Anyone who has boarded an airplane in the US in the last 20 years knows that airport security has very tight safety precautions. While some of the rules and prohibitions the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) imposes may seem confusing or arbitrary, most people are willing to make sure they are not carrying liquids in their carry-on bags before attempting to board a plane. Conversely, there are people like the individuals who inspired this article, who have attempted to bring guns through TSA checkpoints and onto airplanes. And on rare occasions, travelers claim to forget they have packed their firearms into their carryon luggage.
The TSA has procedures and rules in place to allow passengers to transport firearms safely during air travel. The firearm must be unloaded, with ammunition packed separately, and locked in a hard-sided container that secures the weapon against access. This container must be transported in checked baggage only, and the presence of a firearm must be declared at each baggage checkpoint. In addition, the individual transporting the firearm must comply with any and all state, local, and foreign laws regarding the possession and transportation of firearms applicable to the jurisdictions involved. Failure to comply may result in both a civil enforcement action from the TSA and a criminal enforcement action from the relevant jurisdictional authority. Civil penalties imposed by the TSA may total as much as $13,910 per violation, per person.
It is no secret that all passengers must pass through TSA security checkpoints before boarding an airplane, and the TSA website includes a searchable list of items that have restrictions for carry-on or checked luggage (as well as items that passengers might not be sure are permitted, such as knitting needles – which are allowed). Despite these well-known procedures and restrictions, there has been a recent surge in firearms found on passengers or their carry-on bags at TSA checkpoints. In 2020, TSA officers across the country discovered 3,257 firearms at carry-on checkpoints. Given that the total number of passengers moving through these checkpoints dropped by 500 million relative to 2019, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of firearms discovered represents a huge surge in the rate of firearm-carrying passengers. Those 3,257 guns represent a rate of 10 firearms per million passengers – about double 2019’s rate of approximately five firearms per million passengers. Even more worryingly, 83 percent of the guns discovered by the TSA in 2020 were found loaded.
This worrying nationwide trend has also been echoed locally at the Newark-Liberty International Airport. In 2019, 11 guns were caught at TSA checkpoints in the airport. In 2020, with vastly fewer people flying due to the pandemic starting in March, TSA agents at the Newark airport caught another 11 firearms. The year 2021 isn’t shaping up to be any better for Newark, either. On March 30th of this year, TSA authorities caught an unloaded 9mm handgun in a man’s carry-on luggage when the bag went through the X-ray unit. The weapon was confiscated, Port Authority Police were notified, and the man was detained for questioning. The bag and its contents turned out to belong to the man’s traveling companion, his aunt, who accepted responsibility for the bag and firearm, and was arrested on the charge of violating local firearm laws. The also faces significant federal civil penalties for bringing a firearm to a TSA checkpoint.
In June of this year, an even more egregious breach of firearms procedure was caught at the X-ray scanner of another Newark TSA checkpoint. In this incident, a Pennsylvania man claimed to have “forgot” that he was carrying a loaded 9mm handgun in his carry-on bag; the gun contained seven bullets, including one in the chamber. The weapon was confiscated and the man was arrested on weapons charges. In a statement on the incident, the TSA’s Federal Security Director for New Jersey, Thomas Carter, pointed out the inadequacy of the arrested man’s defense that he had forgotten he had the gun. “If you own a gun you need to know where it is at all times.”
An August incident saw the 11th firearm seized at a Newark-Liberty TSA checkpoint in 2021, according to nj.com, bringing the total up to equal 2020’s and 2019’s numbers, despite the pandemic dramatically reducing air travel rates. In this incident, a man from Hawaii was found with an antique revolver in his carry-on bag on August 22nd. Again, the X-ray unit discovered the weapon. The man claimed the gun was his father’s and that he had forgotten it was in his bag. In this case – likely because the gun was an antique and not loaded – police allowed the man to leave the airport to secure the firearm. However, he still faces a steep federal fine, and the Newark TSA faces the worry that last year’s seized firearm record will be broken in the remaining months of 2021.
Contact Howard P. Lesnik, Esq. Immediately
I am a New Jersey criminal trial attorney board certified by the NJ Supreme Court. New Jersey’s gun laws are extremely complex. Anyone who is charged with a SERIOUS court case needs to have an experienced criminal defense attorney. If you are a family member were issued a criminal charge for gun in New Jersey, contact me immediately so I can review your case and the strict gun laws and advise you as to all possible avenues to make sure that you are properly represented. Please contact me now by email, by phoning 908.264.7701, or by completing the form to the right to schedule your complimentary 30-minute strategy session.