Comic-Con: How 3,000 Fake Weapons Get Through Security

A team of about 300 active and former law enforcement officials carefully inspect every dangerous-looking costume accessory to help keep the pop culture convention safe.
AP Images

For every light saber, sword, bow and arrow or realistic-looking firearm at Comic-Con, there's a security official who has inspected the anticipated 3,000 "weapons" that are all part of costumed fans roaming the San Diego Convention Center over the five-day event.

While Comic-Con International has a strict policy forbidding functioning weapons, the convention has brought in a group of contracted security officials to help ensure that every Jedi and Jon Snow — and the hordes of Stormtroopers, comic book and video game character cosplayers — with a dangerous-looking accessory is playing by the rules.

"Anything that comes in here that resembles a weapon or can be used as a weapon we check to make sure that it is not an actual weapon," says a high-ranking security manager contracted to oversee the weapons-check department who wished to remain unidentified in order to protect his identity as a law enforcement official. "We also roam the floor and if we see anything suspect, we'll inspect the weapon to make sure that it's inert and ensure it's not real and safe to bring into the crowd because we don't want anyone to get hurt. Then we'll tag it with a visual indication that security has looked at it and deemed it as not a threat."

The staff of around 300 all are either active or former law enforcement personnel with about 10 years experience under their belts. Each carefully inspects every single weapon — from Thor's Styrofoam hammer to intricate designs from the most obscure comics.

As of Thursday afternoon — and including Wednesday's Preview Night — the unnamed weapons check boss says his team has already tagged more than 1,000 "weapons." So far, nothing has been confiscated, though one fan whose costume included a whopping 10 realistic-looking weapons gave his team pause.

"I'm not into the genre of the superhero characters or comics but we had one individual came in who had in excess of 10 weapons on his costume," he says. "They were realistic — old-style cap guns, swords and knives. He came to us and we inspected all of those items to make sure they weren't real and that the knives were not metal or sharp."

And for those who fail to have their dangerous-looking accessories inspected, the security team is roaming the convention floor and surrounding areas looking for anything untagged. "If the individual walks by any officer and they do not see the security tag, they'll send them back to us or call us to respond to their current location," he said.

While Wednesday and Thursday have been calm, the weapons-inspection team is expecting a massive crowd for Friday and Saturday — where Star Wars, Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead are poised to panel. By the end of the pop culture conference, they are expecting to have carefully inspected more than 3,000 custom fake weapons. What's perhaps even more impressive is that the team is not expecting anything to sound their alarm bell.  

"The Comic-Con fans know the rules and this is their show; they waited a long time for this and want to have a good time," he says. "We're here to make sure that they can do that. Some of these costumes are pretty realistic and by us inspecting them, it makes people just visiting more confident [in their safety]."

The calm and cool security official noted that so far, none of the costumes that were paired with the faux weapons surprised him — but it was the "lack of costume" on a few committed fans that did. "I've seen some very limited costume attire — and they don't need a weapons check," he joked.