A Georgia man who was removing the bolt from his Savage .243-caliber bolt-action rifle accidentally discharged a round at the curbside check-in of the state's largest airport one morning last week.
No one was hurt, but U.S. Transportation Security Administration officials say the incident underscored the potential danger involved in bringing firearms into Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport/Adams Field and the nation's 511 other commercial service airports.
The incident comes as the officials from the federal agency say they continue to discover undeclared firearms in passenger carry-on bags at alarming rates.
Law enforcement officers at Clinton National and the state's three other commercial service airports -- Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport in Highfill, Fort Smith Regional Airport and Texarkana Regional Airport -- have confiscated 43 firearms this year after seizing 36 in all of 2017, according to Sari Koshetz, a spokesman for the security agency.
Clinton National passengers have brought 28 to checkpoints so far in 2018 compared with 21 all of last year, she said.
Agency officials are worried that they will continue to see guns at the checkpoints as passenger traffic picks up during the holiday travel season.
"We're entering one of the busiest times of the year for any airport," Koshetz said. "Unfortunately, we are seeing the escalation of passengers bringing guns to the checkpoints. This is just not here in Little Rock. It is also across the whole state of Arkansas and across the whole country."
Nationwide, Transportation Security Administration checkpoint personnel screened 26.8 million passengers last week and discovered 122 firearms, according to the latest agency data. Of those, 110 were loaded and 47 had a round chambered.
Though typically passengers say they forgot they were carrying their firearms when confronted at the checkpoint, the fear is the weapons will inadvertently discharge.
"You see the way people fling their bags onto the X-ray belts," Koshetz said. "That is both dangerous and disturbing because we are concerned there could be an accidental discharge and could have tragic results."
The discharge incident in Little Rock occurred at 7:45 a.m. Nov. 30, not at the passenger security checkpoint but outside the Clinton National passenger terminal, according to a Little Rock police account of the incident.
The 52-year-old man from Monroe, Ga., told officers responding to a call about a person firing a weapon at the curbside check-in in front of Clinton National Airport that he "accidentally fired a round" when he tried to remove the rifle bolt before entering the terminal.
"The bullet struck ammunition which was stored in the rifle case and caused it to fly into the roadway," a responding officer said in a written account of the incident. "The bullet traveled [about] 70 yards and struck a red metal parking guard rail at the east short term parking lot."
The man was cited for discharging a weapon in the city limits, a misdemeanor, police said. The rifle and ammunition were stored in the Police Department's property office.
"Fortunately, there was no tragedy involved, but that's why we always express to you to make sure you know where your gun is, don't bring it the checkpoint, and if you are going to check that gun, make sure it is unloaded before you leave home," Koshetz said.
Guns can be transported in a checked bag if they are declared to the airline at check-in and stored unloaded in a hard-sided, locked case, she said.
Such infractions go beyond possibly missing a flight.
"If you're bringing a gun to the checkpoint, you are bringing a weapon to a federal checkpoint," Koshetz said. "You will face fines from the TSA of possibly more than $13,000 and you will likely be arrested."
Beyond the guns, which are seized, passengers also voluntarily hand over thousands of other prohibited items every year, ranging from knives and martial arts weapons to replica hand grenades and even a package of Velveeta.
Viewed in carry-on luggage in an X-ray machine, Velveeta looks similar to a block of C-4, a type of plastic explosive, said Gregory Bronson, a lead transportation security specialist in explosives assigned to Clinton National and Texarkana Regional airports.
That is why food, though mostly allowed, can come under additional scrutiny, Transportation Security Administration officials said.
In the case of the replica hand grenade, agency officials said it was discovered in a bag belonging to a woman who purchased it for her son at a military surplus store.
Passengers have the option of placing prohibited items in their checked bags or, at some airports, mailing them home. Often, they leave them at the checkpoint.
Metro on 12/08/2018
Print Headline: Rifle accidentally discharged at Little Rock airport's check-in; officials respond to increase in undeclared firearms