Thursday, December 22, 2016

Gun seizures soar 69 percent at Orlando airports

The amount of guns confiscated at Orlando's two major airports was up 69 percent as the airports entered the busiest travel season of the year.

The 83 guns collected at Orlando International Airport this year are up from 49 in all of 2015, said Sari Koshetz, Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman.

"We are going to stop the gun before it gets on the plane, but you've seen people fling their bags onto the X-ray belt — and with most of those guns being loaded, many with ammunition chambered," Koshetz said. "Our concern is an accidental discharge that could harm or kill someone."

Ten guns have been found at Orlando Sanford International Airport, up from six last year.

Theories differ for the reason behind the increase. Koshetz attributed the increase to travelers becoming less careful when they pack for a trip.

But Ahmed Abdelghany, associate professor of Operations Management at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University's College of Business, said the increase is more about ignorance regarding what is acceptable at airports.

The rate of increase doesn't match the increase of travelers or anything else," he said.

The number of guns getting to TSA agents at airport security is up 16.8 percent nationwide, Koshetz said. In total, 2,653 guns were collected last year. So far this year more than 3,100 have been collected. A bulk of the weapons found are handguns.

Three of the weapons found at Orlando International were collected during the last week, said Koshetz, including one Thursday morning.

Entering the year-end holiday travel season, which local airport leaders define as Dec. 16 through Jan. 5, an 8 percent increase in traffic was expected at Orlando International. AAA defines the holiday travel season as Dec. 23 through Jan. 2. AAA said this year's air travel, an increase of 2.5 percent over last year, is the fourth-highest volume of air passengers in the last 15 years.

Orlando International routinely ends up as one of the top 10 airports in the country with passengers bringing guns through checkpoints, Koshetz said. Right now, Orlando ranks No. 7 accounting for 2.6 percent of all guns collected so far this year.

Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport lead the nation in guns stopped at security checkpoints.

Of the 376 guns collected at Florida airports this year, Orlando International's collection accounts for 22 percent. Tampa International Airport ranks eighth nationally with 78 guns found in carry-on luggage so far this year. Koshetz said 275 guns were found by TSA agents in all of 2015 at Florida airports.

When a gun is discovered at Orlando International, the Orlando Police Department responds to the terminal, Koshetz said. Police take control of the firearm and decide if the passenger gets it back.

A fine of up to $11,000 may also be levied against the passenger by the TSA.

Last month, Florida lawmakers filed legislation that would ease restrictions on where and how guns can be brought into airports around the state.

House Bill 6001 would remove restrictions on bringing guns into a passenger terminal. Right now, guns are only allowed in sterile areas of an airport or if they're "encased for shipment for purposes of checking such firearm as baggage to be lawfully transported on any aircraft."

A similar bill was introduced in the Senate earlier this month.

Koshetz said the TSA does not comment on pending legislation. Abdelghany said he disagrees with proposed changes in Tallahassee.

"There are some people who are responsible for airport security," he said. "For the general public, you never know. Somebody can get angry."

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