9 Investigates: Many arrested, charges often dropped for guns at airport

Updated:

ORLANDO, Fla. - WFTV Investigates has discovered Transportation Security Administration officials are intercepting a growing number of guns at Orlando International Airport. And that charges against the gun owners often get dropped once they complete community service.

Prosecutors said the cases are often accidents and the punishment fits the crime. But not all travelers agree.

Traveler Elizabeth Bianco said she has no sympathy for people who say they accidentally left guns in their luggage.

"You know what you put in your bag," said Bianco.

WFTV tried to talk to some of those who have been arrested for having guns at the airport but none would go on camera. Most said they were afraid it would hurt them professionally. All of them said they didn't realize guns were in their bags.

"If they are a responsible weapon owner they will know where their weapons are," said traveler Roy Zinser.

Bill Vose, Orange County's assistant state attorney, said most of those arrested are first-time offenders with no criminal record who forgot they put their gun in their carry-on, and didn't realize it until the bag went through the X-ray machine.

"The guns themselves are not dangerous things. So it's the intent of the person possessing them, or bringing them into the area that we look at," said Vose.

Orlando police could not provide names of everyone arrested since 2007 in time for this story.

WFTV discovered a 79 percent increase in arrests in the past two years, and a total of 141 arrests over the past five years.

Court records show in 10 recent cases charges were dropped, either before a hearing or once gun owners did community service.

"Community service does not fit the crime," said Bianco.

"Why do you need to come down really hard on someone if they were just being stupid? It's not illegal to be stupid," said one traveler at Orlando International Airport.

It is illegal to bring firearms through the airport terminal. The law is clearly stated at the security check point.

Travelers who fly with a gun must place it unloaded in checked baggage and inside a locked TSA-approved case. And they must notify the airline.

Gun enthusiast Michael Langfield hopes he never forgets a gun in his luggage. He said he supports leeway for those who do.

"Let the prosecutor do his job, and his job is to decide who needs to be punished and who needs some latitude because they are human and they made a mistake," said Langfield.

Some experts believe TSA screeners are finding more guns at airports because more people are buying guns.

According to reports, the TSA found twice as many guns at Orlando International Airport in the past two years than it did at Miami International, which has a similar passenger count.