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story.lead_photo.caption Greg Bronson of the federal Transportation Security Administration speaks Friday at Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport/Adams Field in Little Rock about items the agency has examined for explosives at the nation’s 512 commercial airports. - Photo by Staton Breidenthal

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

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  • MaxCady
    December 8, 2018 at 10:29 a.m.

    I always travel with a brick of Velveeta, you never know when the urge for Rotel cheese dip is gonna hit!!

  • Dirtdr
    December 8, 2018 at 11:04 a.m.

    If someone brings a loaded gun to the airport, whether the ammunition is in the chamber or the magazine..... they should forfeit the right of gun ownership, be charged with a felony, and be taken to jail immediately. Such risks and threats to public safety are intolerable. Stupidity and forgetfulness are unacceptable excuses.

  • Dirtdr
    December 8, 2018 at 11:08 a.m.

    In addition, the person should also be banned from all public air travel for at least one year for such blatant disregard for the safety of fellow citizens.

  • ELL998
    December 8, 2018 at 11:18 a.m.

    Bet DirtDr is a liberal.

  • DemGazReader
    December 8, 2018 at 11:33 a.m.

    I agree 100% with DIRTDR and I am not a liberal. No responsible gun owner would carry a loaded weapon to an airport. Morons like this provide ammunitation for the gun-hating liberals to ban guns altogether (no pun intended).

  • tomezell04240836
    December 8, 2018 at 11:53 a.m.

    Arkansas has some good, liberal laws which allow one to carry a weapon legally in many places, whether under the provisions of Act 746 of 2013, or one of the new enhanced concealed carry licenses. However these laws do not apply in federally prohibited places, such as to the post office or the secured portions of an airport. Many folks tend to overlook that. As an enhanced license holder, I can go to the reception area to meet a friend while heeled, but I cannot go to or past the TSA check areas, nor the check-in counter that way. If you go heeled, you must Know what and where the Prohibited Places are.

  • scizmo
    December 8, 2018 at 12:02 p.m.

    I suppose white privilege is at play in this one since they aren't being arrested and charged with a felony.

  • GeneralMac
    December 8, 2018 at 12:07 p.m.

    SCIZMO.......the reason the person would have been arrested if Black would be..."FELON in possession of a firearm "

  • GeneralMac
    December 8, 2018 at 12:11 p.m.

    A real "joke" is RBear attending the Arkansas State Democrat Convention pretending he was the pied piper.

    Roaming the convention looking for "LGBT" "LGBT" to lead.

    Was he playing his flute at the time ?

  • kj72120
    December 8, 2018 at 12:32 p.m.

    Waste of time article...... Much more important things to report on.