Originally created 11/25/03

Commissioners will consider new airport weapons ordinance



Federal law already prohibits weapons in airports across the nation, including Augusta Regional, but a new ordinance would make it a city crime, too.

That means violators could be subject not just to federal prosecution but also to a $1,000 fine and up to 30 days in a Richmond County jail.

The city measure, tentatively adopted by an Augusta Commission committee Monday, would make it unlawful to bring prohibited items into the airport, including metal knuckles, firearms, box cutters, knives and "any other dangerous or deadly weapon or instrument," including scissors and baseball bats.

City officials say local travelers shouldn't see any difference.

"It won't change anything, per se, except it gives the city the flexibility to prosecute those in violation of that ordinance in Magistrate Court," staff attorney Harry James said. That would include cases the federal government decides not to prosecute, he said.

The federal government already can prosecute someone who brings a weapon or other "prohibited item" to a security checkpoint, the Transportation Security Administration says.

The administration was created in November 2001 to improve the nation's air-travel security.

It is rare for a city to enact its own weapons ordinance involving an airport, said Lauren Stover, a spokeswoman for the administration. Although the agency doesn't need a city ordinance to enforce its own rules, she said, it supports the change.

"That's not something we're widely seeing right now," she said. "And we're very pleased that the city of Augusta would take these measures to help TSA."

Generally, prohibited items may be returned to the owners' vehicles without travelers being charged. The exception is when an item, such as a gun, might be intended for deadly uses.

That policy is expected to continue, even once the new ordinance takes effect, said Chief James Cole, the director of airport security at Augusta Regional.

"Scissors and nail files, we're not worried about," Chief Cole said. "The only way it's going to affect (passengers) is for a firearm or knife that is illegal by Georgia law standards. Then that's when we would take into account prosecution - on those kinds of things."

Reach Heidi Coryell Williams at (706) 823-3215 or heidi.williams@augustachronicle.com.