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Impact of Firearms Laws on Airports (2016)


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Suggested Citation:"INTRODUCTION." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Impact of Firearms Laws on Airports. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23597.
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Suggested Citation:"INTRODUCTION." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Impact of Firearms Laws on Airports. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23597.
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3IMPACT OF FIREARMS LAWS ON AIRPORTS By Larry W. Thomas, The Thomas Law Firm, Washington, DC INTRODUCTION There have been several reported instances of a pri- vate individual carrying a firearm in an airport termi- nal or on other airport property.1 In May 2015, a man carried an AR-15 rifle into the Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport when he and his wife took his daughter to the airport. Although questioned by police officers, the individual was not detained, but he was followed by police after he left the terminal and while he was in the airport parking lot.2 In November 2013, there was a deadly incident in California. A 23-year-old man entered a passenger terminal at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), removed a firearm from his bag, and opened fire on passengers and Transportation Security Adminis- tration (TSA) officers.3 The terminal and two others were evacuated, and flights were both delayed and diverted from LAX for the next 6 hours.4 After the incident, LAX officials debated whether to increase the number of officers at busy airport checkpoints and whether TSA agents should be armed.5 This digest refers to the area subject to the juris- diction of TSA where passengers and property are screened and where firearms and other weapons and explosive devices are prohibited as the sterile area of an airport.6 Nevertheless, in 2014 TSA dis- covered and confiscated at screening checkpoints 2,212 guns (of which 1,835 were loaded) in carry-on bags, a 22 percent increase from 2013.7 Of 224 air- ports subject to TSA screening, the airports with the largest number of confiscated firearms were Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (120 firearms) and Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport (109 firearms).8 The digest refers to the area of an airport where firearms may or may not be prohibited by state law or airport regulations as the nonsterile area. The nonsterile part of an airport normally includes areas such as ticketing and baggage claim that are open to unscreened passengers or visitors to the airport.9 This digest discusses state laws that apply to an individual who is carrying a firearm from the time the individual departs for an airport until the indi- vidual arrives at a security screening check-point at the entry to the sterile area of an airport terminal. If a reader wants to proceed directly to the discussion of state firearms laws that prohibit firearms any- where in airports, however, the laws are discussed in Section VI. State firearms laws apply statewide, including airports.10 As the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport stated in its response to the survey, its state’s laws are not specific to airports, but the laws cover 1 Although state statutes have their own definitions of a firearm, unless otherwise noted, a firearm has the same meaning as in 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(3) (2015): “(A) any weapon (including a starter gun) which will or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive; (B) the frame or receiver of any such weapon; (C) any firearm muffler or firearm silencer; or (D) any destructive device.” As discussed herein, some state statutes apply to pistols or handguns, whereas other statutes apply to long guns such as rifles. 2 Michael King, Man Says He Was Harassed While Car- rying Gun at Airport, WXIA-TV AtlAntA (June 3, 2015, 7:13 p.m.), 06/01/man-says-he-was-harassed-while-carrying-gun-at- airport/28337871. See also Allison Rodriguez, Phoenix Police Monitor Man, Child Carrying Rifle, Handgun at Sky Harbor, ABC 15 Ariz. (Nov. 4, 2013, 1:47 p.m.), http:// phoenix/phoenix-police-monitor-man-child-carrying-rifle- handgun-at-sky-harbor. 3 Dan Weikel et al., LAX Shooting: Gunman Targeted TSA Officers, Wrote Anti-Government Note, L.A. times, Nov. 1, 2013, la-me-ln-lax-shooting-multiple-tsa-agents-shot-by- gunman-with-rifle-20131101. 4 Id. 5 Kate Mather & Dan Weikel, LAX Shooting Hearing Focuses on Increasing Armed Patrols, L.A. times, Mar. 28, 2014, ln-by-lax-shooting-hearing-20140328. 6 See infra § XIII.A for a discussion of the sterile area of an airport. See also Andrew Hessick, The Federaliza- tion of Airport Security: Privacy Implications, 24 Whittier l. rev. 43, 51–52 (2002). 7 Bob Burns, TSA 2014 Year In Review, the TSA Blog (Jan. 23, 2015, 7:42 a.m.), 2014-year-in-review.html. The number of firearms seized in 2014 compares with 1,813 in 2013, 1,556 in 2012, 1,320 in 2011, and 1,123 in 2010. Id. 8 Id. 9 See, e.g., gA. Code Ann. § 16-11-130.2(a) (LexisNexis 2015); WAsh. rev. Code Ann. § 9.41.300(1)(e) (LexisNexis 2015). 10 Response of Minneapolis–St. Paul International/ World–Chamberlain Airport (noting that minn. stAt. § 624.714 (2015) that regulates the granting of permits to carry a firearm applies to the entire state).

4airports.11 It has been asserted that 44 states allow firearms to be carried openly, including in the common and baggage claim areas of airports not subject to pas- senger screening, and that 40 states do not make it a crime for “lawful carry” in the nonsterile areas of the airport.12 With some exceptions, however, state stat- utes are silent on whether firearms may be carried in the nonsterile area of an airport terminal or on other airport property; state statutes typically state where firearms may not be carried. As a consequence, it is necessary to discuss state laws that apply to the car- rying of firearms in public, whether openly or con- cealed, as well as state statutes that apply specifically to the carrying of firearms in airports. A survey conducted for the digest asked the larg- est or principal airport or airport authority (airport hereafter) in each state to provide information regarding whether it is lawful in its state for private individuals to carry a firearm in the nonsterile area of an airport or on other airport property.13 A copy of the survey, a list of the airports that responded to the survey, and a summary of the airport responses are available on the digest summary Web page as Appendices A, B, and C, respectively, which can be found by searching for ACRP Legal Research Digest 29 at A compendium of relevant state and federal laws for all states, as well as the District of Columbia (although it has no commercial service airport), is available at as ACRP WOD 29: Compendium of State and Federal Laws Affect- ing the Possession of Firearms at Airports. It is important for anyone using the digest or the appen- dices to check for amendments to statutes taking effect after 2015. One may now access virtually all state codes, as well as pending bills and legislative reports, without having to subscribe to a legal research service.14 Section I synthesizes and summarizes the key points and trends based on the research conducted for the digest. Section II discusses whether there is a constitu- tional right to carry a firearm, including in an air- port, and analyzes recent federal and state cases that have ruled on constitutional challenges to stat- utes that restrict or prohibit the carrying of firearms in public and other places. Sections III through V analyze various issues that may arise when an individual, including one who is licensed to carry a firearm or a concealed firearm, carries a firearm to an airport. The digest discusses whether such an individual would be violating state law when carrying a firearm on a public street, side- walk, highway, or in a motor vehicle; when leaving a firearm in a publicly owned or leased parking facility, including one at an airport; or when carrying a fire- arm in a government-owned or -leased building. In addition to discussing laws that prohibit fire- arms in the sterile area of an airport, Section VI dis- cusses state laws that prohibit individuals from carrying a firearm in the nonsterile area of an air- port. The digest analyzes state laws, as well as air- port rules and regulations, that ban firearms in airport terminals and in some instances on other air- port property, such as parking lots. Section VI also addresses the question of whether a person having a license to carry a concealed firearm may carry a con- cealed firearm in the nonsterile area of an airport. Section VII discusses state laws that affect the possession of firearms everywhere, including air- ports, such as laws that prohibit the possession of a firearm by a person convicted of a felony or other category of serious crimes, by persons under the age of 21 (or 18 in some states), and by persons who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Some states prohibit the possession of certain types of firearms. As discussed in Sections VIII and IX, in most states private businesses of the type that lease space in airports lawfully may prohibit firearms on their premises. Moreover, most states prohibit anyone from carrying a firearm in a bar or restaurant (as defined by statute) that serves alcoholic beverages for consumption on the premises. Section X analyzes state laws on whether the car- rying of a firearm in an airport is a disturbance of the peace or a public nuisance or violates other state laws. Section XI discusses licenses to carry a firearm, including carrying it openly or in a concealed manner. State laws generally require a current licensee to be in compliance at all times with all conditions required for the issuance of a license. In some states, a violation of a condition results in an automatic revocation of a license. Section XI also explains that numerous states recognize firearms licenses from 11 Response of Dallas/Fort–Worth International Air- port (citing 95 Tex. Att’y Gen. Op. No. DM-363 (Aug. 30, 1995); 105 Tex. Att’y Gen. Op. No. 95-058 (Sept. 15, 1995); 6 Tex. Att’y Gen. Op. No. JC-0325 (Jan. 5, 2001)). 12 Mitch Seabaugh, Pro & Con: Should Congress Trump Georgia’s New Gun Law?, AtlAntA JournAl–Constitution (June 9, 2010, 8:41 p.m.), opinion/pro-con-should-congress-trump-georgias-new- gun-law/nQgjP. See also FloridA CArry, Airport Carry is Legal in 44 States, but Florida will Put You in Jail, https:// carry/40-airport-carry-is-legal-in-44-states-but-florida- will-put-you-in-jail (last visited Dec. 23, 2015). 13 The purpose of the survey was to request information from airports. The survey was not meant to be an empiri- cal study. 14 See, e.g., CAliforniA legislAtive informAtion, avail- able at; illinois Compiled stAtutes, available at http://www.ilga. gov/legislation/ilcs/ilcs.asp; floridA stAtutes, available at

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TRB's Airport Cooperative Research Program (ACRP) Legal Research Digest 29: Impact of Firearms Laws on Airports analyzes recent court cases on federal and state laws that have been challenged for restricting or prohibiting the carrying of firearms in public and other places.

The right to carry guns at airports is subject to the U.S. Constitution, federal and state legislation, and judicial decisions. Some state laws allow guns to be carried openly in public places. Most state laws regulate how guns are to be carried in a vehicle or left in a public or an employer’s parking lot. These and other state laws also have ramifications for commercial airports in the United States.

Accompanying the report are appendices available online:

  • Appendix A: Survey Questions
  • Appendix B: List of Airports and Airport Authorities Responding to the Survey
  • Appendix C: Summary of Responses by Airports and Airport Authorities to the Survey
  • Appendix D: ACRP Web Only Document 29: Compendium of State and Federal Laws Affecting the Possession of Firearms at Airports
  • Appendix E: Airport Ordinances, Policies, and Rules and Regulations Provided by Airports Responding to the Survey
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