In the latest scandal to rock the perpetually inept Transportation Security Administration (TSA), a loaded gun slipped through “security” at a major U.S. airport and the agency claims there was no system breakdown because it was not its duty to intercept the weapon.
This may lead Americans to wonder who is responsible for securing the nation’s transportation system. After all, Congress created the monstrous TSA, with 50,000 employees, to protect mainly aviation after the 2001 terrorist attacks. In the name of security, travelers go through a circus-like routine that includes invasive pat-downs, body scanners, removing shoes and giving up liquids to board a plane.
Packing a loaded weapon into a checked bag is another story. It happened over the weekend at Los Angeles International Airport while TSA agents napped through the process. The loaded .38-caliber handgun was subsequently discovered by airport ramp employees when it fell out of a duffel bag as they were about to load it, according to California’s largest newspaper.
Here is where it gets really good. TSA officials claim they are not required to screen for loaded weapons in checked luggage and an agency spokesman played if off as an “issue” for someone else to deal with. Here is the direct quote from the TSA official published in the paper’s follow-up story on the incident: “It may be an issue for some agency or the airline, but it's not a TSA issue. Our mandate is to screen baggage for explosives."
Inevitably, this has ignited fury among local police and lawmakers since it’s illegal to transport a loaded or unloaded gun in an airplane without properly declaring it. Rules and regulations for the transportation of firearms and the penalties for violating them are even posted on the TSA’s website. “These regulations are strictly enforced,” the TSA asserts on its website. “Violations can result in criminal prosecution and civil penalties of up to $10,000 per violation.”
But who is strictly enforcing the regulations? A congresswoman, who represents Los Angeles and sits on the House Committee on Homeland Security and the Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, is demanding answers. In a letter to Administrator John S. Pistole, Congresswoman Janice Hahn asks “if TSA is not enforcing its own regulations about loaded firearms in luggage, who is?” Hahn also mentions how “troubling” it is that ten years after the September 11 terrorist attacks, an undeclared, unsecured and loaded firearm escaped detection in baggage screening.
These sorts of lapses are par for the course for the TSA, which has virtually unlimited resources and unconditional support from Congress and the White House. The agency has made headlines over the years for guns and bombs regularly getting past screeners during random tests at major airports, failing to meet federal standards by not screening cargo and passengers on hundreds of thousands of planes that fly over the U.S. annually and approving background checks for a dozen illegal immigrants working in sensitive areas of a busy U.S. airport.
A few months ago a federal report blasted a $212 million TSA screening program, known as Passenger by Observation Techniques (SPOT), that promised to detect terrorists at U.S. airports. Instead the TSA’s highly specialized Behavior Detection Officers failed to stop terrorists from boarding planes on at least 23 occasions, according to congressional investigators who conducted the probe.