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Congresswoman criticizes TSA for not checking luggage for weapons [Updated]

October 26, 2011 |  1:17 pm

A TSA officer checks luggage at LAX last month.A California congresswoman wrote a letter to the head of the Transportation Security Administration on Wednesday, chastising the agency for not screening checked luggage for loaded firearms.

Rep. Janice Hahn (D-San Pedro) wrote to TSA chief John Pistole following an incident over the weekend in which a loaded, undeclared .38-caliber handgun fell out of a checked bag as it was being loaded onto a plane at Los Angeles International Airport. The Times reported Wednesday that the TSA does not search for guns in checked luggage.

TSA representatives said the incident did not represent a breakdown in the screening process because the agency's mandate is to screen checked bags for explosives, not guns. A spokeswoman for the agency said it is the responsibility of the passenger and the airline to make sure firearms in checked bags are declared, unloaded and properly packed.

Hahn wrote "It is troubling enough that ten years after September 11, an undeclared, unsecured and loaded firearm escaped detection in baggage screening."

She went on to say she was "especially disturbed" by the TSA's stance that it is not the agency's responsibility to screen checked bags for guns. She wrote that the TSA's website lists the regulations for passengers traveling with firearms, and states that "these regulations are strictly enforced."

"Yet the TSA has abdicated responsibility. I would like to know, if TSA is not enforcing its own regulations about loaded firearms in luggage, who is?" Hahn wrote.

The congresswoman said in a telephone interview that she had not yet received a response but is hoping that the TSA will take another look at its baggage-screening policies.

"I think a loaded weapon aboard an airplane, whether it's in the cargo section or in your overhead baggage, is a security issue," she said.

TSA representatives told The Times that loaded firearms in checked bags, unlike guns in carry-on bags, do not pose a security threat.

"Checked bags are stored in the cargo hold of a plane, where passengers can't access them," TSA spokeswoman Kristin Lee said in an email. "When Congress created TSA, it mandated that the agency screen checked bags for explosives that could take down a plane, not for items that do not pose a security threat to the flight."

[Updated at 3:08 p.m. Wednesday: TSA issued the following statement in response to Hahn's letter:

"The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screens checked baggage for threats to aircraft security, such as improvised explosive devices and their components. Firearms and firearm components are not prohibited from checked baggage. Firearms must be unloaded, locked in a hard-sided container and declared by the passenger to the airline during the ticket counter check-in process. It is the responsibility of the airline to ensure that declared firearms are properly packed. TSA will be in touch with the Congresswoman directly regarding her letter. "]


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Photo: A TSA officer checks luggage at LAX last month. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times