Carrying a gun in TSA

Carrying A Firearm Into TSA Screening

What Happens When You Carry A Firearm Into TSA Screening?

Accidents happen.  Unfortunately, some come with legal consequences.  Frequently, we are contacted by individuals who carry a firearm into TSA screening checkpoints at airports in their carry-on bag.  Not one of the people who have called us, has ever knowingly done this.  On the other hand, we have received calls about this type of incident far too many times.

In one such case, a husband and wife arrived at the airport.  He grabbed the two heavy suitcases, she grabbed her purse and his backpack.  When they went through the security screening, he placed the two carry-on suitcases on the conveyor belt and she placed her purse and his backpack onto it.  The husband never even realized that his wife was carrying his backpack.  He had not intended to take the backpack on the trip.  It had still been in the car from the last time he went to the range and had his gun and ammunition in it.  Only when the TSA agents asked whose bag it was, did he realize she had grabbed it from the car.

Is It A Crime?

Carrying a firearm into TSA screening is a crime.  The crime of carrying a firearm onto or attempting to get onto an aircraft is punishable under both Federal and Florida Law.

Federal Law

Federally, 49 USC §46505 controls.  49 USC §46505 (b) in relevant part states:

(b) General Criminal Penalty.—An individual shall be fined under title 18, imprisoned for not more than 10 years, or both, if the individual—

(1)when on, or attempting to get on, an aircraft in, or intended for operation in, air transportation or intrastate air transportation, has on or about the individual or the property of the individual a concealed dangerous weapon that is or would be accessible to the individual in flight;
(2)has placed, attempted to place, or attempted to have placed a loaded firearm on that aircraft in property not accessible to passengers in flight;
The Federal standard of knowledge is not the same as the Florida Standard.  Under Federal law if you knew, or should have known that the gun was in your bag, that is enough to be convicted.  Florida law which we will discuss shortly, requires actual knowledge.  Before moving on to Florida law, it is important to point out that subsection (b)(2) shown above applies to checked baggage.  In previous posts we have discussed how to legally carry your firearm in checked baggage.  As a reminder, you MUST declare that you have a firearm when you check your bag.  Failure to do so would implicate 49 USC §46505 (b) and is a Federal crime.

Florida Law

Under Florida law, carrying a firearm into TSA screening is also a crime.  You will likely be charged with CARRY FIREARM IN PLACE PROHIBITED BY LAW under Florida Statute §790.06(12).  This is a 2nd degree misdemeanor under Florida law.  Consequently, the punishment is up to: 60 days in jail, 6 months probation, and a $500 fine.  Remember though, under Florida Law, a prosecutor will have to prove you had actual knowledge that a firearm was in your bag.

What Should You Do?

If you are ever stopped for carrying a firearm into a TSA screening checkpoint you should understand what is likely to happen.  TSA will usually immediately call the airport police over.  Your firearm will be confiscated as evidence.  You have a right to remain silent.  You are now immediately under investigation for committing a crime.  Our typical advice, “Do not speak to the police!” if you are the subject of a police investigation is bad advice in this situation, however.

Do NOT Remain Silent!

Invoking your right to remain silent in this situation may actually make things worse for you.  Be respectful and humble.  Sincerely express that you had no idea that the firearm was in your bag.  Be embarrassed.  Be mortified that you made such a stupid mistake!  Most of all take this seriously.  The last thing you need is to be prosecuted Federally for this.  Typically, the TSA leaves these cases to local law enforcement to prosecute criminally on the State level.  However, if the TSA believes you intended to carry into the sterile area or onto the plane, Federal prosecution is likely.  Make sure you leave no doubt that this was a careless, stupid, unintended mistake!

What happened in the Example?

In the example at the beginning of this post, the husband explained:

  1. He knew the gun was in the bag.
  2. but, he did not realize his wife had taken it from the car.
  3. He never intended that the bag be brought with them.

The wife in turn explained that:

  1. She saw the bag and grabbed it.
  2. It was her belief that the bag had stuff her husbanded needed on the trip.
  3. She had no idea that his gun was in the bag.
  4. Her husband had not asked her to take the bag, but she assumed he intended it to be taken on the plane with them.

The police issued the husband a Notice to Appear on October 10, 2018.  We were able to convince the prosecutor that actual knowledge was required under Florida law.  The prosecutor realized that they would not be able to prove knowledge and dropped the charges on November 8, 2018.  This result was possible for two reasons.  First, the husband did not carry the bag into the checkpoint.  They prosecuted the wrong party.  Second, because the individual who carried the bag into the checkpoint had no knowledge there was a gun in the bag.  Remember that your facts may be different and example results although real, cannot be guaranteed in your case.

Expect To Miss Your Plane

Your travel will definitely be delayed if you have been stopped for carrying a firearm into a TSA checkpoint.  Missing your plan is the least of your worries.  Be polite and accommodating.  Do not argue that you need to leave to catch your plane.  Many travelers have been released and allowed to continue traveling after being given a Notice To Appear.  A Notice To Appear is the legal equivalent of an arrest in Florida.  It is a promise to appear for court to answer for the pending charges.  The police have three options at this point: 1) they can let you go; 2)issue you a notice to appear; or 3)arrest you.  Your attitude, behavior, sincerity and cooperation can make a big difference in the actions the police take.

Civil Penalties

In addition to the consequences described above, expect to receive a letter from the TSA demanding a civil penalty.  49 USC 46303 allows the TSA to demand up to $10,000 per incident.  In relevant part, 49 USC 46303 reads:

(a)Civil Penalty.— An individual who, when on, or attempting to board, an aircraft in, or intended for operation in, air transportation or intrastate air transportation, has on or about the individual or the property of the individual a concealed dangerous weapon that is or would be accessible to the individual in flight is liable to the United States Government for a civil penalty of not more than $10,000 for each violation.

(b)Compromise and Setoff.—

(1)The Secretary of Homeland Security may compromise the amount of a civil penalty imposed under subsection (a) of this section.
As allowed by 49 USC 46303(b)(1) often the TSA will negotiate the civil penalty with the individual.  Typically, we have seen demands made of $2,500 for instances like the example above.  TSA has always taken far less than the original demand amount when called and asked to decrease the penalty.

We are here to help!

The Expert Firearm Attorneys at The Firearm Firm are here to help.  Further, our primary goal is to keep gun owners legal.  If you have any firearm related questions, visit our website.  There, you can search our knowledge base, or leave a question for us to answer.  The Firearm Firm is a statewide Second Amendment and Self-Defense law firm.


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