Guns on planes: TSA should stop stonewalling


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Second District U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson is justifiably irked about yet another security breach at Jackson-Evers International Airport allowing a gun aboard a plane.



As chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee overseeing the Transportation Security Administration, he has grown weary of TSA's evasions - and blunders - in ensuring the safety of the air-traveling public.

In the latest incident, the Democrat from Bolton has sent a letter giving TSA Director Kip Hawley until Monday to explain how a Mississippi Department of Public Safety employee was allowed to bring a handgun aboard a commercial flight out of Jackson.

The employee, Law Enforcement Liaison Office Director Mike Vick, was stopped by TSA officials in Portland, Ore., when he attempted to bring a gun on the return flight. "You put everybody on the plane at risk if somebody who is unauthorized has a weapon," said Thompson in the letter.

Federal regulations allow law enforcement officers to bring guns aboard a plane under limited circumstances.

But the regulation does not require that anyone at the airport confirm the person flying is an actual police officer or that reasons for boarding armed are legitimate.

This leaves a huge potential loophole for people who aren't trained in handling guns in enclosed areas and pressurized cabins, or who lack sufficient law enforcement training or proper authorization - such as Mayor Frank Melton, who has been ordered by TSA to stop carrying guns aboard aircraft.



Since The Clarion-Ledger reported Melton's activities and other security lapses at Jackson's airport in its 2006 series "9-11: 5 Years Later," the TSA has done nothing but try to stonewall or delay action.

Congress has twice passed requirements for TSA to develop a system to positively identify real law enforcement officers through a "biometric" system, such as fingerprints or retinal scanning. It missed an April 16, 2005, deadline. Now, the deadline is Jan. 3, 2009.

Thompson should hold the TSA accountable and ensure timely implementation of a verification system.

Congress should also approve the Whistleblower Protection Act, also known as H.R. 985 and S. 274, that includes meaningful protections for TSA screeners, like those who told The Clarion-Ledger they were routinely tipped off about security tests to make bosses look good on reports.

Certainly, it's a serious and outrageous lapse that federal regulations continue to not require airport officials to verify the identity of law enforcement officers before they are allowed to board aircraft.

Ensuring only those adequately trained and entitled to go armed do go armed on aircraft should be a matter of urgent public safety for the air-traveling public.


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