Mayor’s Commission Against Gun Violence

Guns in Airports - House Bill 1168

State and federal laws go to great length to prevent firearms from being brought inside airport terminals or carried onto aircraft, but Texas law does not identify Airport Operations Areas (AOA) as secure locations.

The AOA portion of the airport, commonly referred to as the tarmac, is where commercial airplanes park and taxi. Hundreds of thousands of vehicles enter AOA security checkpoints every year. Currently, there are no provisions for security breaches under Texas law in these areas.

House Bill 1168 by Rep. Rafael Anchia extended the same designation of secure areas now in place for airport terminals to Airport Operation Areas.

Airport security experts have grown increasingly concerned about the prospect of insider-based threats. Numerous incidents at major Texas airports and around the nation have made it more urgent to act.

  • Last year, TSA officials discovered that baggage handlers had smuggled over 120 firearms and drugs from Atlanta's Hartsfield Jackson Airport to New York.
  • In addition, Delta Airlines employees working at Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport were successfully recruited by ISIS.

While arrests have taken place for violations at DFW and at other airports across the country, there are no reported incidents of violence. Airport security professionals say the arrests are proof that security threats exist. Without precautions and enhanced protections, airports and passengers could be at risk of airport insiders, people with AOA access --- putting innocent lives in danger.

HB 1168 expanded airport secure areas (now limited to inside airport terminals) to include tarmacs and ramp areas inside an airport that are restricted to airport personnel and to ticketed passengers in smaller airports (where passengers walk to board aircraft).

Airport Operations Areas are normally secured by a perimeter fence and include checkpoints. Airline passengers are prohibited from proceeding past checkpoint areas. Civilian-owned firearms would be prohibited within airport operations areas.

Federal law requires all airports to have an airport security plan in place. However, due to limited resources, enforcement is left to state law. Currently, if airport personnel are discovered to be in possession of a firearm within a secure area, all that can be done is to take possession of an employee's badge. Texas does not have laws in place to investigate these violations. Potential insider-based threats are a primary concern of airport security professionals.

House Bill 1168 would have:

  • created a defense to prosecution for persons who are authorized to carry a firearm into a secure airport operations area of an airport.
  • created a third-degree felony offense for a person to intentionally, knowingly or recklessly bring a firearm into a secure airport operation area.
  • helped airport security professionals, local and state law enforcement keep Texas airports safe.
  • amended current law relating to the offense of possessing a weapon in a secured area of an airport.

After passing the House 140 to 8 and the Senate 17 to 14, the bill was vetoed by Governor Abbott. In his veto statement, he says, "House Bill 1168 would impose an unacceptable restraint on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding travelers. The Legislature may have intended simply to keep firearms off the tarmac, but the bill as drafted would newly prohibit carrying in any part of the airport terminal building, even ahead of the TSA inspection checkpoint. By vetoing this bill, I am ensuring that Texans can travel without leaving their firearms at home."