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What Happens if I Get Caught with a Gun While Flying?

Everyone knows the TSA is responsible for keeping airports and airplanes safe by preventing firearms and other dangerous weapons on board, but what are the actual penalties for being caught with a firearm while in an airport or while flying?

TSA - GunsBeing found in possession of a firearm by the TSA will result in fines as well as a referral to local enforcement agencies for further investigation. The amount fined is outlined in the TSA Enforcement Sanctions and depends on what firearm or related item you are caught with:

  • Unloaded firearms: a fine of $2,050 to $4,100, and a criminal referral
  • Loaded firearms: a fine of $4,100 to $10,250, and a criminal referral
  • Unloaded firearms with accessible ammunition: treated the same as a loaded firearm
  • Silencers, mufflers, frames, or receivers: a fine of $2,000 to $4,000 and a criminal referral

Being caught with a firearm, or related prohibited items, can lead to large fines and the high potential for further criminal charges imposed by local law enforcement. To learn exactly what that means for visitors of LAX, the Santa Monica Airport, or other California airports, read on.

However, if you are currently being faced with a fine and criminal charges for possession of a firearm in an airport or plane, you should contact us immediately at 323-655-5700 to discuss the details of your case for free. William Kroger has been a trusted LA criminal defense attorney for decades, and, along with the rest of our team here, represents your best chance for a successful defense.

What if the TSA Catches Me with a Gun?

Since the TSA is a fairly recent branch of federal enforcement, many people have never heard or seen them hand out punishment. What happens if the TSA does catch you with a prohibited item, such as a firearm?

The first thing that will happen is that you will be detained. The firearm, silencer, or other equipment will be confiscated, and you will be detained while local law enforcement agencies are notified.

The TSA will charge you a fine based on the type of prohibited item you possessed:

  • Unloaded firearms: a fine of $2,050 to $4,100
  • Loaded firearms: a fine of $4,100 to $10,250
  • Unloaded firearms with accessible ammunition: treated the same as a loaded firearm
  • Silencers, mufflers, frames, or receivers: a fine of $2,000 to $4,000

These fines are laid out in the TSA Enforcement Sanctions and you will receive an official TSA Notice of Violation. For certain cases, they may offer a settlement of 50% of the original fine to settle the case quickly; however, this is rare.

Also note that the TSA makes no explicit distinction based on type of firearm. Handguns are not typically given lesser penalties than other firearms, or vice versa.

In addition, you will receive a “criminal referral” to local law enforcement agencies who will handle the case from there. We’ll discuss exactly what that means below.

What are the Other Penalties of Being Caught with a Gun in an Airport?

In addition to the fine, the TSA will issue what is called a “criminal referral.” The local law enforcement agencies will likely retrieve you from TSA custody, then proceed to continue the criminal investigation themselves.

The exact charges you may face depends on the location where you are detained. In LA, this means you will be transferred to the local police and may face charges for:

  • Carrying a concealed firearm (California Penal Code §25400)
  • Carrying a loaded firearm in public (California Penal Code §25850)
  • Potentially, brandishing a weapon, if you drew the firearm inside the airport (California Penal Code §417)

This is only a small selection of the most common charges you will be likely to face. Essentially, you will face all charges applicable to the situation as if you were apprehended in another public place, including violations of felony firearm restriction laws.

What if I Don’t Pay the TSA Violation Fine?

When you are found with the firearm, the TSA will issue a “Notice of Violation.” This is not a criminal charge or penalty, but rather a civil one. The TSA has no bearing or involvement in the additional criminal charges you will face from local enforcement agencies.

  • Once you receive this formal violation in the mail you have 30 days to respond.
  • If you do not pay before 30 days, the TSA will issue a final notice. You will have an additional 15 days to respond to the final notice.

If you don’t respond to either notice, the TSA will likely refer the fine to the Department of the Treasury or the Department of Justice and it will be send to debt collection like any other government imposed fine.

Note that “responding” does not mean paying the amount in full. Responding can take the form of action by an attorney you obtained, or making contact to attempt to reach another settlement.

What if I Get Caught with a Gun While Onboard an Airplane?

If you are able to make it through a TSA checkpoint with a firearm, but are caught with it in your possession while onboard a plane, then you will face much more serious consquences.

Being caught with a firearm while onboard an airplane will lead to a charge for violation of U.S. Code §46505 and will incur minimum penalties of:

  • Up to 10 years of jail
  • Fines of up to $250,000
  • Or, both fines and jail time

If you are shown to have the gun intentionally accessible to you while flying, the jail sentence jumps to a maximum of 20 years. You could also face charges for terrorism or hijacking, depending on the situation.

These penalties are incurred at a federal level on top of other penalties from local law enforcement.

Are There Legal Ways to Fly with a Gun?

Yes, you can legally fly with a gun in the United States as long as it is in your checked baggage.

According to the TSA, the requirements to legally fly with a gun are:

  • It must be in your checked baggage
  • It must be unloaded
  • It must be stored inside a locked, hard-sided container (such as a pelican case)
  • You must declare the gun to the airline

It is acceptable to fly between states with a gun, but when flying internationally It is important to check the local laws in your destination country, as many countries have stricter gun laws than the United States.

You should also keep in mind that different states have different gun laws, and a gun that is legal in one state may not be legal in another. Always check the laws in your destination before traveling with any firearm.

Firearms and Air Travel: How We Can Help

Being found by the TSA with a firearm in your possession, whether accidental or not, can result in serious criminal charges and penalties that could permanently alter your life.

We know how serious firearm related charges are, and we strive to ensure the lives of our clients are not ruined by them. William Kroger has decades of experience defending against firearm related criminal charges here in LA, and, along with the rest of our team here, have a long track record for having such charges reduced or dropped entirely.

If you are currently being faced with such charges, you should contact us immediately at 323-655-5700 or right here online, so we can discuss the details of your case for free. The sooner you contact us, the sooner we can begin preparing a successful defense.

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