The Transportation Security Administration is sending a message to travelers: Yes, it is within your rights to fly with your firearm. But don’t even think about trying to take it with you through security.
The number of firearms found at security checkpoints is on the rise nationwide. This month, a record 18 guns were confiscated in one day.
Though behavior at Buffalo Niagara International Airport has not reflected the national trend – so far this year, there has only been one found – the TSA hosted an informational session at the airport Monday.
The goal: inform Western New York of how exactly you can fly with your gun. The answer: by filling out paperwork to declare the firearm, which must be unloaded and secured in a hard-sided case, and submitting it as checked baggage.
“Here it is, more than a dozen years after 9-11, and we think it would be routine for people who own firearms to know those rules and regulations and laws,” said TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein. “Yet what we’re seeing is people saying they forgot they had it.”
Numbers have increased nationwide over the past five years. They’ve gone up every year since 2009, when 976 firearms were detected at checkpoints. In 2013, there were 1,813 (81 percent were loaded). And this year is on pace to continue the trend.
NFTA Transit Police Chief George W. Gast said, on average, six to 12 passengers per year are found with guns at the security checkpoint at Buffalo’s airport.
“It’s always the same story: ‘I forgot, I didn’t realize it was in my bag, this is a bag I’ve used to go to the range, and I forgot it was there,’” Gast said. “We’ve never had somebody say, ‘Yeah, I put it in my bag and I’m trying to get on the plane.’ ”
If a passenger follows procedure, the firearm, once it is declared and inspected, goes into the luggage hold.
Why are more people bringing guns to security? Farbstein has no clue; she said it’s “mystifying.” Some may say it’s because of the recent debate around gun rights and the Second Amendment. No one seems to know.
When a gun is found on a person or in his or her baggage at a security checkpoint, on-duty officers at the airport respond. They examine the X-ray, and if they determine the firearm is real, they detain the individual and the FBI is notified.
The case is eventually referred to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for possible prosecution. If the federal prosecutor declines to press the case, Transit Police send the case to the state level.
Regardless of whether the person has a pistol permit and a clean record, everyone found with a gun at a security checkpoint receives at least a citation, and the firearm is not returned.
Federal agents and some law enforcement officers are among those allowed to legally carry a firearm aboard an aircraft. They do not, however, go through the same security checkpoint as the public.
The TSA is encouraging passengers to go online and read firearm laws and airline procedures – they vary from company to company – before arriving at the airport and to also carefully double-check their baggage to make sure there are no firearms inside.
“First of all, you’ve got to know that you’re not coming to the checkpoint with a gun,” Gast said. “That’s going to cause you all kinds of aggravation, all kinds of headaches. In the best-case scenario, you’re going to miss your flight. You’re going to be tied up for hours.”