Data Shows More Guns “Mistakenly” Showing Up At Airports

Air travelers caught with guns in their carry-on bags at O'Hare and Midway International Airports appear to be forgetful of what they packed, according to police reports obtained by NBC 5 Investigates.

Federal guidelines allow travelers to only transport unloaded firearms in a locked, hard-sided container as checked baggage.

Transportation Security Administration and Chicago Police Department records show 51 travelers were caught at O'Hare and Midway security checkpoints for attempting to board a plane with a firearm between 2012 and the end of 2013. Authorities said 35 of the guns were loaded and 12 were chambered.

Are they honest mistakes? Police reports show those arrested on the felony charge often tell arresting officers they "forgot the gun was in (their) bags."

A further analysis of federal, city and county records shows more than half of the arrestees whose cases have concluded in the Cook County court system since 2012 either plea to misdemeanors or get their cases dropped.

State Senator Donne Trotter was charged with a felony attempt to board an aircraft with a weapon at O'Hare in 2012. He told police officers he'd forgotten the weapon was in a garment bag he uses for work with a security firm. Trotter later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor reckless conduct.

Josephine Coleman, 25, is in the early stages of her court case after she was charged with a felony for attempting to board an aircraft with a gun at Midway in late December. Coleman reportedly was on her way to a flight when authorities found a 9-millimeter handgun with seven live rounds in her carry-on bag, according to the police report.

The report also said Coleman told police "I didn't know the gun was in there. I'm in the military and I have a FOID card."

Coleman and her attorney both declined to comment on the case.

The Cook County State's Attorney's office would not respond to our repeated requests for comment regarding their prosecutions of airport gun arrests.

The executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association, Richard Pearson, said they ought to consider changing the law.

"It's almost always an honest mistake," Pearson said. "It should probably be a misdemeanor fine that goes against you."

The number of guns confiscated from passengers trying to board planes in the U.S. jumped 20% in 2013 to 1,828, according to TSA data analyzed by the Medill National Security Journalism Initiative.

"Whether people forget or they think because they have a concealed weapons permit they can go on the plane, they get to the security line and it's found," said Scott Anderson, who leads interactive strategy for the Medill National Security Journalism Initiative.

The TSA said it cannot speculate on the reason more and more travelers seem to be bringing firearms to security checkpoints.

"We applaud our workforce for their ongoing vigilance and keen screening abilities that are credited for keeping these deadly weapons off of aircraft," said TSA spokesperson Ann Davis.

The Medill analysis shows airports in Atlanta, Dallas and Houston led the nation in the number of gun confiscations. Georgia and Texas are states considered to have more tolerant gun laws.

Gun owners in Illinois are now allowed to apply for concealed carry permits after a state law went into effect in January.

"You have to wonder in Illinois in a year or two, as more people are carrying weapons, if O'Hare and Midway start going up as well," said Anderson.

Pearson said it's possible more guns would be seized at security checkpoints because concealed carry is so new to Illinois.

"I think people need to learn to be careful about that," Pearson said.

The TSA reports weekly weapons seizures on its blog. Items including knives, stun guns, grenades and a bazooka-like weapon have been confiscated from travelers across the country.

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