AUSTIN, Texas — The signs at the airport give a scary warning: Bring a gun through the security checkpoint and risk a $13,000 fine, or maybe even jail time.
"I don’t understand why people would do that," Austin airport traveler Alison Kogan said. "Who would bring a gun to an airport? It’s shocking to me and it’s very scary."
Kogan said flying without a gun seems like common sense. But, apparently, not here in Texas.
“Well, here at Austin, last year we found 93 firearms throughout all our checkpoints," Austin TSA officer Nick Hall said. "So it just depends on the day, what we find.”
Hall and other TSA officers at Austin’s airport found those 93 guns in 2018, proving one thing: Austin’s airport has a history of gun discoveries.
Back in 2015, TSA officers found 54 guns at Austin's airport. That number jumped to 78 guns in 2016, 74 the next year, then 93 guns found in 2018.
But last year, in 2019, that number dropped back down to 78 guns in Austin’s airport.
Austin Bergstrom-International Airport (AUS) made TSA’s list of the top 10 airports where officers found the most guns at security lines in 2015, 2016 and 2018.
"Well, I think overall, anybody bringing a weapon through the checkpoint ... is concerning," Austin Police Department Lieutenant Stephen Fleming said.
Lt. Fleming handles airport operations. He steps in when TSA finds a gun in someone’s bag.
Even though Austin’s airport gets busier every year, he said fewer gun discoveries doesn’t mean TSA is missing guns going through security.
"I don’t think it has anything to do with less screening or there are some getting by," Flemming said. "We have a very active and very proactive screening process."
If you look at the top 10 for last year, Austin didn’t make the list – but three other airports in Texas did.
Dallas Fort Worth (DFW) made number two, Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) came in fourth, and Dallas Love Field (DAL) ranked sixth. In Austin, we placed 13 on last year’s list, Houston’s Hobby (HOU) airport was listed as 17 and San Antonio’s airport (SAT) took spot number 22.
In total, TSA found 789 guns in Texas security lines last year, which is about 18% of 4,432 guns found across the country.
"That’s a very high number," Austin airport traveler Esker Peoples said. "Very high. I just wouldn’t expect somebody to do that, you know."
Peoples, also flying out of Austin’s airport this week, said he is shocked so many people would take a gun through airport security.
"I think it’s definitely common sense not to bring a gun to the airport," Peoples said. "If there’s any place you shouldn’t bring a gun, it’s definitely the airport."
But Lt. Fleming said, usually, the guns they find are from people who forget they have it in their bag. Even though it’s an accident, it’s still something to worry about.
“If they’re carrying a gun with them, and they don’t know they’re carrying it with them, that’s dangerous too," Lt. Flemming said. "Because they could leave their gun unattended at some point, which would allow somebody to take it and then have access to their gun and then they don’t realize they’ve lost a gun.”
These numbers don’t include guns travelers legally check – just those they try to bring through security.
If you’re caught with a gun in Austin’s airport, and you have a license to carry, Texas laws protect you from getting any state fine or going to jail. But you could still face federal fines for bringing your gun into airport security.
The best recommendation from TSA and police is to double-check your bags before you get to the airport.
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