The Transportation Security Administration says it's a trend not only in Florida but across the nation.

At least once every day this year, a passenger has tried getting through security at a Florida airport with a gun, usually loaded, in carry-on luggage, according to the federal Transportation Security Administration.

It’s a trend across the nation as well as the state, and the TSA says it’s happening at record rates. It’s happened 13 times so far this year alone at Palm Beach International Airport, where packing a gun in your bags is nearly certain to result in an arrest.

All 13 passengers caught with a gun at PBIA ended up in the police blotter.

Three were taken to the Palm Beach County Jail and face a third-degree felony charge punishable by up to five years in prison because they did not possess a concealed-weapon permit, according to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.

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The remaining 10 passengers held permits but didn’t avoid legal trouble. They face a second-degree misdemeanor for bringing the gun into a prohibited area and were issued a notice to appear, which also is known as a written arrest and requires a court appearance.

Regardless of whether the passengers are convicted, each is subject to a TSA civil penalty of more than $13,000.

The latest case of a gun-toting passenger at PBIA took place July 10. Authorities found a Glock handgun with eight rounds loaded into the magazine in the man’s carry-on. He received a notice to appear after providing his concealed-carry permit, PBSO said. Deputies took the weapon and put it into evidence, and the passenger was allowed to continue his travel.

On July 1, a 51-year-old man was found with a loaded Micro Desert Eagle handgun, a weapon small enough to hide in your pocket. The man also received a notice to appear.

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Last year, 529 guns were found at 19 Florida airports, more than one per day and double the 228 firearms that TSA officers spotted in 2013. Nationwide, 4,239 guns were discovered in 2018 compared to just over 900 in 2008. The TSA does not keep track of arrests.

“I have no doubt another record — the kind you don’t want to break — will be set again this year,” said TSA spokeswoman Sari Koshetz. “This trend is disturbing and dangerous.”

More than 260 guns have been seized at Florida airports through the first six-plus months of 2019, and with the expected spikes in travel that come around Thanksgiving and Christmas, the odds are good that the state will show an increase for at least the seventh year in a row.

Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International ranks first among state airports this year with 57 firearms found at its TSA checkpoints this year. Orlando International, first in 2018 with 123 firearms seized, is second with 43 weapons found.

Fort Lauderdale’s airport was the site of a mass shooting on Jan. 6, 2017, that left five people dead and six injured after a 26-year-old Alaska man opened fire with a semi-automatic pistol inside Terminal 2. Esteban Santiago, an Iraq war veteran, legally traveled with a box containing his weapon and ammunition as part of his checked luggage on a flight to Fort Lauderdale from Anchorage.

Not everyone caught with a gun at a Florida airport faces criminal charges. While TSA agents are tasked with finding weapons, law-enforcement agencies at each airport decide how an armed passenger is handled.

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At Miami International Airport, there’s a no-tolerance policy. Show up with a gun and you’re either leaving in handcuffs or with a notice to appear from Miami-Dade police officers.

“Some people just forget,” said Miami-Dade Police Lt. Alain Guilbaud, referring to the most common excuse that travelers use for sticking guns in their luggage. “We understand people make mistakes, but this is very serious. We can’t take any chances.”

There also are few second chances at PBIA. A records check dating to 2016 shows that 85 guns have been screened at the airport, leading to felony or misdemeanor charges for 75 passengers.

“If you bring a gun, you might be going to jail, instead of on your dream vacation,” Koshetz warned. “nd that spending money will be going towards your fine.”

jmilian@pbpost.com
@caneswatch
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2019 TOTALS
Firearms discovered at TSA checkpoints at Florida airports in 2019.
1. Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood, 57
2. Orlando, 43
3. Tampa, 37
4. Miami, 26
5. Jacksonville, 23
6. Fort Myers, 15
7 (tie). PBIA, 13
7 (tie). Pensacola, 13
9. Panama City, 11
10. Tallahassee, 8


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