The year is not yet over, but already gun seizures at Transportation Security Administration (TSA) airport checkpoints are at record highs. As of October 3, TSA officers had stopped 4,495 airline passengers from carrying firearms onto their flight this year.
2021 airport firearm haul tops previous 2019 record
The TSA has discovered 11 firearms in carry-on bags at airport checkpoints per million passengers screened so far in 2021. This compares to five firearms per million passengers in 2019.
“The number of firearms that our TSA officers are stopping at airport checkpoints is alarming,” said TSA Administrator David Pekoske. “Firearms, particularly loaded firearms, introduce an unnecessary risk at checkpoints, have no place in the passenger cabin of an aircraft, and represent a very costly mistake for the passengers who attempt to board a flight with them.”
Last week, TSA officers at Washington’s Dulles International Airport stopped a man from bringing his loaded gun onto his flight. The 9-millimeter handgun was loaded with seven bullets, including one bullet in the chamber. Over 80% of the firearms seized at airport checkpoints are loaded.
The previous record for gun seizures was 2019 when the TSA seized 4,432 firearms at checkpoints across the full calendar year. The current record high is despite fewer people traveling this year than in 2019.
But with fewer travelers passing through airports, TSA officers can pay more attention to each passenger passing through checkpoints.
“The TSA is focused on its security mission and will remain vigilant to ensure that any type of security threat does not make it into the sterile area of the airport or onto an aircraft,” the TSA’s David Durgan said.
Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport tops the gun seizures list
There have been 391 gun seizures at Atlanta’s Hartsfield–Jackson International Airport this year, the most seized at any US airport so far this year. Rounding out the top five are Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (232 seizures), Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport (168 seizures), Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International Airport (147 seizures), and Nashville International Airport (115 seizures).
A blanket rule bans firearms from the passenger cabin of an aircraft. This includes passengers with a concealed weapon permit.
While individual airlines and states have specific rules about carrying firearms, passengers may generally travel with firearms in checked baggage when unloaded and packed in a locked, hard-sided case. The passenger must declare and present the case with the firearm at the airline check-in counter and inform check-in staff of their intention to travel with the firearms.
Surprisingly slight penalties
TSA penalties for taking a gun through an airport security checkpoint are surprisingly slight. Passengers caught with an unloaded firearm face a penalty of US$1,500 – $2,475 plus a criminal referral. Passengers caught with a loaded firearm (or an unloaded firearm with accessible ammunition) face a penalty of $3,000 – $10,000 plus a criminal referral. Financial penalties increase slightly for repeat offenders.
In addition, TSA PreCheck members caught with a firearm at a TSA checkpoint may lose their expedited screening privileges for three years or more.
“There is no excuse for a traveler who tries to carry a gun onto their flight,” the TSA’s Karen Keys-Turner says. “The vast majority of violators claim that they forgot that they had their loaded guns with them. Responsible gun owners know where their guns are at all times, and they know the proper way to transport a handgun to their destination.”
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