorities strictly enforce all firearms related laws. The penalty for traveling to TCI with a firearm, ammunition, or other weapon is a minimum custodial sentence of twelve (12) years.”

The advisory also stated, “We wish to remind all travelers that declaring a weapon in your luggage with an airline carrier does not grant permission to bring the weapon into TCI and will result in your arrest.

“We strongly encourage you to carefully check your luggage for stray ammunition or forgotten weapons before departing for TCI. If you bring a firearm or ammunition into TCI, we will not be able to secure your release from custody.  You are subject to TCI laws and must follow local law enforcement procedures.”

CBS News reported on the most recent cases:

A 30-year-old Virginia man has become the latest American tourist to face serious legal troubles in the Turks and Caicos after being arrested for having ammunition in his luggage, according to CBS News.

Tyler Wenrich was taken into custody on April 20 after two bullets were allegedly found in his backpack as he attempted to board a cruise ship. The discovery could lead to a mandatory minimum sentence of up to 12 years in prison, under the territory’s strict gun control laws.

This incident is part of a concerning trend for American visitors to the British territory. At least four other U.S. nationals are potentially facing long prison sentences for similar offenses.

Michael Lee Evans, a 72-year-old American, pleaded guilty to possessing seven rounds of ammunition after his arrest in December. He is currently on bail in the U.S. for medical reasons, with a sentencing hearing scheduled for June.

Another tourist, Michael Grim from Indiana, has already served nearly six months in prison after pleading guilty to accidentally bringing ammunition in his checked luggage.

On April 12, Ryan Watson, a 40-year-old father of two from Oklahoma, was also arrested when airport security found four rounds of hunting ammunition in his carry-on bag. He was released on a $15,000 bond and is required to remain on the island and check in bi-weekly at the local police station while his case progresses.

In an interview with CBS News, Watson expressed that the incident was a mistake, noting that even the TSA failed to detect the ammunition during a security screening at Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City.

The TSA acknowledged the oversight and stated they are addressing the issue internally.

Following these incidents, the U.S. State Department has reiterated warnings to American tourists traveling to Turks and Caicos to meticulously check their luggage for any forgotten ammunition or weapons.

The Turks and Caicos government emphasized its commitment to enforcing its laws strictly. “All visitors must follow its law enforcement procedures,” a government spokesperson stated following the recent arrests.

These cases highlight the consequences of even unintentional violations of local laws regarding firearms and ammunition, which are far stricter in some countries than in the U.S. It also highlights how our State department is failing American citizens being taken prisoner in some banana republic, while we allow people from similar countries to break the law by sneaking across our borders with few if any consequences.

It is incumbent upon every gun owner to be careful when they travel and obey the laws, but honest mistakes are just that, honest mistakes, and while fines are understandable in such situations, imprisonment is not and the Unites States should institute similar penalties for their citizens found here in violation of any laws.

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