TSA Reports Increase in Firearms Found at Airports
MCALLEN – The Transportation Security Administration is reporting an increase in firearms found in airports around the nation.
Several firearms were reportedly found at Rio Grande Valley airports since January.
CHANNEL 5 NEWS discovered having a license to carry doesn’t exempt the person from receiving a civil penalty, but it could mean a lesser criminal charge.
For some people, carrying a firearm is like second nature. “Most of them are just forgetting that it’s there. They just get it in the habit,” Henry Cowart said. “It’s like wearing glasses, you know, just something if they carry it all the time.”
Cowart said he’s had his license to carry for years. And as a truck driver, he said he always made sure to keep a firearm inside his cab for safety.
“Just with the things that are going on nowadays…I hope and pray that I’m never in a position where I have to use it, but if you are I want to be as equal as some sort of defense that the person may or may not be,” he said.
But when it comes to flying, Cowart said his weapon is something he makes sure to leave at home.
“My wife makes sure I’m not packing anything when I go, knives or anything. Yeah if we do we’re hunting or something. We’ll check in a shotgun or a rifle or something like that, you know in the baggage check in but I don’t ever carry concealed or anything,” he said.
Reports from TSA show four firearms were found recently at two Valley airports since January. Three were found at Harlingen’s Valley International Airport and one at the McAllen-Miller International Airport. All discoveries were at the TSA security checkpoints.
TSA spokesperson, Carrie Harmon, said they’ve seen an increase of 28 percent nationwide in 2016. She said TSA has the authority to issue a civil penalty of up to $11,000 against any passenger who brings a firearm to the checkpoint.
She said when it comes to any further criminal charge it is up to local law enforcement to pursue the case.
We spoke to Sgt. John Saenz of McAllen Police Department to find out what happens if a firearm is found in a carry on. He said it’s very circumstantial and it depends on where exactly the firearm is found.
Saenz said they have jurisdictional boundaries inside the airport so it depends on how they will respond.
We reached out to the Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez Jr. and the Assistant U.S. Attorney’s Office to find out if any criminal charges were taken in these cases.
We haven’t received any answers to our questions.
Cowart said he is already planning for his next trip in May.
“I wouldn’t carry one. In case I did it would be by accident,” he said.
He added he’ll continue to double check before he makes his way through security at the airport.
If someone is planning to travel with a firearm, there are guidelines set in place travelers must follow to avoid a potential fine or arrest.
Roy Balli, a DPS certified license to carry instructor, said there is a protocol in place if someone is planning to fly with a firearm.
“If you are going to fly and plan to take your handgun with you, it’s best to call ahead of time to the airline and ask them what their protocol is and ask for a supervisor. They’ll tell you to bring it in unloaded in an aircraft approved lockable case, and they themselves will examine it, inspect it and probably put in your checked baggage. There are other protocols in place but for the most part they take possession of it and you don’t see it until you get to your destination,” he said.
TSA stated people should thoroughly check their baggage to ensure no firearms or weapons of any kind are in their carry-on baggage.
It could lead to civil penalties or possible arrests.
Balli said if someone is caught with a firearm in their carry-on baggage and they do not have a license to carry they could face felony charges.
He said people with a license to carry a gun have the option to carry a concealed or open carry weapon, according to Texas law.
Balli said people should always make sure to read the signs posted outside of establishments before they enter to ensure they’re following their guidelines on firearms.