By Mike Francis

The Oregonian

PORTLAND — Last year, Transportation Security Administration agents found 21 guns, 17 of which were loaded, being carried by passengers boarding at Portland International Airport. They also stopped passengers carrying firearms three times each at airports in Eugene, Medford and Redmond.

Most often, the firearms were found inside carry-on bags passing through an X-ray scanner. In most cases, passengers said they simply forgot they were inside.

Nevertheless, said TSA spokesman Nico Melendez, “there’s no excuse to forget a gun is in your bag.”

Nationally, gun confiscations at airports rose last year by about 20 percent, to 1,828 incidents.

While the number of confiscations in Portland is minuscule in comparison to the 7 million-plus passengers who boarded planes at the airport last year, it happens frequently enough to keep agents alert. For example, five times in August, a traveler sought to pass through airport security with a loaded firearm.

Each incident represents a case in which TSA shut down the security line, summoned Port of Portland police, then helped move the passenger into a back room. The cases usually end with a citation by police and the confiscation of the firearm, TSA officials said. The police forward citations to the U.S. Attorney and Multnomah County prosecutors, who can decide whether to proceed with the case.

The TSA also can hit passengers with civil penalties of up to $11,000, Melendez said. A confiscated gun is either destroyed or, if legally possessed, returned to the passenger later, said Port of Portland spokesman Steve Johnson.

In Oregon, the firearm of choice — or rather, neglect — was the .380-caliber pistol. Six times in Portland, twice at Medford and once at Redmond, agents confiscated the compact pistols. In seven of the nine cases, the pistols were loaded.