COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — There are signs all over the airport: No guns beyond this point. But airport security is catching more guns than ever in the scanners.
Lt. Todd Heck, a police officer at John Glenn International Airport, explains what happens after the stomach-dropping moment when you realized your gun was in your hand luggage.
“When that image is seen of a firearm on the X-ray machine, the operations at that screening lane stop,” Heck said. “That’s probably the first clue for that passenger that something’s awry. … Typically, once we arrive and they see us in and around the X-ray machine conversing with TSA officers, holding that bag to identify that owner, the majority of them are caught off guard.”
This isn’t the time to pretend that bag isn’t yours.
“We have means and capabilities of identifying who that bag belongs to. … We can determine who the owner is. They’re not going to be able to leave at that point. That individual is not going to be able to complete the screening process with TSA and again, they’re going to be placed in investigative custody with us and not be free to leave,” Heck said.
What happens to the friend or spouse of the person who brought the gun through airport security?
“If we determine that they don’t have any association with that bag other than traveling with that individual, they are going to be free to leave and carry on with their flight,” Heck said. “They will have an opportunity if they’d like to come back out into the public area and wait for that individual potentially to be released, and then make arrangements at a later time to travel together.”
But the trip isn’t going to be much fun.
“If we establish probable cause that that individual did bring that firearm into a screening checkpoint, at minimum right now they face a misdemeanor of the second degree, which carries up to 90 days in jail and up to a $750 fine, and then we also seize their firearm as evidence and that can be forfeited by the judge.”
Typically, the police will issue a summons for a later court date, which allows the person to carry on with their journey. But everything changes if they have an active warrant.
“Depending on the status of the warrant … that person could be taken to the Franklin County Jail, incarcerated, and not released until they’re in front of a judge,” Heck said.
And, if you’ve had that “oops” moment and tried to bring a handgun through in the past, bringing a firearm through again might make it a felony, not a misdemeanor. Owning a conceal-carry license is also no protection — guns are not allowed through airport security.
TSA issues civil penalties to travelers who bring guns to a checkpoint, TSA said in a media release. A typical first offense for carrying a loaded handgun into a checkpoint is $4,100. The complete list of civil penalties is on the TSA website.
Lt. Heck recommends that you thoroughly empty out any purse, duffle bag, backpack or luggage you plan to use when flying. Empty the contents and start to pack them with your travel items. That helps to eliminate frustrating — and expensive — mistakes.
Passengers are permitted to travel with firearms in checked baggage if they are unloaded, packed separately from ammunition in a locked hardback case and declared at the airline check-in counter. Firearm possession laws vary by state and locality. Travelers should check for firearm laws where they are traveling and returning, TSA said.