Firearm Discovered at TSA Checkpoint – What Now?
Gun laws can be confusing. Every state has its own laws, and there are federal laws that come into play as well. Plus, some state laws are not transferable everywhere, so it’s not uncommon for people to face weapons offenses even though they believe that are within their legal rights.
Most states—like Texas—have concealed carry or license to carry laws. This allows residents to take a handgun with them in public places except for secure areas such as schools, parks and airports, as long as they have a license. Airports have strict security measures in place, so it would make sense to leave your handgun at home if you are traveling, unless you want to face criminal firearm charges. However, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is seeing more and more handguns being seized at airports.
In fact, 2017 was a record year. Through November 2017, the TSA seized 3,939 firearms at security checkpoints at airports. This is higher than the 3,391 firearms seized in 2016, the 2,653 firearms seized in 2015 and the 2,212 firearms seized in 2014. As you can see, the numbers are growing year after year. In December 2017, 72 firearms were found in carry-on bags in a one-week period. Sixty-six of them were loaded.
Given that a growing number of Americans are carrying guns legally, researchers say that the number of handguns found in carry-on bags has actually declined. Given that TSA screened more than 738 million airline passengers in 2017, finding a few thousand guns is not considered a big deal. Still, finding guns at the airport can be a scary situation after the 9/11 terrorist attack.
If TSA discovers a firearm at a Texas airport, what happens next? Will you face jail time? Will you be fined? Read on to understand the laws that may apply in your case.
What the Law Says
The penalties for carrying a gun into an airport can vary based on the state and airport. Some states consider it a misdemeanor and you could face hefty fines and one year in prison. At one airport in Georgia, the fine is a whopping $100,000.
In Texas, the charges will vary based on how the authorities decide to proceed with the case. You could face anywhere from a Class A misdemeanor to a third-degree felony. If you are charged with a Class A misdemeanor, you could face a $4,000 fine and up to one year in county jail. If you are charged with third-degree felony, you could face up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Defenses to Texas Law
Under Texas Penal Code, Section 46.03, Subsection (a)(5), you commit a weapons offense if you knowingly or recklessly possess a firearm in a secured area of an airport. However, this does not mean you will face punishment. In fact, you might not even get arrested for such a crime.
That’s because taking a firearm into a TSA security checkpoint at an airport is decriminalized to some degree. However, all three of the following elements must apply:
- You checked all firearms as baggage before entering the secured area, in accordance with state and federal laws.
- You are licensed to carry a handgun in the state of Texas and had the license in your possession at the time you enter the checkpoint.
- Once you completed the screening process and were notified that you had a handgun in your possession, you exited the screening checkpoint immediately.
This is what is considered an affirmative defense to the prosecution. So if you followed all these steps and did not make a fuss, you should be OK. Once you are informed that a gun was found in your carry-on bag, you should return it to your car or pass it off to a friend or family member who can take it out of the airport.
Get Help From a Collin County Criminal Defense Attorney
Firearm offenses are often serious. If you are arrested at an airport for carrying a weapon, federal charges will often apply. It’s important that seek legal representation as soon as possible to protect your rights.
A Collin County federal firearm violation attorney can defend you against the state and federal charges you may face. Contact Rosenthal & Wadas today at (972) 369-0577 to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case.