This year more than 80 people have come to Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) security checkpoints at Bush Intercontinental Airport with a firearm, causing chaos and the Houston Police Department (HPD) to be called. These incidents appear to be on the rise. For the entirety of 2015, 100 firearms were discovered at TSA checkpoints. Bush TSA representatives recently held a press conference to review the rules regarding taking weapons on board a plane departing from Bush Intercontinental.
Gerry Phelan, TSA federal security director at Bush Intercontinental, said people who show up with a weapon at a checkpoint typically say, “I forgot,” when the weapon is discovered. “Carrying a weapon may be something they do every day, as a force of habit and as part of their wardrobe,” Phelan said. Eighty percent of the weapons discovered so far this year were loaded.
Bush TSA has specific protocol it follows upon discovery of a firearm at a checkpoint. TSA agents will call HPD to do a background check on the weapon and the individual to determine whether there is a criminal element. Phelan noted that, in addition to being delayed by HPD, TSA will also assess a civil penalty of a minimum of $3,000 for bringing a loaded firearm to a TSA security checkpoint. An unloaded weapon can result in a fine of half that amount.
Though passengers are not permitted to carry on firearms, Phelan said it’s acceptable to pack a firearm in checked luggage as long as a few requirements are met: (1) the firearm is cleared of ammunition and magazine; ( 2) rounds are separated; (3) an airline declaration form is filled out; and (4) the firearm is packed in a hard case. After declaring the weapon at an airline counter, a copy of the declaration form is placed in the case and the case is locked by the passenger. The case is required to have the passenger’s name and address on the outside in case TSA needs to open the case. Proof of ownership of the weapon is not required.
If a firearm is packed illegally in a checked bag or is not declared, HPD can also be called and/or the owner of the checked bag can be pulled off the aircraft, Phelan said. The type of firearm that can be checked is up to each airline and it is the responsibility of each passenger to determine if they are in compliance with the firearm laws of their destination state.
Beyond firearms, the TSA also has issues with other weapons being brought to the checkpoint, such as knives, brass knuckles and pepper spray. Bush TSA Supervisor Andreas Romero said 15,000 pounds of prohibited items are surrendered at Bush security checkpoints each month. He also noted that items that are club-like, such as free weights, and tools that are longer than seven inches may not be carried on board. Romero said the majority of the metal weapons surrendered at the checkpoint are recycled by an outside vendor who melts them down.
More information can be found at tsa.gov.