TAMPA - An I-Team investigation has discovered the number of people caught bringing guns and other weapons through security checkpoints at Tampa International and other airports is steadily on the rise.
The federal agency in charge of security at the nation's airports, the Transportation Security Administration, is alarmed about the common excuse many of those caught are giving about why dangerous weapons were in their carry on bags.
Police at Tampa International Airport allowed the I-Team inside its evidence room to see all of the guns confiscated from travelers over the past year. It was the first time a news organization has ever been allowed inside the room.
Among the weapons stored here, pending the conclusion of the criminal case is a .38 caliber Derringer which was discovered inside a lap top case belonging to a Tampa business owner.
"I just grabbed the bag and put it in my luggage. So when I go through security they scanned it and said you have a loaded gun in there and I went Oh My Gosh!" 34-year old Sang Quang Dang tells the I-Team.
Dang, who owns a small business on North Florida Avenue, was on his way to Seattle in December and now faces felony charges of carrying a concealed weapon in a carry on bag.
"I'm prepared to go up to the judge and explain to him or her exactly what's going on. It was an honest mistake. I'm human," Dang says.
And he's not alone.
"We are unfortunately seeing a trend over the past few years and it's an uptick in the number of weapons we're seeing at checkpoints," says Sari Koshetz of the Transportation Security Administration.
TSA is the federal agency created after the 9/11 terrorist attacks to screen travelers and their baggage.
"I guess as we get further away from 9/11 people just aren't focusing as much which is very unfortunate," Koshetz goes on to say.
The I-Team has discovered since 2005, the number of guns found at checkpoints has increased by over 50 percent.
In Tampa, the numbers are up dramatically. From 9 incidents in 2004 to 27 last year.
"What's the most common response you get when a person is asked why were you trying to bring a gun through a checkpoint?" We asked the TSA's Koshetz. "The most common response is I forgot it was in the bag," she says.
In just the last year, 45 people were arrested in Orlando for guns in their carry-on bags. There were 34 incidents in Miami.
An I-Team review of incident reports from Tampa show 14 of those caught with firearms at TIA checkpoints didn't even have a permit to carry a concealed weapon, including Beverly Richardson, the 72-year old wife of a local pastor who was leaving on a missionary trip to Africa.
"Well there's one little pocket there that I didn't take a Beretta out of it and it's like, 'Oh, no' It was just unbelievable. I was just so mortified," Richardson told the I-Team.
"So you weren't taking a gun on your missionary trip to Africa?" We asked. "No we weren't taking the gun," she says.
Police referred the case to the State's Attorney's Office which declined to prosecute.
TSA is so concerned about guns and other prohibited weapons found at its checkpoints here in Tampa and around the country; it's taking the unusual step of showing the I-Team what some members of the flying public are trying to get away with.
There were so many knives, brass knuckles, martial arts, and other concealed weapons found in just the last two weeks, they couldn't fit them on just one table.
"Are you sometimes shocked about what people are trying to bring onto planes?" We asked. "Shocked in some ways and not surprised in other ways because unfortunately it happens every single day in every airport across the country."
It may happen every day but Koshetz says Florida is "right up there" when it comes to the state where it happens most often. And Sang Quang Dang knows the consequences first hand.
"What would you tell people watching this report about the need to be careful?" We asked. "Take a little extra time and check all your pockets and bags and mare sure there's no weapon in there because you know or you will be through like me charged with a felony."
Since January 1, there have een four incidents involving passengers bringing guns through security checkpoints at TIA.
Here are the numbers in Tampa since 2004:
- 2004 - 9
- 2005 - 11
- 2006 - 10
- 2007 - 10
- 2008 - 7
- 2009 - 14
- 2010 - 17
- 2011 – 27
Here are the numbers of firearms detected at airport security checkpoints around the country since 2005.
- 2005 - 851
- 2006 – 822
- 2007 – 803
- 2008 – 928
- 2009 – 976
- 2010 – 1123
- 2011 – 1310
The TSA's website has information for travelers on what is and isn't allowed on commercial aircraft when it comes to firearms and other weapons. Here is the link: http://tinyurl.com/zgtxk