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Concerns about missing guns at O'Hare

Monday, August 14, 2006

Many people are trying to adjust to the changes of what you can take in your carry-on bags when you fly. There are now questions about how secure the checked luggage is, and we're learning that several guns were stolen from checked bags months ago.

The issue of what happens to guns in checked baggage has so concerned Chicago's Fraternal Order of Police the union has issued an advisory to its members to be wary of United Airlines.

Since the first of the year, about a half dozen guns have disappeared from baggage checked and screened at United.

When a handgun is packed in a checked bag, the owner must alert the airline at the check-in counter. There is paperwork to be completed, and the unloaded weapon must be stored in a locked container separate from its ammunition.

From the counter, the bag moves immediately to one of the large nearby x-ray machines operated by the transportation security administration and when the screener presumably sees the weapon's image, the paperwork explains why it's in the bag and on what aircraft it will be carried.

A spokesperson says that's when the T.S.A.'s involvement ends. From that point, it's the responsibility of airline employees, all of whom have undergone criminal background checks, to get the armed bag onto the right aircraft.

"All employees with a badge in certain areas of the airport are again employees that have been vetted and have undergone criminal background checks as well as extensive criminal history checks. They are fingerprinted, and the T.S.A. has increased the criminal background checks for these individuals on an ongoing basis."

It is undetermined whether all the guns reported missing at O'Hare were stolen there or at their destination airports. In Chicago, the only people who would know a gun is packed in a particular piece of luggage would work either for the T.S.A. or for the airline that checked the bag.

Many baggage handlers hired by United said they are dissatisfied with their working conditions and pay. They are paid about $7 an hour and do not receive tips and complain they have not had a raise in years.

ABC7 News was told that earlier this year the F.B.I. conducted interviews at terminal one at O'Hare as part of its investigation. So far, there have not been any arrests.

One estimate from American Airlines is that checked baggage is up 30% since is advent of the new restrictions on carry-ons. So, a lot of people are concerned about what happens to their bags once they leave their sight. And not only guns but anything that might be in those bags that used to be carried on.

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