Flying with firearms always involves risk, but you may want to avoid the Denver International Airport (DIA).
An employee at the DIA has been fired and charged with multiple felonies for stealing guns from checked baggage, incidents which occurred as part of an “upswing” in reports of baggage theft, local media reports.
The suspect, Melvin Deandre Lewis, 24, worked for Air Serv, a vendor that handles bags and other services for airlines. Denver police believe Lewis stole firearms on three separate occasions earlier this year.
DIA police commander Tony Lopez told CBS4, “We’re confident his arrest sent a message to anyone else at DIA in that function that intends to commit a crime that crime doesn’t pay.”
However, Lewis has maintained his innocence, telling a reporter, “No, that was never me… that’s not me. I never took anything out of no bag. I’m not really worried about it.”
The thefts come alongside numerous similar incidents at the DIA involving the disappearance of watches, earrings, laptops and sentimental items from checked baggage.
Police did not indicate how the stolen firearms were being transported or how Lewis knew which bags contained firearms.
The Transportation Security Administration requires all firearms to be checked, unloaded, and stored in locked, hard-shell cases before takeoff. The locks must not be “TSA approved,” as the passenger is the only person who should be capable of opening the case.
If the firearms were being transported in stand-alone gun cases, Lewis would have had to break the locks to steal the guns.
Unfortunately, some airlines may have made Lewis’s job easier than it should have been.
These airlines require bags with firearms to be labeled with “steal me” tags (Return to BSO, “Baggage Security Office”) that instruct baggage handlers to transport bags to airport security. When the luggage arrives at the destination, the firearm owner must retrieve their firearm from airport security rather than the baggage claim carousel.
Because few other items besides firearms require “steal me” tags to be affixed, they tell baggage workers exactly which bags contain firearms.
Firearm owners can deter thieves by purchasing high-quality cases with multiple padlock locations. Some cases can only be locked from a single point on the front, which allows thieves to more easily pry the lid open from the sides.
High-quality padlocks are also a good idea. Local Denver media did not report how Lewis broke the locks, but it’s safe to assume that stronger locks would have provided a more effective deterrent.
If you have a firearm (or any item) stolen from a checked bag, Commander Lopez recommended contacting the airport immediately. Travelers typically wait until they return from their trip to report the theft, which makes identifying the thief much more difficult.