Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

What happens to weapons confiscated at the airport?


Become a millionaire! Sell confiscated weapons on eBay!
Workers transfer boxes full of confiscated items like knives, razors and water guns. See something you like? Check your state surplus warehouse!
Workers transfer boxes full of confiscated items like knives, razors and water guns. See something you like? Check your state surplus warehouse!
David McNew/Getty Images

So, you were flying out of Kennedy International Airport in New York and your trusty Swiss Army knife was tossed in the box beside the screening area, along with all the others. Where does it go next?

Within a short amount of time, you probably will see your knife drawing bids online because Kennedy's items get sent to an eBay "PowerSeller" by the name of "pastatesurplus" in Harrisburg, Penn. According to eBay's Web site, "PowerSellers rank among the most successful sellers in terms of sales and customer satisfaction."

The Pennsylvania warehouse, run by the state government's Department of General Services, collects confiscated items from 12 different airports in five states and sells them on eBay [source: CBS]. Since it started using eBay in 2004, the warehouse has made hundreds of thousands of dollars. In its first year using the online auction site, the items brought in $120,000 to Pennsylvania state's general fund [source: Fox].

The Harrisburg warehouse, which also ends up with more innocent objects like bowling balls and sombreros, has even started creatively packaging the items in bundles designed to encourage sales. An all-purpose Leatherman tool, a hunting knife, a flashlight and a rope were marketed as a "hunting-season kit," while hockey sticks, pucks and a goalie's mask were promoted during the hockey playoffs.

In addition to Pennsylvania, several other states participate in the reselling of weapons. Kentucky collects from eight airports, New Hampshire from four, Alabama from 14, Texas from seven and Illinois from up to six [source: Eng]. Georgia, Oregon, California, Washington and North Carolina and South Carolina also accept items [source: Eng, Kalil].

Airports in states whose warehouses don't accept airport goodies either send their items to other warehouses or destroy them. They are missing out though. While the states listed here may not be PowerSellers, they do a brisk business. New Hampshire for instance made $26,000 in one year, Illinois $33,000 and California $62,000 [source: AP, Kalil, Milwaukee].

Some of the weapons, sometimes more accurately called tools, are offered to government agencies or non-profit groups before selling them to the public. Both Kentucky and Washington, for example, let police and fire departments sift through the tools first. Such public protection agencies often find useful items like knives, tools and stun guns that would cost much more retail. California, meanwhile, donated hundreds of bottles of pepper spray to an abused women's group, while Washington donated Swiss Army knives to Boy Scouts and fingernail clippers and files to homeless shelters.

If you're curious about the other interesting items that TSA screeners collect at airports that may end up at a warehouse near you, follow the links on the next page.


More to Explore