I was recently contacted by the New York Times to discuss the issue of why so many people are caught going through airport security with guns and weapons. How does this happen? Why does this happen? How often do I see people who have been arrested for trying to carry a weapon through security at Dallas Fort Worth Airport (DFW) or Dallas Love Airport (LUV)?
I don’t know for sure, but I would imagine I receive a call or so a month with a potential client who is distraught because they have just been arrested for a Felony offense of Places Weapons Prohibited at DFW or LUV. (In other words, they got caught with a gun or knife going through airport security.) And while most have a legitimate excuse, forgetfulness being the most common, suddenly there’s a lot at stake. A criminal record, probation, job loss, and even prison time are all on the line. Unfortunately, honest mistake or not, the TSA can’t just take someone’s word for it and give them a free pass.
Why do so many people take a gun to the airport?
I believe this is happening more and more for three basic reasons. First, there are more people taking advantage of the right to get their concealed handgun license and the right to carry a concealed handgun. The longer you have your license and the more you get used to carrying, the more comfortable you become. And forgetful.
Second, people travel more than ever. For those that don’t travel often, they make sure their bags are clean before they pack, they make sure they don’t have anything with over 3 ounces with them, they pay attention to every procedure you are expected to follow. However, if you travel for work, it is not uncommon for you to be on a plane two or three times a month, some people even more. These people become immune from the warning signs and procedures, they have a tendency to just let their guard down and go thru the rather mundane motions. They grab their bag and go. Sometimes they forget that they had placed their handgun in their purse or bag the day before for a different reason.
Third, it doesn’t appear that there are any “do-over’s” at the airport. Since the horrific events of 9/11 and the dramatic changes we have all experienced at the airport, anyone who has a weapon on their person or in their carry-on will more than likely be arrested. Even when the TSA and local police department truly believe it was an accident.
The TSA and local police departments do not have to believe you intended to bring the weapon onto the plane. In reality, they probably seldom do believe it was an intentional act. In the State of Texas, you can be held criminally responsible if the evidence supports that you were so reckless in your actions that you should be held criminally accountable. The legal definition of reckless is quite boring. It states “a person is considered Reckless under criminal law when a person acts recklessly, or is reckless, with respect to circumstances surrounding his conduct or the result of his conduct when he is aware of but consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the circumstances exist or the result will occur. The risk must be of such a nature and degree that its disregard constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise under all the circumstances as viewed from the actor’s standpoint.
One common scenario I see with my clients is as follows: My client is in a hurry that day because he waited until just before leaving for DFW to pack a bulky, multi-pocketed carry on for his short two-day trip. He grabs a bag from the closet, opens the main compartment and sees nothing in there. He throws in a change of clothes and his overnight kit and he is off to the airport. As he goes thru the metal detector and waits for the carry on to clear the screening, his heart drops when he sees the TSA screeners looking and discussing what they see on the x-ray. This is the moment he remembers he left a small .380 in the side compartment. He forgot to take it out three months ago after returning from his ranch west of town. Should that person be considered a felon?
Thankfully, there is still such a thing as an accident. It seems nowadays everybody has to be held criminally responsible for everything. When I was in high school, for example, let’s say a kid was not paying attention while driving and that lack of attention resulted in a collision. That was considered a traffic accident and the insurance companies and families fought over it in civil court. Now they still fight in civil court, but the kid may also be facing criminal charges as well. He may not have intended to cause an accident, but the State may still choose to prosecute him on reckless or a criminal negligent mental standard. This is what is happening with guns at the airports. Mistakes happen. Accidents happen. However, I don’t believe you should lose everything you have worked for your entire life because you became complacent on the day you were about to fly.
The TSA has remedies that certainly act as punishment for the mistake which I believe are more appropriate when the police believe there was no intent for the passenger to try and board a plane with a weapon. The TSA has the authority to fine a passenger who takes a weapon thru security at an airport and most of my clients will be dealing with this as well as the criminal case. However, the fine administered by the TSA is a civil proceeding and does not affect a person like the criminal charge.
Many people believe that if you go to the airport with a gun or weapon then you deserve to be prosecuted. They cannot fathom forgetting that you have a gun with you because they can’t fathom carrying one. In many areas in the Northeast, they don’t have the right to carry a gun so they think it is odd that we do here in Fort Worth. I am glad we have the right to carry. I am glad there are so many people out there that are willing to go through the extensive federal background check to get licensed. As long as there are good guys with guns, the bad guys with guns will remain fearful.
However, if you forget you are carrying and decide to go on a trip, there is a good chance you will be arrested. If you have been accused or arrested for carrying a weapon through the airport at Dallas Fort Worth International or Love Field, call me as soon as possible to discuss your options.
Want to read the NY Times article? Read it here: Packing Heat at the Airport? Oops
Law Office of Stephen Handy