NORFOLK — Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials said they are concerned about the increase in frequency they are seeing of travelers carrying handguns to security checkpoints at Norfolk International Airport (ORF).
TSA officials conducted a press conference at the airport Tuesday morning to discuss the trend, an overview of what happens when a traveler brings a gun to a security checkpoint, the latest gun statistics and the penalties involved and the delays this causes to other travelers.
TSA also will conducted a demonstration on the proper way to transport a firearm for a flight.
Last year TSA officers said 27 handguns were detected at Norfolk security checkpoints, setting a new single-year record, adding 89% of those guns were loaded. Three guns have already been detected at the checkpoints this year.
“The most common excuse we hear is that someone forgot that they had their gun with them,” said Robin “Chuck” Burke, TSA’s Federal Security Director for the airport. “That’s no excuse. If you own a firearm, you need to know where it is at all times. It’s part of being a responsible gun owner.”
Last year, 6,542 firearms were caught at 262 out of 430 airport security checkpoints nationwide, 88% of which were loaded.
“Our officers are good at their jobs, but that is not the type of record we want to set,” said Jeffrey Horowitz, TSA’s Assistant Federal Security Director for the airport. “We would much rather see travelers pack their firearms properly for a flight or leave them at home.”
When a firearm is detected at a checkpoint, the checkpoint lane comes to a standstill until the police resolve the incident, delaying travelers from getting to their gates, TSA said.
Passengers are permitted to travel with firearms in checked baggage, so long as they are properly packaged and declared at the airline ticket counter. Checked baggage firearms must be unloaded and placed in a hard-sided locked case. The locked case must then be taken to the airline check-in counter to be declared. Full details of this process are posted on the TSA website.
TSA notes it reserves the right to issue civil penalties to travelers who bring weapons with them to a checkpoint which can stretch into thousands of dollars, depending on mitigating or aggravating circumstances. The civil penalty for bringing weapons to airports recently was increased to a maximum of $15,000, it added. A complete list of civil penalties is posted online.
This prohibition even applies to travelers with concealed gun carry permits. A concealed carry permit does not allow for a firearm to be carried onto an airplane. If a traveler with a gun is a member of TSA PreCheck, they will also lose that privilege.
“The penalties are stiff for carrying a gun to a checkpoint,” Burke said. “You could face criminal penalties on top of federal civil citations that can be extremely costly. My advice is to not make the mistake of bringing your gun to the checkpoint in the first place. We’re happy to help transport your firearm. All we ask is that you pack it safely and properly for your flight.”
Travelers are responsible for the contents of their bags, thus TSA recommends travelers go through their carry-on and checked bags before they head to the airport to ensure they contain no illegal or prohibited items.
TSA also reminds travelers firearm possession laws vary by state and locality, so passengers should make sure that they are not violating any local firearm laws and should also contact their airline, which may have additional requirements for traveling with firearms and ammunition.
Those unsure if an item should be packed in a carry-on or checked bag are encouraged to download the free myTSA app, which has a “What can I bring?” feature that allows you to type in the item to find out if it can fly. Travelers can ask on Twitter or Facebook Messenger at @AskTSA.