More than 2,600 firearms have been found during searches by TSA at U.S. airport security checkpoints this year, including five at the Dayton International Airport — a trend that’s expected to meet if not surpass last year’s record breaking total confiscated.
Transportation Security Administration officials at the Dayton airport said they find prohibited items every day in travelers’ carry-on bags, ranging from full-size hair products and aerosol cans to the occasional firearm. Not including liquids and aerosols, about 25 to 50 pounds of prohibited items are collected in Dayton every month, said TSA regional spokesman Mark Howell.
Five firearms were discovered either on travelers or packed in their carry-on bags at the Dayton airport this year. In 2018, nine guns were found in Dayton and 4,239 in the U.S.
About 86 percent of those guns were loaded and 34 percent had a bullet in the chamber.
“We’re screening more passengers than ever before and you’ve got more people carrying than ever before. Put those two things together, you’re going to have more guns at airports,” Howell said.
Most of the time firearms that are caught by TSA officers are carried by a concealed carry permit holder who is used to carrying the firearm and forgot to leave it behind, Howell said.
About 700,000 people in Ohio have concealed carry permits, a growing number of the last decade as more than just “gun people” look to concealed carry as everyday protection, said Jim Irvine, board president of Buckeye Firearm Association.
“Under stress we make mistakes, good people make mistakes,” Irvine said. “The person who wrongfully brings a knife that’s a half an inch to big, or a too big a bottle of shampoo or a gun, none of these people are the problem. So yeah, TSA’s got to do their job and they’ve got to take the stuff and we’ve got to deal.”
But Irvine said he thinks criminally prosecuting them is a waste of resources when there are other bigger issues for courts and law enforcement to tackle.
Regardless of why a traveler has a firearm on them or in their bag when heading through security, TSA officials call law enforcement who will immediately go to the checkpoint and remove the firearm and passenger. The firearm carriers could face a citation or arrest at the decision of law enforcement.
In almost every case, a civil penalty is mailed to the passenger from TSA, which could be as high as $13,333 depending on if the gun is loaded and how many times the offense has been committed. But on average a carrier of a loaded gun could face $3,000 to $4,000 and the unloaded is around $2,400.
Nell Mason of Jupiter, Florida was at the Dayton airport Tuesday. Her husband is from Centerville and the two are starting to spend six months in the area and six in Florida each year. Mason said she’s glad they fine people because others will be more cautious when heading to the airport if they know the penalty exists.
“We’d rather everybody be safe than sorry,” she said.
The number of prohibited items found tends to go up in the summer when more people are traveling, Howell said. Two of Dayton’s firearm encounters were in June.
“We’re in the middle of a record breaking season now. We’ve had several daily records broken this year, so we are screening heavy volumes of passengers. And when you have heavier volume, obviously your going to have more prohibited items,” Howell said.
Aside from firearms, other tools, knives and martial arts gear like hammers, ninja stars, pocket knives and credit card-size utility tools are collected nearly daily, said TSA officer LaShandra Carey, who has worked at the Dayton Airport for six years. She’s seen things as strange as a bear head packed in carry-on baggage.
These types of items, as long as they’re legal, are never confiscated, Carey said. TSA will always give travelers the option to check the items with their airline, return them to someone who dropped them off, take them back to a parked car or in many cases airports have mailing services.
Many times though, travelers will choose to forfeit their prohibited items to TSA officials because they don’t want to pay to check them and don’t have time to return them to the car.
Once those items are forfeited they’re stored until auction dates when the government sells the items. The proceeds benefit state agencies. At auction, Howell said some pawn shops will buy boxes of pocket knives.
“I’ve been pretty diligent,” said Beth McDonald, who flies once to twice a month. “(Having prohibited items) becomes problematic. It holds up the line. It’s also inconvenient for you because you’re going to lose whichever items they were and it’s just easier to check the list.”
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