The National Academies

ACRP 11-01/Topic 07-01 [Final]

Impact of Firearms Laws on Airports
[ ACRP 11-01 (Legal Aspects of Airport Programs) ]

  Project Data
Funds: $55,000
Research Agency: The Thomas Law Firm
Principal Investigator: Larry W. Thomas
Effective Date: 3/31/2015
Completion Date: 3/31/2016

The right to carry guns at airports is affected by the U.S. Constitution, federal and state legislation, and interpretive judicial decisions. There have been many recent changes in state gun laws, some of which permit guns to be carried in public places and in certain areas of some places of employment, such as parking lots. These developments have ramifications for commercial airports throughout the United States. 
The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution generally provides the parameters of the constitutionally protected right to bear arms. A number of U.S. Supreme Court cases delineate the scope of this constitutional protection. Some recent federal district court and appeals court decisions identify areas where there is some lack of consensus on the limits of this constitutional protection.
The primary federal legislation in this area is found in 18 U.S.C. Section 926A, which sets forth the general regulation of the interstate transportation of firearms. Other federal statutes also apply to firearms and explosives at airports and on aircraft, including criminal offenses pertaining to entering aircraft or airport areas in violation of security requirements involving the carriage of firearms. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is charged with the responsibility for enforcing federal restrictions on the carriage of guns at commercial airports and aboard aircraft.
All 50 states have enacted statutes that relate to the carriage of guns within their borders. Some states have loosened restrictions on open and concealed carry of weapons while other states have increased restrictions in this area. Some state laws dramatically limit the ability of an airport or local municipality to regulate firearm possessions at airports.
The objective of this research is to produce an easy-to-use compendium of the federal and state laws affecting the carriage of guns at airports. The report should provide an overview of the federal constitutional right to bear arms, with reference to important U.S. Supreme Court decisions, as well as recent decisions of the U.S. Courts of Appeals and federal district courts that are instructive for airport operators.    In addition, the report should identify all existing state statutes, and review any important state judicial decisions that address insights on the carriage of guns at airports within each state.   To the extent that new state legislative trends are developing, the report should also identify the major issues considered by state legislatures and include summaries of the important impacts of such trends for publicly owned airports in each state and territory. Among the issues that should be adressed with respect to state and territory legislation and/or evolving legislative trends are:
  • Categorization of state regulations that require, allow, prohibit, or condition an airport operator’s authority to regulate the presence or carriage of firearms on airport property.  
  • Obligations on the oversight of the carriage of firearms at airports, if any, that are imposed on airport operators under the various laws.
  • Sources of law governing guns at commercial airports (legislation, judicial decisions, and combination).
  • Differences in the laws governing guns at commercial airports based on the nature of the governmental entity operating the airport, and if any, document the differences.
  • Claims, if any, that can be brought against airport operators for issues related to carriage of firearms at airports under the various state statutes. 

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