A growing mantra in this country, following on the heels of some of the most horrific gun violence in recent history, is that most gun owners are ‘responsible’ people who take great care to keep their weapons out of the wrong hands and away from children. These are people we can ‘trust’ with a gun in a crisis, even more than we can trust first responders, because they would be so quick-witted in utilizing their weapons for good.
Many individual news stories have already countered this self-glorifying portrait painted by the NRA and its cohorts–stories of children finding their parents’ guns and killing other children, or adults firing at someone they mistakenly thought was committing a transgression. Now, however, comes the best evidence of just how much we can trust a nation of ‘responsible’ gun owners. That evidence comes from our airports.
In the first half of 2013, security agents at airports across the nation seized 862 guns that passengers tried to take through security checkpoints in their carry-on luggage. The number is on course to exceed last year’s record total of 1556. Are these passengers the mentally ill? Or criminals intent on committing crimes? No. They are regular, ‘responsible.’ run-of-the-mill gun owners who ‘forgot’ where they last saw their guns.
So far, Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport leads the pack with 67 seizures. Since it’s the country’s busiest airport, its leadership in this area isn’t too surprising. What is surprising are the stories that airport officials have to tell about why these seizures are occurring.
The bishop of a local church, William Henry Murphy III, keeps a handgun in a bag he carries when he’s out at night. In June, when he packed for one of his frequent flights out-of-town, the gun inadvertently ended up in his luggage:
“I didn’t go through my normal routine; the bag I carry at church on a day-to-day basis was thrown into my carry-on without me repacking.”
Oops, just lost track of it for a little while–long enough to result in the bishop’s arrest at the airport. He’s in good company, though. Lawyer John Turner always carried a handgun in a fanny pack for a daily walk with his dog–at least until the day he wore the fanny pack to the airport to catch a flight to a family event. As he recalled after his arrest:
“I didn’t think it was in there. I had always removed it.”
Then there are the rappers, the priest, the off-duty airline pilot, the pro-football player, the Chamber of Commerce president–to say nothing of those who are repeat offenders. County solicitor general, Tasha Mosley, has seen and heard it all with excuses ranging from “I hid the gun from the kids and forgot about it,” to “I grabbed the wrong briefcase.” Mosley says:
“It’s just mind-boggling. Just stupid … You need to know where your gun is at all times.”
Well, yeah. Wouldn’t cha think? Especially since the fine can range from $200 to $11,000. In 2012, the TSA collected $1,887,745 in fines across the country. But the number of infractions and seizures just keeps going up.
In North Carolina’s Raleigh-Durham International Airport, gun seizures this year have already exceeded the number in each of the past two years. The county tends to be lenient if the incident was inadvertent, but Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby is worried:
“We’ve become such an armed society that people actually aren’t thinking about the fact that they’re carrying weapons with them. That’s a little bit sobering, to think that we are so accustomed to carrying a firearm with us that we often don’t think about it or realize that we have it.”
Gun dealer Ed Nicely was arrested at Raleigh-Durham with a .22 caliber derringer in his carry-on bag. Intentional? Of course not:
“Me being a gun dealer, I know the laws. I just didn’t see it in my bag. I was so amazed it was there. It was a total accident. It was stupid, yes.”
A total accident, total stupidity. Mind-boggling stupidity, as a matter of fact. These people are the ‘responsible’ gun owners. If they don’t even know where their guns are, how safe can the rest of us feel?