Rock ’n’ roller Rick Derringer is 40-some years past his 1970s’ All American Boy phase. His flowing golden locks and shiny silver jacket is replaced by a short-cropped cut and a conservative business suit.
Derringer was dressed like that last week because he was appearing at the federal courthouse in Atlanta to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of trying to bring a loaded gun through airport security.
Actually, he already had brought a gun through security — repeatedly, according to his own recollection. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The aptly named Derringer got caught last month at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport after returning from Cancun, Mexico. Transportation Security Administration officials found his Kel-Tec pistol in his carry bag after he left Customs and he went back through security to fly home to Florida.
That’s right, he had the gun with him on a flight and, well, let’s let the feds tell it from here:
“Derringer admitted that he presented his tan carry-on bag to TSA and it was at this point (he) realized that there might be a problem with him having a weapon in his carry-on bag. Derringer explained he is a musician and that he travels by commercial airline approximately 30-50 times per year. Derringer stated that he always carries his weapon with him in his carry-on bag when he travels and said that he has never been told that this is not allowed.”
And here I am, getting pulled aside for 8-ounce bottle of mouthwash, and my 86-year-old mother’s purse getting turned upside down for a nail clipper, yet an aging rocker blithely clears security 30 to 50 times a year with a loaded gun?!?
Perhaps this shouldn’t surprise anyone. Two years ago some undercover Homeland Security agents, known as the “Red Team,” sneaked weapons or fake explosives through TSA checkpoints 67 of the 70 times they tried. That’s a failure rate of 95 percent.
To the TSA’s defense (and I can’t believe I just typed that), the Red Team folks are really sneaky and are supposedly expert at finding ways to hide contraband.
But Derringer, despite his success at getting through undetected, wasn’t trying to hide anything.
“I wasn’t being sneaky,” he said after his appearance. “It was just a screw-up.”
As to the fact he didn’t know not to be packing on an airplane, it just shows how some Americans don’t pay attention to the news, or to frequent signs and placards at the airport, or to all the post 9/11 hubbub about airport security. There’s just something refreshingly ignorant about it.
Perhaps TSA doubled down because last year screeners confiscated 3,391 guns, a 28-percent bump from 2015. Atlanta, home of the Guns Everywhere Law, led the nation with 198 confiscations, which is either a tribute to our determination for self-defense or a knock on us for not paying attention.
Incidentally, 83 percent of all guns are loaded. And, given the Red Team’s and the All American Boy’s experience, one has to wonder — and worry — about how many guns get through.
Derringer left for his trip to Cancun on Jan. 5, clearing security in Sarasota, Florida, before flying to Atlanta and then to Cancun.
“The person who missed this in the screening was terminated,” Rick Piccolo, president and CEO of Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, told the Associated Press. “This is one where it got through, and the person did not do what they’re supposed to do or trained to do.”
Derringer got nabbed in Atlanta on his return four days later, Jan. 9. Before coming to Atlanta, Derringer “was stopped by Cancun security for having excessive liquids in his bag. Derringer stated that at no time did Cancun security mention anything to him about having a gun in his carry-on bag,” according to a federal complaint.
The 69-year-old, who soon will be inducted into the Florida Music Hall of Fame, told authorities he thought it was cool to carry his gun on board flights because he has a carry license.
About Derringer’s repeated success at bringing weaponry aboard? Well, I suppose that’ll be brought up in future TSA training classes.
I stumbled onto the Derringer hearing by mistake, having come for the arraignment of one of the inmates accused of sneaking in and out of “Club Fed,” the minimum-security facility at the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta.
Derringer was seated next to defense attorney Bruce Harvey, who has held onto his long hair from the Sixties. Both client and barrister are suitably tattooed.
Harvey said Derringer, whose biggest hit as a solo artist was the infectious “Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo,” has never been in trouble. That’s quite an accomplishment for someone who has banged around in the rock-n-roll bidness for more than half a century.
He also did the vocals on “Hang on Sloopy,” the 1965 No. 1 hit by The McCoys, a song knocked from the top spot by the Beatles’ “Yesterday,” which is possibly one of the best pop songs ever written.
I was happy to shake his hand, telling him I saw him in the Aragon Ballroom (known as the Brawlroom) in perhaps 1977 as his band opened for Blue Oyster Cult.
Later, I thought my memory might be failing me. Maybe it was Foghat.
I asked Derringer, a diminutive and pleasant fellow, how he found Bruce Harvey to be his attorney.
“The FBI recommended him,” Derringer said. “The FBI agent was a fan.”
Presumably, he was referring to himself, not the lawyer.
Derringer smiled after the court hearing — which will leave him $1,000 lighter. “I get to keep my (gun carry) license,” he said.