The number of firearms seized at security checkpoints in U.S. airports is on its way this year to setting yet another record, security officials said Wednesday.
The Transportation Security Administration seized 3,939 firearms through November, spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said, citing preliminary figures. If those numbers stand, that already puts the TSA ahead of the record-breaking 3,391 firearms seized in 2016, which was ahead of a record-breaking 2,653 in the previous year, which was ahead of a record-breaking 2,212 in the previous year, which … you get the picture.
In the latest batch reported by the TSA — 72 guns found in carry-on bags over last week — 66 of the firearms, or almost 92 percent, were loaded. Twenty-five had a round chambered.
The TSA has reported record numbers of firearms seizures since at least 2013 — more than a decade after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks led to a sometimes panicky overhaul of the nation’s security measures. Some say a few thousand guns a year is really not such a big deal when you consider that the TSA screened about 738.3 million passengers last year. The ever-rising number of TSA firearms seizures tracks record numbers of air travelers and increasing numbers of people licensed to carry firearms. One firearms researcher has suggested that the number of guns discovered in carry-on bags has decreased relative to the estimated number of people who are now legally carrying firearms in the United States.
But that’s still a Texas-size number of lethal weapons whose owners “forgot” they were carrying them, despite facing possible criminal charges and federal civil enforcement penalties of up to $9,800 for a loaded firearm and up to $3,920 for an unloaded gun. Not everyone goes to jail, either (ask Sebastian Gorka, a former adviser to President Trump, whose charge of bringing a gun to the airport was dismissed). And speaking of Texas, it turns out that not everyone even gets arrested.
A reader recently advised that Texas effectively decriminalized taking a firearm into a TSA checkpoint. If you legally carry in the Lone Star State and you bring your six-shooter to the TSA checkpoint by mistake — or, heck, maybe you thought you’d give the TSA X-ray machine a run for its money — you have an out. Under Section 46.03 of the Texas Penal Code, subsection (a)(5), it is an affirmative defense to prosecution if the person with a gun has a license to carry it and, after completing the security screening, the person immediately exits the checkpoint. In other words, after being advised that a firearm was found in your carry-on bag, you can walk the gun to your car or hand it off to a family member or friend. So long as you don’t stand your ground, you’re good.
Texas passed the measure in 2015, about a year after Georgia — whose Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport often ranks No. 1 when it comes to finding guns in carry-on bags — passed a similar law. Instead of being hauled off to the Clayton County jail after being caught with a gun at the TSA checkpoint, Atlanta police at the airport just check to ensure that the person is licensed to carry a firearm, according to a report from AJC.com.
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