Gun at airport was a mistake, councilor says
Official for city of Montrose 'just forgot' weapon in purse
Montrose City Councilwoman Kathy Ellis had a handgun in her purse Tuesday when she went through security at the Montrose County Regional Airport, and may face felony charges as a result, Ellis and law enforcement officials said.
Ellis, who has a concealed-carry permit, said she forgot she had the weapon in her handbag when federal Transportation Security Administration screeners caught it on X-ray just before she and her husband, Montrose County Commissioner Gary Ellis, caught a plane to Las Vegas.
“I was mortified,” Ellis said by cellphone from Nevada, where the couple is attending a National Business Aviation Association conference. “It certainly wasn’t something done on purpose.”
Ellis said when she was packing for the four-day trip, she remembered to remove a pair of scissors from her travel sewing kit and made sure she didn’t have any large liquid items in her handbag.
But the one thing she says she forgot about was the handgun, a .25-caliber semi-automatic Browning that she carries everywhere.
“It was stupid, but it all goes to intent. It wasn’t malicious, I just forgot,” she said. “I have every right to carry my gun. I’ve been through the class, I got the concealed-carry permit. My mistake was, I forgot to take it out of my purse. This is not a joking matter and I don’t take it lightly. I guess you can’t fix stupid. I don’t know how else to put it.”
Montrose County Sheriff Rick Dunlap said he believes Ellis when she says she forgot about the weapon, but the law is clear. She will be issued a summons on suspicion of carrying a firearm into a facility of public transportation, he said, adding that it’s up to 7th Judicial District Attorney Dan Hotsenpiller to actually file that charge.
If he does, it would be a class 6 felony, which is punishable by up to two years in prison and a $100,000 fine.
“It was a mistake on her part, and I think it was an honest mistake,” Dunlap said. “There was no malicious intent involved that we could tell.”
Dunlap said a similar thing happened to him recently at Denver International Airport when his wife moved some packed items into his carry-on bag and mistakenly included an empty gun clip. The two were visiting his son, and delivering some firearms to him, which is allowed under TSA rules if they are included in checked baggage, taken apart, unloaded and declared before a flight.
Dunlap said the Denver Police Department, an agency that Gary Ellis served with for many years, questioned him and let him go without issuing a citation.
TSA spokeswoman Lorie Dankers said that in addition to local or state criminal charges, it could levy a civil penalty against passengers who bring firearms to security checkpoints.
She said those penalties can range from $3,000 to $7,500, but that they are decided on a case-by-case basis.
Dankers said the handgun Ellis was carrying was unloaded, but Dunlap said that there were six rounds in the magazine. No bullet was in the chamber, he said.
Ellis said she’s not sure when she will have to appear in court, or what will happen when it goes forward. She said law enforcement told her they would be in contact after she returns to town on Friday.
“Gary and I don’t even know an attorney because we haven’t had a need,” she said. “We know attorneys through our jobs, but to call an attorney on a personal nature? I don’t even know who to call.”
Staff writer Gary Harmon contributed to this report.