If You're Caught with Gun at LAX Airport, Do You Need to Know You Had it?
The federal government has the right to enact reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions limiting the right to possess a firearm. Airports are unique locations where state and federal law enforcement have jurisdiction. This means both the FBI and the state airport police can make arrests.
It's possible to legally fly with a firearm, but only after complying with TSA guidelines. Before attempting to board an airplane with a gun, any passenger should speak with airport authorities to ensure protocols are followed. Generally, unloaded firearms can be stored checked baggage if secured in a locked container.
California has statutes prosecutors use to charge someone with the possession of a firearm at the airport. For more information, our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers are reviewing below.
California Penal Code 171.5 PC
Penal Code 171.5 makes it a crime to knowingly possess specific weapons in any sterile area of California airports, such as
- imitation firearm,
- Taser or stun gun,
- BB gun.
The statute also prohibits a firearm or ammunition frame in the “sterile” area of an airport.
The sterile area is described as those areas of the airport beyond the initial TSA screening location with metal detectors and body scanners. If you violate Penal Code 171.5 unlawful possession of a weapon at the airport, you are facing a misdemeanor crime punishable by:
- six months in county jail,
- A fine of $1,000, or both.
You could also be charged with other related crimes depending on the circumstances, such as:
- Penal Code 25400(a)(2) PC – carrying a concealed firearm,
- Penal Code 25850(a) PC – carrying a loaded firearm in a public place.
What If I Didn't Know I Had the Gun in My Luggage?
When they get charged with these cases at the LAX airport, many people tell me that they didn't realize the gun was in their luggage as they board the plane or go through the x-ray machine and get arrested at the airport.
They miss their flight and are taken to police headquarters. They probably post bail or are released on their own recognizance, then have a court date. I get the call, and the client tells me they didn't know the gun was there, and then it's up to your defense attorney to show the prosecutors that you honestly didn't think it was there and the circumstances of your case.
Sometimes you can do that. I've had some success. I've gotten some cases dismissed by the prosecutors because they agreed that we presented enough evidence to prove that the client did not know they had a gun when attempting to get through security.
They usually catch the person because it goes through the metal detector and sees the gun. So, it's pretty standard at the LAX airport, believe it or not. However, there are some circumstances where the person is just downright negligent with how they deal with the gun. Further, their story doesn't make any sense, and the prosecutors will not get rid of those cases, and they'll want a conviction and appropriate punishment.
I will tell you that the Jury Instructions for possessing a gun at an airport require that the person knew that the gun was there. Sometimes, a family member packs their back and accidentally puts the gun there. There's a whole variety of scenarios that I've seen. But you have to have a strong argument, number one, for the prosecutors to consider not filing the case.
I get a lot of pre-filing where I send a letter to the prosecutors dealing with the case before the arraignment and try to convince them not to file it from the get-go. I know what to present depending on the circumstances of your case, and sometimes the case is filed, and we're able to present evidence to show the client had no idea the gun was there. But you have to realize, all they have to prove is:
- that you possessed the gun, and
- you knew that it was there.
They've already got half the battle when they catch somebody putting in luggage with a gun in it. The only issue is; did they know or should they have reasonably known the gun was there? So, it's a fact-intensive investigation.
Criminal Defense for Gun Possession at the LAX Airport
If you or a loved one has been arrested for bringing a gun into the Los Angeles International Airport, what we have to do is get a meeting to go over everything. Let's see what evidence we can bring to bear to show that the client had no idea that the gun was there.
We may need some letters from some witnesses that can be interviewed to show the prosecutors that the client had no idea that the gun was there. And of course, when they get you at the airport, I can tell you right now, they're thinking of that exact argument, so they're going to try to do everything they can to either:
- get you to admit that you knew the gun was there, or
- get some evidence together so they can make the argument to the prosecutor that you knew that gun was there; and
- you were reckless in how you handled it.
Therefore, you should be prosecuted for trying to bring a gone onto an airplane at the airport. So, you've come to the right place. This is a tough charge to swallow because most people are smart enough to realize there's no way they're getting a gun through the metal detector at an airport — one of the most heavily scrutinized areas.
But some people bring drugs to the airport; some bring guns to the airport. They put it in their luggage, and they don't think the authorities will figure it out.
So, it's difficult for the authorities and police and sometimes the prosecutors to figure out who are people who just made an honest mistake versus somebody who's trying to get a gun onto a plane.
When they think that, you're in big trouble because they're thinking about what this person will do once they get the gun on the plane. Are they going to take the plan over? Are they going to shoot somebody?
So, you need the best defense. You've come to the right place. I've been doing this for nearly 30 years. I've worked for the District Attorney's office, so I know how they think about these cases.
I know how these judges evaluate these cases, and finally, since the early 1990s, I've been a criminal defense attorney handling cases just like yours getting successful outcomes. Pick up the phone. Ask for the best. Ask for a meeting with Ron Hedding. Hedding Law Firm has two office locations in Los Angeles County. Contact our law firm for a free case evaluation at (213) 542-0940.