DFW AIRPORT (CBSDFW.COM) – It may be the most dreaded thing about traveling: getting through airport security.
Frequent flyers tell say they do not enjoy any part of it, saying it can be a pain.
But records CBS 11 uncovered show more and more people going through the checkpoints are breaking state law. They’re carrying guns, knives, and other weapons — which is a felony.
“It’s a crime and people ought to be prosecuted for their crimes” says one traveler.
Last April, Lewisville businessman Chris McLucas says he realized there was a problem when his carry-on was moving slowly through the checkpoint. “Next thing I know, I’ve got a couple of officers behind me saying do you own a hand gun?”
TSA agents found a gun in his bag. “They handcuffed me right there.”
McLucas is not alone. DFW airport records show the number of people arrested for carrying guns, knives, and other weapons through the checkpoints has more than doubled in just two years: From 26 in 2007 to 64 last year.
And so far this year, police have already arrested 61 people, including McLucas. “It was a mistake, I didn’t realize it was in my bag.”
A.J. Irwin is a retired federal immigration agent, and now a private investigator. He calls having a weapon in your bag irresponsible.
He says carrying weapons into the airport is a potential security threat. “That firearm if it’s loaded, if there’s ammunition close by, is dangerous in any setting.”
And it’s not just arrests that are up. The number of weapons seized at DFW checkpoints has also more than doubled: From 44 in 2007 to 102 in 2009
And we’re on track surpass that number in 2010.
The airport destroyed many weapons just last week because no one claimed them. They included a .38 special, a 9mm, a .22 caliber revolver and a variety of knives.
Tarrant County District Attorney Joe Shannon is concerned about travelers being caught with weapons inside the airport’s secured area. “That could well be a public safety problem. I don’t want to fly with somebody that’s carrying a weapon unless he’s a law enforcement officer.”
CBS 11 was surprised to learn that most people who are arrested for carrying weapons through the checkpoints are not prosecuted — and those who are, face misdemeanor, not felony charges.
Airport records CBS 11 obtained show of the 96 prohibited weapons cases DFW Airport submitted to both Tarrant and Dallas County prosecutors, there were only six people convicted — and most were for misdemeanor, not felony charges.
Shannon says the biggest hurdle they face in prosecuting people is the state law itself. It requires prosecutors to prove people intentionally, knowingly or recklessly brought the guns to the checkpoints. “I haven’t seen a report where somebody says ‘yeah, I knew it was in there, but I decided to try it anyway.’ They always say ‘I didn’t know.’”
Shannon says state lawmakers need to change the law, by reducing the standard of proof needed to prosecute. “We can’t afford to have people carrying these weapons into prohibited places.”
So Shannon says his office prosecutes those people who carry handguns through the checkpoints who don’t have a permit to carry a concealed gun.
Those who do, like Chris McLucas, aren’t charged. “An honest mistake is an honest mistake” says Shannon.
McLucas says prosecutors made it clear he won’t get a second chance. If it happens again, he’ll go to jail.
He also did get his gun back. He paid the TSA a $500 fine. The maximum penalty is $10,000 per violation.
So why are more people bringing weapons to the airport?
Experts say two factors come to mind: People let their guard down now, nine years after the September 11th attacks, and state records show dramatic increases in the number of people who’ve obtained concealed handgun licenses from 288,909 in 2007 to 402,914 last year.