TSA recently released a top 10 list for airports with the most guns seized, shining a light on a serious issue in the country. It is illegal to bring firearms into airports, but many people fall victim to simple oversights and find themselves in this situation. There are very serious consequences to this offense, and understanding it is the key to avoiding it.
Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in Austin, Texas, ranked number 8 on the TSA’s top 10 list. A closer look at the situation from the Austin perspective gives more insight into the issue at hand.
However, Austin is only an example of an issue that seems shockingly simple yet is often overlooked by travelers across the country. While gun laws vary from place to place, TSA exerts the authority inside airports to prohibit guns outside of very specific circumstances.
Those who don’t comply with TSA firearm regulations face serious consequences, regardless of their intent.
A Record Number Of Guns Found In Airports In 2017
According to the TSA, a record-breaking number of guns were seized at U.S. airport checkpoints last year. Nationwide, over 4,200 guns were discovered at 249 airports across the country.
Over 86% of the guns recovered were loaded, but passengers found carrying them overwhelmingly cite simple mistakes as the cause of these offenses. Loaded guns in carryon luggage is an even more serious offense than improperly packed guns that aren’t loaded.
Even more disturbing is this statistic. Of the guns recovered, 3 in 10 were “round-chambered” and ready to shoot.
The majority of the jump in numbers come out of the area of the country known as the Sun Belt. This spans from Atlanta to Arizona, where states have more lenient gun laws. While many of the guns are discovered through TSA screening, some manage to pass through security checks. The true number of these oversights isn’t known.
Estimates place the national average for gun discoveries at airports at 12 times each day, often in carry-on bags. This is fairly astonishing for most Americans who don’t carry guns. Those that do, however, can see how a mistake could happen.
The 4,239 guns stopped at TSA checkpoints last year is a 7 percent increase compared with last year’s numbers. The top 10 airports, which include ABIA in Austin, account for nearly one-third of the occurrences as a whole.
A review of the numbers shows an increase in the number of guns seized each year since 2008. This clearly shows a lack of forethought and understanding among Americans when it comes to how to travel with guns. Because of this TSA is attempting to raise awareness about the proper way to fly with firearms.
According to CBS,
Most [offenders] ranged in age from their 30s to their 50s but guns were found in the luggage of an 84-year-old woman, a 10-year-old boy, an airport worker, and a pastor from Texas who told police he forgot the gun was in his backpack. – CBS News
In CBS’ report on the issue, TSA representatives expressed concern over the numbers and the fact that some firearms were found only on return flights although they were presumably present on the outgoing flight as well.
This brings up an interesting concern for people who truly do forget they have firearms in their luggage. You might not even realize you’ve made the mistake until you’re already at your destination.
93 Guns Found At ABIA In Austin, Texas
ABIA in Austin finds itself among checkered company this year. Austin ranks the 8th on the top 10 list although it didn’t break the top 10 at all the previous year. This is a significant jump and one that made news across the State.
Of the 93 discovered firearms at ABIA, 76 were loaded. This is in clear violation of the proper procedure, which necessitates the declaration of all firearms. Once declared, guns must be placed, unloaded, into a tamper proof, hard-sided container inside checked luggage. Passengers are advised to call the airline in advance in order to properly comply with regulations.
Any additional firearm parts and ammunition must also be checked and not included in carry-on luggage.
While Austin is not necessarily unique in this regard, Texas does represent heavily on the top 10 list.
4 Texas Airports Make The List
ABIA isn’t the only Texas airport on the TSA’s list. The Dallas Fort Worth International Airport placed 2nd, the George Bush Intercontinental airport placed 6th and the Dallas Love Field airport placed 9th.
The difference in gun control laws across the country may contribute to the confusion that lands otherwise law-abiding citizens in trouble when it comes to their firearms and air travel.
The Hartsfield- Jackson Atlanta International Airport also saw a surprising number of seized firearms within the 12-month span the list covers. During the year, 298 guns were taken from passengers, 253 of which were loaded.
They don’t think twice about it. They think ‘I have a permit,’ and that permit I know is good across state lines. They don’t think that does not apply on an airplane.” – Jeff Price, former assistant security director at Denver International Airport
Gun Control In America
Gun control and gun laws are a contentious issue in the United States, with region varying wildly in terms of their opinions and regulations.
This poses specific problems and creates confusion for travelers who may not consider the laws of the areas they are traveling to, or through.
States like Arkansas are expanding rather than restricting gun regulation, for example. Gov. Asa Hutchinson ratified a bill last year allowing guns in public buildings, including hospitals and sports arenas.
The only requirements were a concealed carry permit, an 8-hour training course for anyone 25 and older.
Georgia is also known for having lenient gun laws, ranking only 8 on a scale of 100 for gun toughness by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
Georgia is far from the other state that is for the right to carry. 27 additional states scored even lower than Georgia on the same toughness scale by the Brady Campaign. In fact, Alaska, Utah, and Arizona received no points at all. They ranked even lower than Georgia in the assessment.
A handful of states are routinely regarded by gun control advocate groups as being too lax. Regardless of the side of the debate one falls on, it’s easy to see how these disparities create an issue for travelers coming from one area to another.
Laws and public opinions can vary greatly. States like Alaska, Arizona, Wyoming, and Vermont allow law-abiding adults to carry a concealed firearm without a permit, with some states extending this ideal to citizens under 18.
For TSA, however, the issue is far more simple. They have hard and fast rules that apply in airports across the nation. These often catch travelers unaware and cause congestion, detainment, arrests, and seizures.
In fact, Colorado State representative Lori Saine was caught with a firearm at the Denver International Airport. She, like most people who find themselves in this position, didn’t realize she was carrying the firearm until it was already an issue.
Unfortunately, that type of after-the-fact disclosure doesn’t automatically get passengers off the hook.
I said right away ‘I’m sorry I forgot, I made a mistake,’ and that’s when I was cuffed, Hopefully, this is a learning experience for others not to make the mistake in the first place. – Lori Saine, CBS News
We can all learn from these highly publicized examples.
Texas Stance On Guns
Texas is particularly lenient on gun ownership. It is classified as a “shall Issue” state where anyone over the age of 18 can openly carry a firearm as long as they aren’t a felon. Licenses are easily obtained with minimal requirements.
Individuals must be 21 years old to own and carry a handgun in Texas provided the gun is purchased from a federally licensed dealer. Licenses to carry are issued to both residents and nonresidents with a 4-6 hour training course required.
Open carry laws require guns be kept in shoulder or belt holsters.
Rick Cofer Esq. On Guns At ABIA- An Attorney’s Perspective
Austin Attorney, Rick Cofer, told KTBC that most Austin citizens are simply unaware about requirements and break them accidentally. They aren’t criminals or those with nefarious intent.
Typically, it’s business travelers, typically it’s men, typically it’s folks that are hunters. They’re not being negligent they just routinely carry firearms and literally forgot that they had a gun in their carry on it happens. – Rick Cofer.
Regardless of whether individual Americans are pro or against guns, educating the public about the issue of traveling with firearms is important. It isn’t simply an individual strain when seizures happen, it’s a waste of national resources to detain and investigate simple mistakes.
Nonetheless, airport security is as crucial as ever and these instances must be taken seriously. While the best course of action is to avoid violating gun laws at airports, should you find yourself in this situation, there is some hope.
Cofer’s experience has shown that people with clean records who accidentally put firearms in their carry-on luggage may be granted some leniency.
[Individuals in violation] have to forfeit the weapon, pay a fine to TSA and agree not to violate any law for a certain period of time generally that results in a dismissal, not always. – Rick Cofer, Fox 7, Austin
And Cofer should know, he runs a criminal defense practice in Austin handling a fair amount of cases regarding gun issues. As odd as it may seem to most readers, he is familiar with regular people accidentally bringing guns to the airport or forgetting firearms were in their carry-on bags.
Prior to private practice, Rick Cofer was a prosecutor in the Texas Juvenile Court system.
Read more about Rick Cofer here:
How To Avoid Legal Problems Over Guns At The Airport
The best course of action is always to avoid the problem in the first place. The way to do that is to familiarize yourself with the regulations regarding firearms at US airports.
According to TSA, firearms must be in a locked hard-sided container as checked baggage only. Firearms and ammunition must both be declared to the airline when the bag is checked. The representative at the ticket counter will know how to proceed.
Regarding the hard-sided container, it must lock completely and prevent anyone from accessing the firearm inside. If the case locks but can be opened easily it will be rejected. TSA also advises against assuming the container the firearm was in when purchased is sufficient enough to meet their travel requirements.
Other TSA guidelines include:
- When traveling, comply with the laws concerning possession of firearms as they vary by local, state and international governments.
- If you are traveling internationally with a firearm in checked baggage, please check the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website for information and requirements prior to travel.
- Declare each firearm each time you present it for transport as checked baggage. Ask your airline about limitations or fees that may apply.
- Firearms must be unloaded and locked in a hard-sided container and transported as checked baggage only. As defined by 49 CFR 1540.5 a loaded firearm has a live round of ammunition, or any component thereof, in the chamber or cylinder or in a magazine inserted in the firearm. Only the passenger should retain the key or combination to the lock unless TSA personnel request the key to open the firearm container to ensure compliance with TSA regulations. You may use any brand or type of lock to secure your firearm case, including TSA-recognized locks.
- Firearm parts, including magazines, clips, bolts and firing pins, are prohibited in carry-on baggage, but may be transported in checked baggage.
- Replica firearms, including firearm replicas that are toys, may be transported in checked baggage only.
- Rifle scopes are permitted in carry-on and checked baggage.- gov
According to these guidelines, it’s wise to familiarize yourself with gun laws in the states you are traveling to. Also, consider layovers where you potentially change planes since this can also create certain situations if not planned for.
What To Do If You Realize You Have Your Gun At ABIA
If you find yourself in this unfortunate position, full transparency is best. Immediately find a security officer or airport personnel and disclose the oversight to them. Just because you managed to get through security doesn’t mean you won’t get caught later down the line.
You will probably miss your flight but may avoid the full extent of potential prosecution by disclosing early.
When a TSA agent finds a firearm in a carry-on, they contact airport police. From that point, the police will seize the firearm and contemplate criminal charges.
The TSA can then also issue a hefty civil fine of up to $13,300. This figure depends on a variety of factors including the type of weapon seized.
In addition to the preceding actions, agents may perform a background check on the passenger. The outcome of the background check makes a difference on how the scene plays out. If the passengers pass the background check, they may be allowed to leave with their firearm to return it to their home or car.
If passengers don’t have a license for the gun, criminal charges may ensue. People in this situation could be charged with either a felony or misdemeanor, based on the perceived intent of the gun owner.
With proper representation and full cooperation, like Attorney Rick Cofer told Fox 7, you may receive some leniency.
Rescues And Remedies
Along with TSA laws, possession of a firearm at the airport could be illegal under city ordinance.
You could be arrested and charged with a criminal offense if you carry a firearm onto airport property under these local and state ordinances. This is in addition to fines issued by TSA.
If you find yourself in this position, contacting a local attorney is crucial. Local defense attorneys will be able to represent you in any resulting federal, state, and local weapon charges.
In Texas, state gun laws mirror Federal gun laws. Therefore, there are no restrictions placed by the State above and beyond those levied by the federal government.
TSA imposed fines for firearms found in the airport are probably, as are criminal charges if the gun is loaded.
The standard fine for attempting to bring a handgun through security ca vary by extremes. Expect fines between $330 and $9,800, depending on the weapon and whether or not it’s loaded.
You might additionally be fined for inappropriately stored firearms in your checked luggage. These fines can range from $650 to $1,310 for undeclared or unloaded, improperly packed firearms. Loaded firearm fines range between $1,310 and $2,610.
Educate Yourself In Advance
The best way to avoid problems relating to firearms at the airport is to ensure you’re aware of local, federal and airline laws and policies regarding firearms. If you have questions before you travel, contact the airline or airport for additional information.
Properly secure all firearms and ammunition in compliance with TSA requirements and any recommendations the airline issues to passengers.
With education and awareness, many Americans can avoid this potentially expensive and serious issue entirely. A hopeful outcome of this education campaign would be to see next year’s numbers decrease significantly.