Gun Incident Exposes Underlying Issues at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport

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The recent arrest of rapper T.I.’s stepdaughter following her attempt to carry a firearm through a TSA checkpoint at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is the latest in a series of events that have raised serious concerns about gun trafficking at one of the busiest travel hubs in the nation.

Zonnique Pullins entered an airport security gateway with a 380 Ruger pistol in her possession, and when it was determined that she did not have a permit for the weapon, the 20-year-old was transported to the Clayton County jail.

The Pullins incident represents the latest chapter in a series of gun-related controversies at the Atlanta airport. In late 2014, a baggage handler along with a former employee of Delta Air Lines were arrested on suspicion of transporting guns aboard passenger flights.

The pair allegedly took part in a larger trafficking scheme which ran between New York and Atlanta for several months. The pair’s plot involved carrying handguns on commercial flights while making use of the employee’s access badge which provided entry to a secure baggage transfer space within the airport.

According to an FBI affidavit used in support of the arrest of one of the defendants, 129 handguns had been supplied in this way and ultimately sold to an undercover agent in New York during 2014. Since their initial arrest, the charges against the two defendants have been upgraded to include that of aggravated enterprise corruption, which brings a potential penalty of life imprisonment.

Atlanta criminal defense attorney Allen Yates says, “Federal and local authorities are reexamining their strategy to combat the movement of arms through the busiest airport in the world because of the rise in gun related arrests at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. It is a foregone conclusion that there will be more focus on limiting the flow of guns and other weapons and more arrests in the near future.”

Exposure of the 2014 gun smuggling conspiracy has put a harsh spotlight on the significant security gaps plaguing Hartsfield-Jackson Airport as well as other transportation hubs across the country.

Law enforcement observers have expressed real concern not merely about the dangers that weapons trafficking can pose to innocent populations, but also about the clear susceptibility of America’s airports to acts of terror.

It is thought that the ease with which the accused individuals were able to get firearms onto planes would also likely be experienced by terror bombers bent on inflicting profound harm.

As a result of the gun trafficking bust in Atlanta, the Transportation Security Administration immediately intensified its examination of airport staff across the country.

As part of its effort to eradicate safety threats from insiders, the agency began reducing the number of access points to secure sections of the airport, boosting the frequency of employee criminal background checks, instituting random staff screenings.

In addition, airport employees traveling as airline passengers are now being sent through traditional security checkpoints, a practice that was not always followed in the past.

The TSA’s Aviation Security Advisory Committee issued a 30-page report following the Atlanta gun trafficking arrests, encompassing 28 individual recommendations.

Main priorities announced by the group include enhanced oversight with regard to the issuance of security badges, a boost in the screening of secure areas and faster identification and removal of bad internal actors.

Whether these initiatives are able to prevent similar gun running operations from arising in the future is something which remains to be seen.