Twelve years after the worst terrorist attack in American history, no one can credibly claim ignorance of the law against carrying guns on airplanes. Yet here in Salt Lake City, 18 guns have already been found just in the first five months of 2013. Last year, 20 guns were seized for the whole year.
There is no excuse for bringing an undeclared weapon to an airport checkpoint. In 2012, the Transportation Safety Administration discovered some 1,543 firearms in carry-on bags at airport checkpoints. Even more disturbing is the fact that 78.7 percent of those found were actually loaded.
Stiff penalties exist for those caught bringing a gun through airport security. They can serve up to 10 years in prison and pay a fine that ranges from $5,000 to $10,000. In addition, passengers will be unable to fly to their scheduled destination and will likely have the weapon confiscated. Even worse, those caught with an undeclared weapon are added to a permanent watch list.
Forgetting you were carrying your weapon is not a valid excuse. Gun ownership is a right that comes with very important responsibilities. Knowing the location of your loaded weapon should be among the most basic of these. When we don't take our responsibilities seriously, we can put everyone's rights at risk.
As concealed-carry permit holders ourselves, we treasure our right to own and carry a weapon. We value the constitutional right of Americans to keep and bear arms. But as gun owners, we have an obligation to exercise care and caution in the management of our weapons. How can we get a clear picture of the effectiveness of TSA screening when we can't distinguish between those with criminal intent trying to sneak weapons on board and otherwise law-biding citizens who have simply lost track of their weapon?
Unfortunately, not every gun discovered at U.S. airports is brought there by accident. TSA reported this month that passengers in 2012 continued to attempt hiding firearms in random objects in an effort to sneak them past security. For example, in Portland, Ore., a passenger put a pistol in a potted plant. A gun in a hollowed-out book was discovered in Honolulu. A .22-caliber magazine was discovered wrapped in aluminum foil inside a DVD player in Fresno, Calif. The list goes on an on and that's just 2012.
Meanwhile, responsible gun owners who wish to travel with their weapons can simply fill out a form declaring the weapon, stow it in their checked baggage, and fly without incident. Given the ease of traveling legally, the stiff penalties for getting caught with an undeclared weapon, and the very real threats that continue to be uncovered, no one should be able to escape prosecution by arguing they forgot they had a weapon in their carry-on luggage.
There are plenty of laws on the books. People just aren't paying adequate attention to them. Responsible gun owners must always be vigilant about keeping track of their weapons. The current penalties provide a powerful reminder for passengers to take appropriate steps to secure and declare firearms while traveling.
Few things are more annoying to responsible gun owners than irresponsible gun owners. The right to bear arms is a privilege that comes with certain duties and obligations. When gun owners don't take them seriously, they put everyone's right to bear arms at risk.
Jason Chaffetz is a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives representing Utah's 3rd Congressional District; Curt Oda is a Republican member of the Utah House of Representatives representing District 14.