It’s rare for an airplane passenger to leave a gun in their carry-on luggage before getting in line at security. Even more so if it’s loaded.
And yet, in the past three weeks at Spokane International Airport, eight people have been caught with firearms and fined. One man on Feb. 22 doubled up and had two guns – one for each carry-on bag. The Transportation Security Administration has no idea why.
“It could have been a full moon, I don’t know,” said Lorie Dankers, a TSA spokeswoman covering 13 states. “But we don’t want to see it.”
The recent uptick was sudden and alarming for the airport, which recorded 18 instances of guns left in carry-on luggage for all of 2018. The number puts Spokane ahead of many other cities of comparable size in airport gun detections..
At Louisville International Airport in Kentucky, there has been just one instance, according to data shared by Dankers. At Boise Airport, none.
“Not such a good thing,” Dankers said. “(Guns) should not be in your carry-on bag.”
Nationwide, the number of firearms TSA discovers has been increasing as well. Compared with 2015, last year’s number of instances nearly doubled to about 4,200. In Spokane, it reached 26 weapons in 2017.
In each Spokane case this year, the traveler was cited by airport police – a wing of Spokane International Airport not affiliated with local law enforcement – but not arrested, said Todd Woodard, spokesman for the airport.
While the names of those caught were not immediately released, their charges would fall under a state law prohibiting guns from certain places, such as schools, stadiums or airports. The charge, in most cases, is a gross misdemeanor.
In addition to the possibility of jail time, a firearm in carry-on bags also carries a civil fine, starting at $2,000 up to a maximum of $13,333 per violation.
In each instance this year, the recovered firearm was a loaded handgun. The most common handguns were Glocks. They were all left inside their bags, which were spotted by a TSA worker on a security X-ray machine. The most recent occurrences were on Friday and then again on Saturday.
There are warning signs posted around the airport showing the proper way to travel with a firearm. Problem is, Dankers said, by the time people have arrived with a gun in carry-on luggage, it’s probably too late.
Which is why on Monday morning, as travelers lined up behind her at the airport’s main security checkpoint, Dankers went through the proper way to fly with a gun.
Always unloaded, she said, stored in a hard case and double-locked so nobody can get in. Ammunition must be stored in its original box. If it’s a handgun, it all goes into a bag, which is then checked and stored in the belly of the plane. Same thing for rifles.
And if a gun does it make its way with you to the airport in carry-on luggage, better to miss the flight, go home and try again.
“You should never bring your firearm to the security checkpoint,” said Dankers. “If you do, you will become a statistic.”
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.