Guns in Texas airports

Houston Airports - gun sign

Signs like this are now posted at airports in Houston.


There’s a new “open carry” gun law in Texas that allows legally licensed handgun owners to openly carry a holstered gun in public.

But, as the Houston Airport System memo notes, “there still are some restrictions in certain locations, including at airports.”

A statement outlining what the new state rules mean for passengers and employees at George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH), William P. Hobby Airport (HOU) and Ellington Airport (EFD) – and  other airports in the state – reminds travelers that gun owners with properly licensed and displayed guns (as well as gun owners with licenses for concealed weapons) “can have their gun in public areas only, like baggage, ticketing, garages and public sidewalks or walkways.”

Federal law still prohibits passengers from bringing weapons to or past airport security checkpoints and the TSA is permitted to issue fines to travelers found with loaded or unloaded guns.

But an amendment to the Texas handgun licensing law that went into effect in September says a passenger found with a licensed gun at an airport checkpoint won’t be subject to felony charges as long as the gun was taken to the airport by accident  (the explanation the TSA says most everyone caught with a gun at an airport seems to give) and as long as the passenger immediately takes their gun away from the secure area when it’s found.
The TSA issues a weekly report of the number of firearms (and other prohibited items) found at airports checkpoints and does an annual year-end tally.

Three Texas airports – DFW, and both George Bush Intercontinental and Hobby Airport in Houston – were in the TSA’s list of “Top 10 Airports for Gun Catches in 2014.”

Open carry laws in many other states already permit licensed gun owners to bring firearms into the public areas of airports and in June a man dropping his daughter off at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International made national news by walking through the airport carrying an AR-15 rifle.

DFW statement on shooting inside the airport

Here’s the text of the statement sent out by Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport Friday evening about the shooting that took place inside Terminal C:

DFW Airport Department of Public Safety is investigating a shooting incident that took place inside the Airport’s Terminal C at about 5:00PM this evening.

The shooting involved one of two law enforcement agency officers from the Tulsa County (Oklahoma) Sheriff’s Department who were transporting a prisoner through DFW Airport. The prisoner got into an altercation with one of the officers inside a restroom in Terminal C, with two shots fired from the officer’s service weapon.

The suspect then fled the restroom and ran from the departure area of the terminal to the public side, a distance of about 100 feet before being apprehended by the Tulsa County officers near the C-10 checkpoint.

Both the injured officer and the wounded prisoner were transported to Parkland Hospital in Dallas for treatment of injuries. The second officer assisting with the prisoner transfer also went to the hospital to continue the transport detail.

No one else was injured.

Flight operations at the Airport have been minimally affected. Several arriving flights scheduled to arrive in nearby gates were sent to other gates at DFW. Departures were not impacted.

The restroom at Gate C-8 where the shooting occurred and the public area around the C-10 checkpoint where the suspect was apprehended remain closed for investigation. The checkpoint will reopen tomorrow morning.

No gates are affected.

Bets? How many firearms will TSA find at airports?


Each Friday, before I close my office and head to Happy Hour, I check the TSA Blog for the Week in Review posting of the number of firearms (loaded and unloaded) and other prohibited items (inert explosives, big knives, anti-tank weapons, etc.) discovered at airport checkpoints.

You should too.

The blog (and TSA’s Instagram account) offers an informal course on the wide variety of items TSA deems too dangerous to be allowed on airplanes, yet which travelers continue to bring to airports.

TSA find _ Keychain is actually a punching weapon prohibited on planes by TSA

The numbers don’t spike on particular holidays or on Mondays but the tally of firearms, especially, keeps going up.

On June 4, 2014, for example, TSA reported that 18 firearms were discovered in carry-on bags around the country, breaking the previous record of 13 found in one day, set in 2013.

In early November, another record was broken. With two months still to go in the year, the number of firearms discovered at checkpoints had reached 1,855.

That blew 2014’s tally past the overall 2013 total of 1,813. By the close of business on December 15, this year’s tally had grown to 2,097.

“I think the rate is increasing because more and more people are carrying [weapons] throughout the country. It can actually be difficult for people who carry all the time because the gun becomes an extension of them, just like their cell phone and wallet,” said Jeff Price, author of Practical Aviation Security.

“Oops, I forgot that was in there,” is the most common explanation given by passengers found with firearms in a carry-on bag. But there are people, like the guy nabbed this week at JFK Airport with parts of a disassembled .22 caliber firearm hidden inside a PlayStation 2 console, who certainly know what they’re toting. “Some of these people are just tools trying to get one over on TSA and the system, but there are also those who may be affiliated with terrorist groups that decide to test the system to see what they can get through,” said Price.


Thanks to ever-more-sophisticated technology, TSA is confident it is catching 100 percent of all the firearms coming through checkpoints. But Todd Curtis, founder of, pegs the find rate at closer to 90 percent.

“The technology TSA has isn’t perfect,” said Curtis, “But in most cases, if someone is dense enough to try to take a weapon through the checkpoint they’ll be caught.”

Whenever TSA does spot a firearm in a carry-on bag at a checkpoint, the screening process stops until law enforcement responds and retrieves the weapon. And it’s local laws, not the TSA, that determine if any criminal charges are filed against a passenger.

Criminal charges or not, passengers found with firearms at airport checkpoints are subject to civil penalties, ranging from $1,500 up to $11,000. In 2013, TSA assessed nearly $1.7 million in civil penalties for firearms discovered in carry-on bags nationwide.

What happens to the firearms also depends on local laws. While local law enforcement allows TSA to photograph firearms (and other prohibited items) discovered at checkpoints, “TSA doesn’t take possession of any firearms,” said TSA spokesman Ross Feinstein, “Local law enforcement might confiscate the weapon as evidence or give it back the passenger to return it to their home or to put it in their vehicle.”

Beyond firearms, of course, TSA officers encounter an extremely wide variety of other prohibited items at airport checkpoints, including machetes, hatchets, swords, giant scissors, brass knuckles, cannonballs, bear repellant and, this past October, an unloaded cannon.

“Maybe someone has a lucky inert grenade they brought back from some war, or a nice cane was given to them and they forgot that the thing is actually a sword,” said Price, “It’s the people that are carrying stuff like chainsaws that make me wonder.”

(This story first appeared on the Runway Girl Network in a slightly different version.)

Travel Tidbits: guns, billboards and ugly sweaters

Guns at airports

PIT Firearm

Courtesy TSA

The TSA’s Week in Review is always a fascinating and somewhat frightening read.

In the latest issue, for example, we learned that 28 firearms were found at airport checkpoints nationwide this week – a tally that is not that unusual.

Of those 28 firearms, 25 were loaded and eight had rounds chambered. And among the loaded firearms was one discovered strapped to the ankle of a passenger at Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT).

I wonder if that passenger gave the excuse most people do when found with firearms at airports: “Oops, I forgot that was there.”

British Airways billboards: how do they do that?

British Airways
is rolling out video billboards that show children pointing to the sky whenever a British Airlines plane flies by. The airline says there’s some sort of “digital “wizardry” involved that allows the billboards to “know” the flight number and city a plane is arriving from and display it on the screen.

The first billboard was installed in Chiswick, a suburb west of London. Bustling Picadilly Circus gets one as well.

Ugly Sweaters

And if you’re headed to Portland, Oregon this season – perhaps to the presentation about my new book Hidden Treasures: What Museums Can’t or Won’t Show You on December 6 at St. Johns Booksellers -then keep an eye out for downtown sculptures that will be “yarn bombed” by local fiber artists.

Portland ugly sweater

More than a dozen statues are scheduled to get yarn bombed this season as the city goes a little knit-crazy with sweater -themed events and ugly sweater promotions at several hotels.

At the Mark Spencer, for example, any guest wearing an ugly sweater at check-in will automatically receive a free room upgrade. And at the Heathman Hotel, ugly sweaters will be issued to all dogs checking in with their people.

More details about visiting Portland here.

The LAX Shooting and guns at airports

Friday night the details of how – and why – a man showed up at Los Angeles International Airport with a rifle and shot his way through Terminal 3 are still being pieced together.

A lot is already known.

The man doing the shooting has been identified as 23-year-old Los Angeles resident Paul Anthony Ciancia.

A TSA officer – 39-year-old Gerardo I. Hernandez – was killed and perhaps a half dozen other people, including two other TSA officers, were injured.

And thousands of passengers at LAX and other airports around the country had a travel day seriously disrupted.

More than 700 flights were canceled or delayed. Close to 50 were diverted to other airports.

And pretty much everyone is shocked and freaked out.

Here’s a link to a story from by Brian Sumers and Larry Altman that does a really good job of describing the events of the day. Sumers was one of the reporters on-site and tweeting from LAX most of the day.

A lot more details will surely be revealed in the days ahead and we’ll be horrified by them all.

In the meantime, as it does most every Friday afternoon, the TSA released a tally of the number of guns found – but luckily not fired – at airport security checkpoints this week.

This week 29 guns were discovered at airport security checkpoints. 27 were loaded. 9 had rounds chambered.

And, as we know, one loaded rifle was used to wreak havoc at LAX airport.


Courtesy TSA