At least 310 million firearms — and perhaps as many as 357 million — are floating around in the United States these days, and an estimated 12 million of those can now be found in the holsters of people who have permits to carry concealed weapons. Maybe it’s because guns seem more ubiquitous than $2 bills that so many people “forget” they’re carrying them.

But every month or so, a gun owner lugs a firearm through a Transportation Security Administration checkpoint at one of the Washington region’s three airports. The gun-toting passengers’ stories, though similar, are still somewhat incredible. How, after all, does one “forget” he or she was walking around with a deadly weapon? Often a loaded deadly weapon? In a place that makes you take off your shoes and surrender your pocketknife or bottle or water?

Yet last year alone, the TSA intercepted a record 2,653 firearms in carry-on luggage at airport checkpoints around the country. That compares with 2,212 in 2014. The TSA seized 20 firearms at Dulles International Airport, 14 at Reagan National Airport, and 16 at Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport. That compares with nine firearms at Dulles and 14 each at National and BWI in 2014.

As we noted in a previous posting, these urban and suburban cowboys at the very least gum up the lines. They pose a potential threat to screeners and fellow passengers. They are walking proof that perhaps they should not be allowed to own a firearm, let alone carry one.

Among the people who have been charged with unlawful possession of a firearm on airport property are a Maryland dentist with a prior criminal conviction and a Virginia woman who blamed her big purse. Using Freedom of Information laws, we asked law enforcement officials for the reports on people who were arrested for firearms violations at TSA checkpoints last year and then tried to reach them. In this installment, we give you a stepfather who was carrying his stepson’s handgun, a businessman who has permits to carry in more than three dozen states, and an attorney.

Michael J. Rada, Jr. is a businessman. He is also a firearms collector. He is licensed to carry a concealed firearm in 37 states. He said he’s been carrying firearms for so long and in so many places that that’s why he forgot he was carrying a loaded .380 semiautomatic handgun in his carry-on luggage when he was stopped and arrested at BWI Aug. 23, 2015.

“It was stupidity. It was an error,” Rada, of Grasonville, Md., said. “It’s not my first rodeo with a handgun.”

But to hear Rada tell it, he forgot he had the gun at the airport because weeks earlier he had been trying to game the law. In an interview, Rada said he was driving through Virginia – where he’s licensed to carry a handgun – after a hunting trip farther south and was about to enter Maryland – where he’s not permitted to carry –  when he slipped the holstered firearm into the liner of a suitcase so that a police officer would be none the wiser about it. As he said in an interview, he secreted his black Keltec P3AT handgun “. . . so that if I got stopped, the most they can do is open a suitcase legally and look in it. They cannot go further than that without a reason.”

Then, a few weeks later as he was preparing to fly out of BWI, he forgot that the gun was in his bag.

“So all of a sudden I’m going through security, and all of a sudden 15 cops show up,” Rada, 58, said.

When the gun came up on a TSA X-ray screen, Maryland Transportation Authority Police stopped Rada, confirmed that it was his bag and asked him if he owned a handgun, the District Court charging document says. Rada acknowledged that he owned a gun and told police that he might have forgotten about it because he was going hunting. The gun had one round in the chamber and 10 in the magazine, the court document says.

Rada said he wasn’t really scared as the police handcuffed him and booked him on charges of illegally carrying a handgun and interfering with security procedures. “I just kept my wits about me. I was very professional. They were very professional,” Rada said. “They were more nervous than I was. It was just kind of a strange circumstance.”


Ronald D. Frye, 43, told police he “took the gun from his stepson” and forgot he had placed it in his carry-on, a police report filed after the Aug. 20 incident at BWI says. The gun had eight rounds in the magazine; none was in the chamber. Frye, a Washington, D.C. resident who was flying to San Francisco out of BWI, was charged with the two counts usually filed in such instances, illegal possession of a handgun and interference with security procedures. But he also was charged with illegal possession of a handgun because he had been previously convicted of a crime of violence, the police report says. He also was charged with having a stolen gun and possession of marijuana. He did not return telephone calls to his home seeking comment.


John C. Penberthy III, who is a licensed attorney in Voorhees, N.J., gave an account to police that suggested he was waltzing through a TSA checkpoint with a gun because he didn’t want it to fall into a child’s hands.

For all his noble intentions, Penberthy was arrested on June 3, 2015, at BWI while carrying a Smith & Wesson .38 Special, according to a District Court charging document. The handgun — which showed up on an X-ray machine monitor — was wrapped in a shirt in the center of his carry-on bag, the court document says. It wasn’t loaded.

Penberthy, 52, who was headed to Puerto Rico, explained that his father had died recently and he wanted to keep the firearm away from “the kids in the house.” He was charged with unlawful possession of a handgun and interfering with security procedures.

Penberthy did not return telephone messages left at his law firm. A person who answered the telephone at a New Jersey residence in his name declined to comment.