Georgia lawmakers are pushing for new laws that would grant some leniency towards licensed gun-carriers who accidentally bring their firearms into the Atlanta airport. Provided that the gun carriers willingly leave the security line, the laws would allow them to avoid arrest.
The movement surfaced not long after Terry Coleman, former speaker of Georgia’s House of Representatives, tried to go through airport security with a pistol in his briefcase. After being stopped, Coleman acknowledged carrying the gun, but stated that it was an accident.
The charges against Coleman were dropped after he completed a pre-trial intervention program.
While federal law does prohibit people from carrying guns onto planes, it is legal to declare and store a firearm in checked baggage. In most airports, including Atlanta, illegally carrying a gun into the security zone will usually result in arrest.
Nonetheless, incidents in which people attempt to pass through security checkpoints with firearms in their bags are far from rare. In fact, 111 firearms were found last year at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, a startlingly high figure when compared with the 24 firearms found in Miami’s airport, Chicago O’Hare’s 16 firearms, and Los Angeles International Airport’s 19 firearms.
In many cases, defendants claim they simply forgot the weapon was in their bag.
Local prosecutor Tasha Mosley said that amongst those apprehended at Atlanta’s airport checkpoint with guns have been “politicians, clergy members, even one woman who was carrying two guns in her bag.”
In an attempt to ensure that people don’t unwittingly walk through security with a weapon their bags, airport officials in Atlanta held a news conference and have put up larger signs by security checkpoints.
Republican State Rep. Alan Powell has spoken out in support of the bill. “I would tell you that a lot of people carry a weapon,” he said.
“It’s almost like it’s just a second nature to them,” Powell said. “And sometimes they forget…they’ve got it in a briefcase or a suitcase.”
These lawmakers are facing firm opposition from the labor union representing airport security screeners, which maintains that gun laws in security checkpoints should not be loosened.
Backing this standpoint are the often-lethal outcomes of shootings in airports, such as a shooting in Los Angeles International Airport last November in which one TSA officer was killed and three other people were wounded.
“The public has had 12 years’ notice that guns are prohibited,” David Borer, general counsel for the American Federation of Government Employees, said in a statement.
“Sooner or later they need to take responsibility for violating the law that’s meant to protect our officers and the travelling public,” Borer continued.
Meanwhile, gun rights groups in Georgia are trying to increase the list of places where people can legally bring guns; they hope to soon see churches and other houses of worship included amongst such places.
Notably, the new bill does not seek to protect unlicensed gun-carriers, who could still be arrested for walking into a security zone with a gun.
As it has not yet come up for a vote, the bill’s prospects currently remain unclear.
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