Defend Accidentally Taking a Gun to the Airport

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By: Bill Henry
PublishedNov 12, 2021
4 minute read

In the hustle of trying to get to the airport on time, you completely forgot about the gun in your carry-on bag. You don’t realize anything is amiss until you see the intense-looking TSA agents coming toward you. The next thing you know, you’re in handcuffs and being escorted out of the security line because you have a gun at the airport. Looks like your trip out of town just got a long layover — in airport security.

Believe it or not, this scenario has happened to thousands of people at TSA checkpoints throughout the U.S. this year. In fact, the Transportation Security Administration reports it stopped 4,495 passengers from carrying guns onto their flights during the first nine months of 2021. As of Oct. 3, 107 of those stops were made at Denver International Airport. (yikes!)

Hopefully, this won’t happen to you. But if it does — or it already has — it’s important to understand what to expect next. This article provides an overview of what happens when TSA stops a passenger with a gun, what the potential charges are, and how you may be able to defend them.

Talk to a Lawyer if You Get Arrested for a Gun at the Airport

Our Criminal Defense Team is ready to defend you if you get caught with an improperly stored gun at the airport. The charges and subsequent penalties can be serious. Talk to a criminal defense attorney to understand your legal rights and obligations. Call 303-688-0944 to begin a case assessment today.

We Helped a Client Who Accidentally Took a Firearm to the Airport

Our Criminal Defense Team recently helped a client who faced charges for inadvertently having a gun at the airport. We negotiated with the local prosecutor to obtain a deferred judgment and sentence for our client. That means, instead of being sentenced right away, our client agrees to complete a probationary period. During that time our client must take a firearm safety class, pay a small fine, and break no more laws. The charges will be dropped if our client meets all of these conditions.

What are the Charges for Having a Gun at the Airport?

Criminal Charges and Civil Penalties

Potential charges and penalties vary depending on the facts of your case and which agency files the charges. The Transportation and Security Administration has civil and criminal enforcement powers. That means the TSA can impose civil penalties, like a fine, but it can also file criminal charges against you.

The TSA could fine you up to $10,000 for improperly storing your gun. If the circumstances surrounding why you brought the weapon to the airport are more nefarious in nature, federal and state law enforcement agencies can both file criminal charges.

Will I Be Charged with a Federal Crime?

Maybe. People who take guns to airports can be charged under the federal code 49 USCS § 46505. However, the TSA often hands over the situation to local authorities, which is what happened to the client we mentioned above.

In cases that occur at Denver International Airport and are passed on to Denver law enforcement, the Denver Police Department and the Denver District Attorney’s Office handle the charges.

Here’s the section of the Denver Municipal Code that covers guns at airports:

It shall be unlawful for any person to violate any such rule or regulation promulgated by the manager of aviation pursuant to this article; provided, however, that the violation of any rule or regulation promulgated pursuant to subsection (b) of this section 5-16 for which there is an identical or substantially similar counterpart in chapter 54 of this Code which is declared to be aa noncriminal traffic infraction shall, likewise, be considered a civil matter and shall be subject to like penalties upon admission or finding of guilt or liability, by default or otherwise. 5-16(f) – Violation of Airport Rule/Regs

The maximum penalty for violating this portion of the municipal code is 300 days in jail, a $999 fine, or both for each charge.

Why Is Your Gun at the Airport?

The answer to this question will strongly influence whether you face civil penalties or criminal charges.

Did you simply forget the gun was in your bag after, say, a hunting trip, or did you intend to threaten or harm people with the weapon?

Obviously, you’ll be treated with more leniency if you did not realize the gun was in your luggage than if your purpose was to commit an act of terrorism.

Most Guns Confiscated at the Airport Were Forgotten 

R&H criminal defense attorneys say most of the time TSA agents seize guns that passengers have forgotten to remove from their bags. Now, that’s not to say improperly stored guns are never discovered in check bags. Improper storage in checked baggage can be that you did not unload your firearm, or you do not have the gun secured in the appropriate locked container.

Ways to Defend Your Improper Gun at the Airport

These types of cases can be difficult to defend at times. It can be tough to explain how someone simply forgot a gun was in their bag. However, no case is indefensible. Some possible defense can include:

Lack of Knowledge 

You were unaware that your firearm was still in your suitcase. Perhaps you were traveling with someone else’s bag and had no idea they had a gun in the luggage.

Mistaken Belief

You thought you could bring the gun with you.

The Ability for Your Gun to Fire Ammunition

Your attorney will also explore whether your gun could actually shoot ammunition. For instance, is your gun a replica that cannot shoot ammunition? Was your gun loaded or unloaded? There is a major difference between having a loaded weapon versus an unloaded one.

Note: The TSA requires that replica firearms, even toys, must be stored in checked baggage.

So What Happens if a TSA Agent Finds a Gun in Your Bag?

Whether your firearm is improperly stored or you forgot about it altogether, the first thing TSA agents will do is secure the weapon. If you have ammunition and other gun accessories, they’ll take those, too. Then you’ll be placed into custody and escorted to a secure area inside the airport.

The TSA has two goals at this point:
  • Get you away from everyone else.
  • Figure out what kind of threat you are.

If you accidentally take a gun to the airport, it’s important to keep your head about you. At the moment you may feel like your world is crashing down around you, but everything will be ok. Take a deep breath. The TSA and other law enforcement agents will ask you all kinds of questions, but do not provide a statement. Instead, tell them you want a lawyer. Remember, anything you tell authorities can be used against you.

How to Properly Take a Firearm to the Airport

The Transportation Security Administration outlines on its website the protocol for traveling with your firearm. In addition to TSA rules, you have to comply with local, state, and international firearm laws. Also, check with your airline to find out if it has any firearm restrictions.

The TSA requires that you:
  • declare your gun every time you check your luggage
  • bring only an unloaded firearm
  • store it in a hard-sided container that is locked
  • place gun parts, such as clips and magazines, in checked luggage
  • put replica and toy guns in checked bags

We Can Help if TSA Confiscates Your Gun at the Airport

If you accidentally take a gun to the airport, our criminal defense lawyers can help. Call 303-688-0944 to start a case assessment.

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