More RDU trav­el­ers caught with guns in carry-on bags

The News & Observer (Sunday) - - Triangle&n.c. - BY RICHARD STRADLING [email protected]­sob­

The Trans­porta­tion Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion has been check­ing car­ryon bags for weapons at U.S. air­ports since shortly af­ter the ter­ror­ist at­tacks of Sept. 11, 2001, so it shouldn’t be a sur­prise that you can’t bring a gun onto an air­plane.

But the TSA says the num­ber of guns found at air­port se­cu­rity check­points con­tin­ues to grow ev­ery year. Last year’s record of 3,957 firearms found in carry-on bags na­tion­wide will be eclipsed again in 2018, said TSA spokes­woman Sari Koshetz.

At Raleigh-Durham In­ter­na­tional Air­port, 61 pas­sen­gers have been found with guns by the TSA so far this year, with the busy hol­i­day travel season still ahead.

That’s up from 51 firearms in all of 2017, Koshetz said.

“This es­ca­lat­ing trend is both dis­turb­ing and dan­ger­ous, as most of the guns have been loaded,” she wrote in an email. “You see how pas­sen­gers fling their bags onto the X-ray belts. An ac­ci­den­tal dis­charge could have tragic re­sults.”

Na­tion­ally, 84 per­cent of guns found last year were loaded.

When TSA agents find a gun at RDU, they call air­port po­lice, who con­fis­cate the weapon and de­ter­mine whether to press charges, said air­port spokes­woman Toni Her­rera-Bast. Op­tions range from a civil ci­ta­tion to a felony charge, de­pend­ing on the cir­cum­stances.

“Un­for­tu­nately, when pas­sen­gers bring firearms and other pro­hib­ited items to the TSA check­point, it at best dis­rupts check­point op­er­a­tions and at worst has the po­ten­tial to cause a sig­nif­i­cant law en­force­ment re­sponse, caus­ing stress and anx­i­ety for all our cus­tomers,” Her­reraBast wrote in an email.

Few peo­ple are pros­e­cuted for hav­ing a gun at a TSA check­point at RDU, said Wake County Dis­trict At­tor­ney Lor­rin Free­man. Most of them have no his­tory of try­ing to sneak weapons through se­cu­rity

and al­ready face civil fines from the TSA of “mul­ti­ple thou­sands of dol­lars,” which is what any crim­i­nal court would levy for a mis­de­meanor, Free­man said in an in­ter­view.

So most cases are dis­missed as long as the gun owner takes a firearm safety or con­cealed carry per­mit course.

“Gen­er­ally speak­ing, the fines that TSA im­poses are heavy enough that peo­ple don’t want to do that twice,” Free­man said.

Most of the peo­ple caught with firearms at check­points say they sim­ply for­got the weapons were in their bags, Koshetz said.

Coun­try mu­sic star and Gar­ner na­tive Scotty McCreery said he ac­ci­den­tally left a loaded Smith and Wes­son hand­gun in the back­pack that he car­ried from a fir­ing range to RDU to catch a flight in July 2017.

McCreery was cited with a mis­de­meanor and al­lowed to get the next avail­able flight with­out the gun.

To avoid be­ing sur­prised by a for­got­ten firearm, the TSA sug­gests peo­ple un­pack their bags be­fore pack­ing for their next trip.

“Some pas­sen­gers have used the same suit­case for a pre­vi­ous road trip and had their gun tucked neatly into a zip­pered com­part­ment,” she wrote. “They missed it. We didn’t.”

It’s not clear why the TSA is stop­ping more pas­sen­gers with guns at air­ports. Koshetz doesn’t be­lieve that TSA screen­ers have got­ten bet­ter at find­ing them. Rather, she says, a growing num­ber of pas­sen­gers are be­ing care­less.

“As we have got­ten fur­ther away from the tragedy of 9/11, more and more pas­sen­gers are not fo­cus­ing on what is inside their suit­cases be­fore head­ing to the air­port,” she wrote.

Pas­sen­ger growth may ex­plain some of the in­crease, though not much. While the num­ber of air­line pas­sen­gers in the U.S. rose 10 per­cent in the decade end­ing last year, the num­ber of firearms found at check­points has risen 392 per­cent.

An­other ex­pla­na­tion may be that there are sim­ply more guns out there.

Mass shoot­ings and in­creas­ing calls for gun con­trol spurred sales, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, ac­cord­ing to an anal­y­sis by The Wash­ing­ton Post. The num­ber of FBI back­ground checks, an in­di­ca­tion of firearms sales trends, peaked in 2016 at 27.5 mil­lion, more than dou­ble what they were in 2008.

Free­man said law en­force­ment agen­cies have seen other ev­i­dence that peo­ple for­get about guns they buy but sel­dom use. Hand­guns are com­monly re­ported stolen from glove com­part­ments or un­der the seats of cars that were left un­locked overnight, she said.

The TSA has found 165 firearms in carry-on bags at North Carolina air­ports so far this year, led by Char­lotte Dou­glas In­ter­na­tional Air­port with 69. The to­tal last year statewide was 158.

It is pos­si­ble to fly with a firearm, but it must be un­loaded and in a locked, hard-sided con­tainer as checked bag­gage. Pas­sen­gers must let the air­line know about the firearm or am­mu­ni­tion when check­ing the bag at the ticket counter. For more in­for­ma­tion, go to­port­ing-firearms-an­dammu­ni­tion.

Trans­porta­tion Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion

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