Jun 14, 2021 : Suzanne Rowan Kelleher – Forbes Staff -Travel
Walt Disney World Resort has seen a spike of visitors carrying concealed firearms over the past year, the Orlando Sentinel reports, a remarkable trend considering that the world’s largest theme park resort was closed for four months during the pandemic and then in operation at reduced capacity.
At least 20 people were arrested on gun charges in 2020, compared with only four arrests in 2016, according to sheriff’s reports obtained by the Orlando Sentinel through a public records request.
And 2021 is off to a record-breaking start. Deputies arrested at least 14 Disney visitors for carrying concealed firearms in the first three and a half months of the year, through mid-April. If that pace continues, there could be four dozen arrests of this kind this year.
Disney World did not respond to a request for comment.
“Firearms, ammunitions, knives and weapons of any kind” are banned at Disney World, according to its park policy. At the entrance to each theme park, security officials search each visitor’s bags.
Last July, just three days after the Epcot theme park reopened, a Georgia woman was arrested after park security at the Epcot entrance found a 9mm handgun and a plastic bag of marijuana in her child’s diaper bag, as reported by NBC Miami and other outlets. When Orange County deputies responded, they also found a .45 caliber handgun on the bottom of the diaper bag. The woman was arrested on misdemeanor counts of carrying a concealed weapon and marijuana possession.
While not all incidents result in arrest, Disney will separate gun-toting guests from their firearms if they are discovered on Disney property. Last September, a Florida man staying with his family at Disney’s Polynesian Resort packed an AR-15 in a tennis bag and also brought a 9mm Sig Sauer handgun with him, three rifle magazines with 30 rounds each and two Sig Sauer magazines with 10 rounds each, per a report by CBS-affiliated 10 Tampa Bay News. The man claimed he had concerns about recent protests in the area. The Orange County Sheriff’s office did not arrest him because he reportedly had a valid concealed weapons permit in Florida, however the hotel stored the man’s guns for the remainder of his stay. Guests are prohibited from bringing firearms, ammunition or any weapons to its properties, per Disney policy.
During the pandemic, nearly three-quarters of the arrests occurred at Disney Springs, the dining, shopping and entertainment district that is free to enter without a ticket. Until last year, Disney Springs guests did not go through security or bag checks.
Local law enforcement has discretion whether to make an arrest if someone is caught with a concealed weapon and no permit, reports the Orlando Sentinel. Records revealed several instances where the Orange County Sheriff’s Office declined to make an arrest in such circumstances, including an incident where a man who was stopped at the entrance of Hollywood Studios park had no permit for a concealed gun that was gifted to him by his brother, a police officer. In that case, law enforcement took the gun but allowed the man to enter the park with his family.
“Generally speaking, if someone has a valid concealed carry license, they would be afforded the opportunity to put the firearm into safe storage,” a spokesperson for the Orange County Sheriff’s Office said via email. “If someone does not have a valid concealed carry permit, they are illegally carrying a firearm and could either be arrested, or the report can be forwarded to the State Attorney’s Office to review, and they can determine whether criminal charges are levied.”
The spike in concealed weapon arrests at Disney World is part of a larger picture in the United States where in both gun sales and gun carrying rose dramatically during the pandemic.
Guns sales in the U.S. surged last year, driven by a variety of factors that include fears about the Covid-19 pandemic, political unrest, and the 2020 election. Nearly 23 million firearms were sold in the United States in 2020, estimates the consultancy Small Arms Analytics and Forecasting (SAAF). It was the busiest year on record for the gun industry, with sales up 65% over 2019. In the first five months of 2021, Americans purchased nearly 9.2 million firearms, compared with the 8.7 million purchased during the same period in 2020, according to SAAF.
And last year, despite a dramatic decline in the number of air passengers flying during the pandemic, the rate at which the TSA discovered guns during routine screenings doubled. In 2020, the agency seized 10.2 guns per million passengers screened, twice the five firearms per million travelers screened in 2019. It was the highest gun seizure rate since the TSA’s inception 19 years ago.