Residents of Texas take their Second Amendment rights very seriously, but they also recognize that these rights come with responsibility. It is important to maintain the proper license and know the laws that place limitations on possession. One key location designated as “off limits” for concealed or open carry is the airport. Still, many otherwise law-abiding citizens find themselves in a tricky situation when they head through security before taking a flight. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has implemented strict regulations about prohibited items, and firearms top the list.
If you are stopped by a TSA agent at George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Houston Hobby Airport, Texas Gulf Coast Regional Airport, or other Houston-area airports, you could face serious criminal penalties. It is essential to contact a Houston criminal defense attorney right away, but some important information may help you through the encounter with TSA agents.
Potential Consequences for Unlawful Carrying a Weapon at an Airport
By law, you can be detained and charged with a criminal offense if you carry a gun through a security checkpoint administered by the TSA. Regardless of whether it is in your carry-on luggage or on your person, you are in violation of the Texas Penal Code. The most serious consequences could be criminal charges and confiscation of your firearm. At minimum, you can expect TSA officials to conduct a more thorough investigation and cause you to miss your flight.
Penalties for Violation of Texas Law on Carrying a Gun in an Airport
The nature of the charges is very case-specific, but the punishment for a conviction can be harsh. You could be arrested for a Class A Misdemeanor, which means a judge could sentence you to four years in prison, a $4,000 fine, or both. Under some circumstances, you could be charged with a Third-Degree Felony. The minimum jail sentence that a judge can issue is two years, but your imprisonment could be up to 10 years. Plus, you face a maximum fine of $10,000.
Available Defenses to Firearms Charges
A person who has a Texas License to Carry a Firearm (LTC) may be able to fight a gun-related offense by demonstrating that the circumstances were accidental. If you are flagged by TSA at a security checkpoint for carrying a gun, you can defend yourself by showing that:
- You have the proper concealed carry license for your firearm; and,
- You exit the area after completing the screening process.
In fact, Texas law prohibits you from even being arrested if you leave after being advised by TSA and given the opportunity to do so. Essentially, the statute on carrying a firearm inside a Texas airport gives you an out for making a mistake.
Follow Up by the TSA
It is possible that the TSA could send a civil demand letter to you, even if you exited the security area and were not arrested on any charges. The point of this letter is to seek monetary damages for the inconvenience you caused officials, as they see your simple mistake as a drain on resources. If you pay the demand letter quickly, you may not have any further communication. However, you may want to contest the demand.
TSA Laws on Carrying a Gun on a Flight
TSA regulations are also strict if you want to take a firearm on a flight with you beyond the security checkpoint. You must place the gun in your checked bags, declare it, and follow other TSA rules – which can vary.
Take Action if You are Arrested
Even if you follow all Texas laws and TSA regulations, there are situations that may lead to charges. At your first opportunity, you should contact a lawyer to assist with your case. In the meantime, you should avoid answering any questions by officials that have arrested you and are trying to see you convicted. Anything you say can be used against you in court.
Fight Firearm Crimes with the Help of an Experienced Houston Criminal Defense Lawyer
As compared to many other US states, Texas laws on carrying a firearm are somewhat relaxed. However, you are still required to comply with all rules regarding possession of a gun while you are in an airport or going on a flight. Plus, federal statutes apply, which can further complicate your situation if you are detained by TSA officials. For more information on your rights and potential defenses, please contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates right away. We can schedule a consultation to discuss your situation, so call (281) 280-0100 or visit us online to set up your appointment.