Airport gun discharge occurred despite TSA safety protocols

Travelers go through security at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport Sunday, November 21, 2021. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
Caption
Travelers go through security at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport Sunday, November 21, 2021. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

The Transportation Security Administration has procedures in place at airport checkpoints to prevent accidental weapon discharges like the one that sent passengers at Hartsfield-Jackson International scrambling on Saturday. But that protocol wasn’t followed because it wasn’t immediately clear from X-ray images that TSA officers were dealing with a firearm.

TSA officers who detect a gun in an X-ray machine should close down the lane, leave the bag where it is and alert police.

“Actually, the police remove the carry-on bag from the X-ray machines, because we don’t even want our TSA officers to handle the firearms because that’s just an accident waiting to happen,” TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein told WDVM TV in Washington last month.

But TSA said in a statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the image the X-ray operator saw at Hartsfield-Jackson on Saturday afternoon “was not conclusive for a firearm, but was flagged as a prohibited item requiring additional screening by a TSA officer.”

A TSA officer began searching the bag, and the passenger was advised not to touch it. But the passenger “lunged into the bag and grabbed a firearm, at which point it discharged,” the agency said in a statement issued Saturday.

The passenger then fled the area with the gun and went out an airport exit, according to officials. Police are searching for the suspect.

TSA has raised an alarm about an increasing number of guns being discovered at airport screenings.

“Firearms, particularly loaded firearms, introduce an unnecessary risk at checkpoints,” said TSA Administrator David Pekoske.

Last month, the agency announced that a record number of firearms were uncovered at airport security checkpoints nationwide in the first nine months of 2021.

Passengers are not allowed to take guns through airport security checkpoints or onto planes. However, a 2014 Georgia law allows them in the pre-security area of the terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

Hartsfield-Jackson had a record 391 firearms found at security checkpoints from January through Oct. 3, more than any other airport in the country. That’s up from 220 last year when passenger counts were down 60%, and up from 323 in all of 2019.

From January through early October, TSA had stopped 30 firearms per million passengers screened at Hartsfield-Jackson checkpoints. That’s more than twice the national rate of 11 firearms per million passengers screened in that period.

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