State's gun law raises airport security concerns

WASHINGTON_The chairman of the House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee says he might pursue new federal gun restrictions in response to a recently enacted Georgia law that could allow people to carry concealed firearms in parts of the airport at the state capital, Atlanta.

Apparently surprised that some airports long have allowed guns in unsecured areas, Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson said the new Georgia legislation represents a significant hole in national security and a threat to travelers.

He asked the Transportation Security Administration to clarify federal law governing weapons in areas outside security checkpoints. In a Monday letter to TSA Assistant Secretary Kip Hawley, Thompson said his "committee may seek legislative action to correct this omission" if there are no restrictions.

TSA spokesman Christopher White said Tuesday that since no federal prohibitions apply to areas outside security checkpoints, the agency follows local regulations. He said he did not know how many airports allow firearms and would not say whether the agency has a position on the matter, maintaining that it is focused on keeping guns from getting through security.

"We work within the framework of local laws," he said.

At issue in Georgia is a new law signed by Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue this year that allows residents who have passed criminal background checks to carry concealed weapons onto mass transit, as well as into state parks and restaurants that serve alcohol. The law took effect July 1.

A legal battle quickly erupted over whether the law applies to public areas of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport before travelers pass through security checkpoints. The airport is the busiest in the United States.

On the day the law took effect, Atlanta officials who oversee the airport declared it a "gun-free zone" and said anyone carrying a gun there could be arrested and charged with a misdemeanor. Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin argued that allowing guns could endanger people because airports remain attractive targets for terrorists.

Gun rights supporters filed a federal lawsuit challenging the designation, saying the airport qualifies as mass transportation and has restaurants that should be accessible under the new law.

Sean Broderick, spokesman for the American Association of Airport Executives, also said he did not know how many airports allow handguns. Andrew Arulanandam, a National Rifle Association spokesman, said he thinks guns are at least partially allowed on airport grounds in most states.

The Dallas-Forth Worth International Airport, for example, allows weapons in areas outside checkpoints. The Washington area's Reagan National and Dulles International airports eased rules several years ago to allow weapons on grounds and parking lots, but not in terminals and other buildings that access airfields.

Hartsfield spokesman Herschel Grangent said airport and TSA officials were slated to meet late Tuesday on the guns issue.


Associated Press writer Shannon McCaffrey in Atlanta contributed to this report.