No Gun Zone: Passengers caught with firearm at TSA checkpoints m - WBRC FOX6 News - Birmingham, AL

No Gun Zone: Passengers caught with firearm at TSA checkpoints make costly mistake

Firearm found by TSA at BHM Airport in 2017. (Source: TSA) Firearm found by TSA at BHM Airport in 2017. (Source: TSA)

The number of guns found at airport checkpoints is on the rise around the country. This year, the TSA has discovered 3,733 firearms nationwide, last year the number was 3,391.

TSA spokesperson Mark Howell said 80-90 percent of firearms that agents find are loaded. Security agents found 40 guns at Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport checkpoints so far in 2017, the highest number for any Alabama airport. Twelve were found at Huntsville's airport, four at Montgomery's airport and five at Mobile's airport.

Birmingham also came out on top compared to TSA checkpoint firearm discoveries at three similar-sized airports. The closest geographically we compared was Little Rock, Arkansas, which found 21 firearms. Four firearms were found at the airport in Des Moines, Iowa, and three were found at the airport in Buffalo, New York.

Howell said the first thing TSA does when agents spot a firearm in a passenger's carry-on bag is notify local law enforcement. That agency makes the decision on what to do with the weapon and whether to press charges against the passenger based on local and state gun laws.

Lt. Sean Edwards with Birmingham Police said officers respond to all reports of a gun at the TSA checkpoint, however, they have not made any arrests or issued any citations as a result. Edwards explained that officers take possession of the weapon, interview the subject, run a background check on the individual and the weapon and then notify the FBI. The FBI agent makes the decision on whether or not to respond. If they do not, Birmingham Police release the subject and return the weapon, which is either secured in the passenger's vehicle or they call someone to come pick it up. 

Howell said the majority of passengers give the same excuse.

"In about 99.9 percent of the times we find a firearm at the checkpoint, the common excuse we hear is, 'Oops, I forgot it was in my bag,'" said Howell.

TSA issues a civil penalty in almost every case, which can range from $250-$13,000. This week, the agency raised the maximum penalty from $12,000 to $13,000. 

"It's a very costly mistake just for forgetting that you have a gun in your bag," said Howell.

TSA asks travelers to take five extra minutes before they arrive at the airport and check all bags for prohibited items. Besides creating a security risk and facing a hefty penalty, forgetting that you're carrying a gun can make wait times for other passengers four times longer than normal.

The bottom line, according to the TSA, is to be a responsible passenger.

"If you want to take those firearms, please pack them in your checked baggage for everybody's safety," continued Howell. "Do not bring them to the checkpoint."

The TSA website includes a detailed video on how to properly pack a firearm in checked luggage. The TSA also has an eye-opening Instagram account that includes many of the prohibited weapons agents have discovered around the country.

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