Post 9/11 seizures confound airport security
WASHINGTON – Is it possible the word still hasn’t gotten around? Leave your handguns and knives at home when you go to the airport. The chain saw, land mines and gunpowder, too.
More than three years after the Sept. 11 attacks, air travelers still are trying to carry thousands of potentially deadly items on planes every month.
The Transportation Security Administration, which took over security screening at 450 airports in February 2002, said Tuesday it had confiscated 15.6 million prohibited items, including 2,150 guns, 75,241 boxcutters and 4.7 million knives through the end of October.
A 79-year-old woman was arrested Tuesday at Fort Lauderdale International Airport in Florida after screeners found a single-shot Colt derringer and seven bullets in her tote bag. She said she forgot it was in the bag, according to the Broward County sheriff’s office.
Billie Vincent, former security chief for the Federal Aviation Administration, blames stupidity and forgetfulness in most cases. “How do you deal with people who have to know about 9/11 and, even inadvertently, are still trying to get knives onto planes?”
In October alone, screeners seized ammunition 2,000 times, along with 170,940 knives and 73 guns.
TSA spokeswoman Amy von Walter said local law enforcement officials have arrested people caught with prohibited items in some cases. It’s up to local prosecutors to decide on criminal charges, she said.
A college student who hid bags of boxcutters and fake bombs in the lavatories of four Southwest Airlines jets last year pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor as part of a plea bargain with prosecutors.
The student, Nathaniel Heatwole, said he was trying to expose what he called gaps in aviation security. By taking a dangerous weapon aboard an aircraft, he could have been charged with a federal felony that carries a possible 10-year prison sentence.
Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio, ranking Democrat on the House aviation subcommittee, said most of the seized items are trivial. “Primarily nail files and small knives and scissors – mostly innocent things,” said DeFazio.
Some have not been so innocent.
The TSA has found knives disguised as lipstick, a radio with a handgun inside, a loaded gun stuffed in a teddy bear. Several people have tried to bring chain saws onto planes. An Army sergeant was kicked off a flight after an inert land mine was found in his checked luggage. One man packed gunpowder and a fuse for his hobby of shooting golf balls out of cannons.