US Attorney Promises Crackdown On Guns Accidentally Brought To Airport

AP Photo/Michael Dwyer

I’m not sure why we’re seeing an increase in the number of firearms found in carry-on luggage at airports over the past few months, but the growing numbers are real, and they’ve been climbing for some time. As Forbes reported back in July:

Nationwide, the TSA has seen a noticeable rise in the number of passengers attempting to bring firearms into aircraft cabins, with the U.S. on pace to eclipse the pre-pandemic volume of firearms seized at airport checkpoints. Barely past the halfway mark of this year, the TSA has already discovered 2,400 guns, compared to the 4,432 firearms seized in all 12 months of 2019.

Last year, the gun seizure rate doubled at U.S. airports at the same time that passenger volume was down significantly due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Of the 3,257 firearms seized in 2020, 83% were loaded.

The vast majority of cases don’t seem to have involved criminal intent, just passengers who absent-mindedly packed a bag without check to ensure that their guns and ammunition had been removed. And while those passengers can be subject to fines, one U.S. Attorney wants to add to the consequences of being forgetful.

Travelers who bring guns to checkpoints at Pittsburgh International Airport – accidentally or otherwise – now face losing their concealed carry permit alongside federal fines, authorities announced Wednesday.

Transportation Security Administration agents have caught 27 guns in carry-on baggage at Pittsburgh International so far this year.

“In almost every case, the passenger says that they inadvertently had the gun in their bag,” said Stephen Kaufman, acting U.S. Attorney for Pennsylvania’s Western District. “Because we have to show criminal intent to bring a criminal charge, no criminal charges are filed.”

Agents stopped five guns over a stretch of six days in late September and early October.

“We need to do something differently,” Kaufman said.

So how does the U.S. Attorney plan on revoking a concealed carry license issued by county officials? By getting county sheriffs to do it for him.

Kaufman said the Allegheny County Sheriff’s Office has already agreed to revoke permits in these situations “when the passenger acts in such a negligent manner.”

Hoo-boy. I’ve got a big issue with this. First off, if in fact the U.S. Attorney can’t prove criminal intent, then why should the local sheriff even get involved here? There are specific things than can cause a concealed carry licensee to have their license revoked under Pennsylvania law, but I don’t see “being forgetful” on the list.

(i)  An individual whose character and reputation is such that the individual would be likely to act in a manner dangerous to public safety.

(ii)  An individual who has been convicted of an offense under the act of April 14, 1972 (P.L.233, No.64), known as The Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act.

(iii)  An individual convicted of a crime enumerated in section 6105.

(iv)  An individual who, within the past ten years, has been adjudicated delinquent for a crime enumerated in section 6105 or for an offense under The Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act.

(v)  An individual who is not of sound mind or who has ever been committed to a mental institution.

(vi)  An individual who is addicted to or is an unlawful user of marijuana or a stimulant, depressant or narcotic drug.

(vii)  An individual who is a habitual drunkard.

(viii)  An individual who is charged with or has been convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year except as provided for in section 6123 (relating to waiver of disability or pardons). [Blogger’s note: N.B. that Section 6102 of the Uniform Firearms Act defines “Crime punishable by imprisonment exceeding one year.” The term does not include any of the following: (1)  Federal or State offenses pertaining to antitrust, unfair trade practices, restraints on trade or regulation of business. (2)  State offenses classified as misdemeanors and punishable by a term of imprisonment not to exceed two years. So it would require a conviction or accusation of a Pennsylvania misdemeanor of the second degree or higher.]

(ix)  A resident of another state who does not possess a current license or permit or similar document to carry a firearm issued by that state if a license is provided for by the laws of that state, as published annually in the Federal Register by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms of the Department of the Treasury under 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(19) (relating to definitions).

(x)  An alien who is illegally in the United States.

(xi)  An individual who has been discharged from the armed forces of the United States under dishonorable conditions.

(xii)  An individual who is a fugitive from justice. This subparagraph does not apply to an individual whose fugitive status is based upon nonmoving or moving summary offense under Title 75 (relating to vehicles).

(xiii)  An individual who is otherwise prohibited from possessing, using, manufacturing, controlling, purchasing, selling or transferring a firearm as provided by section 6105.

(xiv)  An individual who is prohibited from possessing or acquiring a firearm under the statutes of the United States.

Does forgetting that you had a firearm in the bottom of your carry-on bag damage your “character and reputation” so much that the sheriff will say that you “would be likely to act in a manner dangerous to public safety?” I can’t see anything else that would even remotely fit the circumstances that Kaufman describes, and even that’s a real reach.

There’s also the question about happens to those airport passengers who happen to reside outside of Allegheny County and who mistakenly pack a bag with a gun inside? Will Kaufman be reaching out on a case-by-case basis to other sheriffs to pressure them to revoke the licenses of those flyers?

Look, as a gun owner and semi-frequent flyer (at least before COVID), I know of a really simple way to ensure that you don’t accidentally try to pass a gun through airport security: check your bag before you pack it. That’s it. That’s all you have to do. Takes just a minute or two to ensure you don’t end up missing your flight and having a very bad day. I would encourage every gun owner to do this one simple thing, but that doesn’t mean that someone who neglects to do so should lose their right to carry a firearm in self-defense.

The Allegheny County Sheriff, by the way, was sued last year after he shut down the process to apply for a concealed carry license because a staffer tested positive for COVID-19. Most county sheriffs around the country who are the issuing authority for licenses haven’t gone that far when one of their employees came down with COVID, but Sheriff Bill Mullen decided that was the appropriate thing to do, even though it meant residents were left in a legal limbo when it came to their right to carry.

I want to hear what Mullen has to say about his new agreement with the U.S. Attorney, but I also want to hear other sheriffs in western Pennsylvania tell Kaufman to go pound sand. This is an egregious abuse of power, and while it appears to be the work of one U.S. Attorney at the moment, don’t be surprised if Joe Biden’s DOJ tries to implement this strategy from coast-to-coast.