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A new report says the Transportation Security Administration’s Office of Inspection has recorded more than 200 incidents in which federal air marshals have misused their firearms between roughly 2005 and 2017.
According to documents obtained by CNN via a Freedom of Information Act request, the mishaps range from issues of not storing guns properly to accidentally discharging the firearms and endangering public safety.
One high-profile incident included in the documents that was widely reported at the time is when a Delta passenger on a flight from Manchester in the UK to New York JFK found an air marshal’s loaded weapon in the aircraft lavatory. Sources said that particular air marshal was new on the job. But the incident belies a larger pattern of improper gun safety from the agents.
Not only were there two other incidents of air marshals leaving their loaded weapons in a plane’s lavatory, but there were a total of 70 incidents involving lost, misplaced or stolen firearms, including two guns that were misplaced in airports. In another case, an air marshal reportedly left his firearm in a New Jersey Bed Bath & Beyond store.
There were also 19 cases in which air marshals accidentally fired their guns. One case from 2017 involved an officer in Charlotte, North Carolina, who “unintentionally discharged a personally owned firearm resulting in a gunshot wound to his right foot.” Another similar case in 2013 involved an officer accidentally firing his weapon in a hotel room. The bullet went through the television of the neighboring room.
At least 13 cases involved alcohol, including an air marshal showing up to his flight drunk in 2012 and another who was drunk during a firearm training session in 2014. The New York Times reported earlier this year that alcohol abuse among air marshals is rampant.
The TSA says that the firearm incidents involve less than 1% of its workforce. Officials say there are about 3,000 air marshal employees and an annual budget of $800 million, though the exact numbers are not disclosed.
“All reports of misconduct are taken seriously and fully investigated,” TSA spokesperson Thomas Kelly told CNN. “When those investigations validate any misconduct, TSA takes swift disciplinary actions. We are proud of the highly skilled and trained Federal Air Marshals (FAMs) who keep our skies safe every day.”
Employees of the air marshal program point the finger at the agency’s management, who they say does not address complaints about training or other issues. Congress asked the Government Accountability Office to look into the matter last spring.
The Federal Air Marshal program was created in 1961. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists attacks, it was pulled under the umbrella of the TSA.
Featured image by AP Photo/Reed Saxon.
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