Late last week at the Boise Airport, while Transportation Security Administration officials discussed concerns that more people have been trying to carry guns onto planes, a TSA screener found a handgun in a woman’s purse.
It was the 12th gun caught at the checkpoint this year. Like all but two of the other detected guns, it was loaded.
The woman carrying the Smith and Wesson Bodyguard 380 appeared mortified, apologizing while a Boise police officer escorted her to a nearby office. Some of the other passengers heading for midafternoon flights watched, mildly curious, but most didn’t seem to realize what had occurred.
It happened in the TSA Precheck lane, reserved for passengers who have gone through a screening process to streamline their trips through security.
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“It’s our trusted-traveler lane,” TSA regional spokeswoman Lorie Dankers said. “That person is no longer a trusted traveler.”
Firearms, ammunition, firearm parts and realistic replicas of firearms are always prohibited in carry-on baggage. They may be transported in checked baggage if the traveler declares them to the airline during the ticket counter check-in process, according to TSA regulations. Clips and ammunition can be in the same case but must be removed from the gun. For step-by-step instructions, watch the video above this story.
People caught with weapons in their carry-ons face possible criminal charges or civil penalties that could range as high as a $7,500 fine. Most miss their flights, although in the May 18 incident the woman was able to catch her afternoon plane to Las Vegas, Boise police reported.
The initial investigation indicated that the gun was inadvertently left in the purse. Police say that is generally true of such incidents at the Boise Aiport.
Neither police nor the TSA said any of the Boise incidents involved someone with malicious motives. But Andrew Coose, this airport’s TSA federal security director, said the danger is real regardless.
“Firearms on board a pressurized aircraft present a significant hazard,” he said, whether a gun goes off intentionally or accidentally.
Fifteen Boise police officers are stationed at the airport, with generally six officers on duty at a time, according to BPD. Police are summoned the moment a gun is detected.
In last week’s incident, as in others, the handgun was booked as evidence and the city prosecutor’s office will determine whether charges should be filed, a BPD spokesman said. The woman who owned the gun also could face a separate civil penalty from the TSA.
Though the delay at the precheck lane Thursday seemed momentary, it can take significantly longer, said Travis Wahl, lead transportation security officer. When an officer detects a weapon, the bag is held in the X-ray tunnel until a police officer takes custody of it.
“Other people are waiting,” said Wahl, who has detected six or eight guns in carry-ons during his three years at the Boise Airport. “Our lane at that point is at a standstill. It possibly aggravates some passengers behind them, whoever’s running late. Most people are.”
The airport is on pace to eclipse the 18 guns confiscated in 2016 — the current record. About twice as many guns have been found so far this year as were found in the first six months of 2016 (seven guns) and 2015 (six), Dankers said. As of May 20, 2016, four guns had been found at the Boise checkpoint.
“That’s the big concern for us, that there’s a trend, and the trend is not a good one,” Coose said.
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Between Jan. 3 and May 18 of this year, TSA officers at the Boise Airport found 12 firearms in carry-on bags at the security checkpoint. Two guns were found separately on March 12, and two were found the week of May 15 — one on Monday morning and the other on Thursday afternoon.
Gun-in-baggage incidents at the Boise Airport have increased steadily in the past five years, from 8 in 2012 to 18 last year. It follows a national trend, TSA regional spokeswoman Lorie Dankers said. Nationally, the number of firearms detected by TSA checkpoints also more than doubled, from 1,549 in 2012 to 3,391 in 2016.
In western airports with similar passenger loads, TSA statistics for 2016 show Boise right in the middle. This airport saw about 1.77 million passengers last year. Tucson’s airport saw 1.8 million passengers and 16 guns, while Spokane reported 1.74 million passengers and 20 guns.
Of the 12 guns found at BOI so far this year, 10 were loaded. Six — including the one found May 18 — were Smith and Wesson Bodyguard 380 models.