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TSA: Carelessness most common culprit with guns at airports

Last Updated 2 weeks by Amnon J. Jobi | Amnon Front Page

TSA catches thousands of guns a year

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A firearms lawyer on Tuesday said fines are nearly guaranteed but criminal charges are uncommon when someone brings a gun to an airport checkpoint.

U.S. Rep. Victoria Spartz was one of two Hoosiers who ran afoul of the TSA’s firearms regulations on Friday. Her office said she accidentally brought a handgun to Dulles International Airport in Virginia.

The gun was not loaded and she did not have any ammunition with her. That same day, Dalton Raffert of Mitchell, Ind., was caught at Reagan National Airport with a loaded .22-caliber handgun and a switchblade. Spartz and Raffert were two of the roughly 16 cases the TSA averages each day of people bringing guns to airport security.

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TSA regional spokesperson Jessica Mayle said those at fault almost never have any nefarious intent when they bring their guns to the airport but the agency still has to take such incidents seriously. She said any time TSA officers detect a gun in someone’s carry-on, they have to search the bag, pull the person aside, and alert local law enforcement. That disrupts the flow through the checkpoint and could cause the person to miss their flight.

“They aren’t really trying to smuggle the gun on board for nefarious purposes. It’s just carelessness,” she said. “But the consequences are the same, and the risks are the same, really, to have this gun in that environment.”

Mayle said TSA officers at Indianapolis International Airport have intercepted 37 firearms so far this year, roughly on par with 2023. Nationwide, the TSA caught 1,503 firearms at airport security in the first three months of the year.

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Carmel firearms attorney Guy Relford said he handles about 10 such cases a year, most of them very similar to Spartz’s. He said typically, the person previously used a piece of luggage to take a gun to the range and forgot it was in there.

“You would think responsible gun owners wouldn’t make that mistake but it actually happens fairly frequently,” he said.

Relford said the way to avoid the problem is to never use the same pieces of luggage for both travel and range use. If you use a purse to carry a concealed firearm, he said it’s a good idea to keep a separate one for travel. If you do get caught with a gun at airport security, Relford said to be upfront and honest about how you believe it got there.

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The TSA can levy a fine of up to $15,000 for such violations and Relford said violators nearly always end up paying a hefty sum. Criminal charges are up to local prosecutors. Relford said charges are rare in Marion County unless it appears the person knowingly and intentionally concealed the gun in their luggage.

If you do wish to transport a firearm by air, Mayle said it has to be unloaded and in a locked, hard-sided case. You have to put it in your checked luggage and you must declare it when you check your bags.

Mayle said ammunition can be left in its factory box but it has to be packed separately.