Sea-Tac continues to be one of the top airports in the nation for guns detected in carry-on bags at security checkpoints, according to new data from the federal government.
The 37 guns seized by Transportation Security Administration and Port of Seattle security personnel in 2012 put Sea-Tac on the top ten list of airports for guns confiscated from passengers. Despite being the nation's 15th-busiest airport, Sea-Tac came in at No. 8 for guns seized last year.
“That’s ridiculous. People should know better,” said passenger Pamela Peterson as she waited to board a flight to Minnesota earlier this week
TSA reported a 30 percent increase in the number of guns seized at U.S. airports this year compared to last.
Carrying a firearm into an airport security checkpoint is a state and federal crime, even if the passenger has a concealed weapons permit.
However, the KING 5 Investigators found that a large percentage of passengers who are caught red-handed are never charged with a crime.
A review of four years of police and prosecutor's office reports shows that 113 passengers were caught at Sea-Tac checkpoints with guns. Nearly half of them -- 53 armed passengers -- were never charged. The other 60 were charged, typically with the gross misdemeanor of Carrying a Weapon into a Prohibited Area.
The cases are forwarded by Port of Seattle police to the King County prosecutor’s office, whose lawyers say the cases can be hard to prove.
“Some people forget that they are carrying their firearm in a particular piece of baggage,” said prosecutor’s spokesperson Ian Goodhew.
Prosecutors say they have to prove that the passenger knew the gun was in their baggage.
“The statute is very clear that the person has to knowingly possess or knowingly bring that gun with them," Goodhew said. "And to prove ‘knowing’ as a prosecutor can sometimes be difficult.”
Goodhew said prosecutors need evidence that shows the passenger intended to smuggle the gun on the plane.
The cases that we show that it’s packed in the middle of the clothes, for example, we charge those because obviously they packed those clothes to go on that trip. So we can infer intent from that,” he said.
And Goodhew said that while armed passengers may not be charged with a crime, they could be hit squarely in the wallet -- TSA can impose a civil fine of up to $7,500 per violation.
But it’s unclear how often those fines are levied. A TSA spokesperson said she could not supply the information about fines at Sea-Tac. And TSA has not filled a request for the data filed by KING 5 News more than 8 months ago under the Freedom of Information Act