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Thursday, February 9, 2023

TSA Firearm Detections: Week 14

Nationwide, Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) are screening an average of 2 million people per day, which is a 65% increase from last year, but still down from pre-pandemic 2019 levels when the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was screening approximately 2.3 million people on average per day.

As passenger numbers increase, TSOs are also seeing a high number of firearms brought to both international and regional airport checkpoints.

On April 4, TSOs at Richmond International Airport prevented a woman from Providence Forge, Va., from carrying her handgun onto her flight. The .380 caliber handgun was not loaded. TSA officers stopped the woman when her carry-on bag triggered an alarm in the security checkpoint X-ray unit. It was the fifth handgun that TSA officers have detected at the security checkpoints at the airport so far this year. Upon spotting the weapon, TSA alerted airport police, who responded to the checkpoint, confiscated the handgun and cited the woman on a weapons violation.

The same day, Dane County Regional Airport TSOs prevented a handgun from making its way onboard an airplane. This was the first firearm detected at Dane County this year. In 2021, seven guns were stopped. During the routine screening of carry-on luggage, a TSO officer spotted the image of a handgun on the X-ray screen. The incident occurred around 5 a.m., and TSA officials immediately alerted the Dane County Sheriff’s Office. The firearm was loaded. The traveler, a Wonewoc resident, had a concealed carry permit.

“Carelessly traveling with a loaded firearm is a public safety concern, considering it could accidentally be discharged during a search,” Wisconsin TSA Federal Security Director Mark Lendvay said. “I strongly urge all gun owners to ensure they know where their firearm is before traveling to the airport.”

TSOs stopped a man from carrying a firearm onto an airplane at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport on April 5. This was the first firearm detection this year by TSA officers at the airport. In 2021 TSA discovered four firearms at Manchester-Boston security checkpoints and two in 2020.

On April 5, at the main security checkpoint, TSO’s officers detected the firearm along with two magazines inside a locked hard-sided case.  TSA immediately notified Londonderry Police who responded, and discovered the firearm was unloaded and the magazines contained a total of 23 rounds. Police eventually escorted the New Hampshire resident back to the airline ticket counter so he could declare and check his firearm. The delay through security screening caused him to miss his original flight. 

Meanwhile, a Connecticut man was arrested by police after TSO’s prevented him from carrying a loaded handgun onto his flight at Westchester County Airport on April 5. The .40 caliber gun was loaded with 10 bullets. A TSA officer spotted the handgun on the checkpoint X-ray machine’s monitor as the man’s belongings entered the X-ray unit. TSA immediately alerted the Westchester County Sheriff’s Department, which responded to the checkpoint, confiscated the gun and detained the man for questioning before arresting him on a weapons charge. In addition to being arrested, the Fairfield, Connecticut, resident also faces a federal financial civil penalty for bringing a gun to an airport security checkpoint.

The following day, TSOs stopped a female passenger from carrying a firearm onto an airplane at T.F. Green Airport. A TSA officer detected the firearm along with two magazines in the woman’s carry-on bag. Rhode Island Airport Police responded, and discovered an unloaded .380 caliber firearm along with two magazines containing a total of 18 rounds. The Connecticut woman did have a firearms permit but did not check and declare the firearm. She eventually cleared through security and allowed to continue              

It was the first firearm detected at the airport’s checkpoints this year. In 2021, TSA detected two firearms at T.F. Green, and four in 2020.

A Philadelphia woman was arrested by police after TSOs detected a loaded handgun in her handbag at a security checkpoint at Philadelphia International Airport on Thursday, April 7. It was the seventh gun that officers have caught at one of the checkpoints so far this year. The .25 caliber gun was loaded with five bullets, including one in the chamber. When the TSA officers spotted the gun in the checkpoint X-ray machine, the police were alerted, confiscated the gun and detained the woman before arresting her on a weapons violation. TSA forwarded the incident to be followed up with the issuance of a federal financial civil penalty.

The following day, TSOs stopped a man from carrying a loaded firearm onto an airplane at Boston Logan International Airport. During security screening on Friday around 4:20 p.m., in Terminal E, TSA officers detected a firearm and two magazines in the man’s carry-on bag. TSA officers immediately alerted the Massachusetts State Police who responded and discovered the firearm was loaded. The New Hampshire man who had a firearms permit said he was shocked the firearm was in his bag. Police officers escorted him out of the terminal where he secured the firearm. This was the sixth gun catch at the airport this year. TSA detected 18 firearms at Boston Logan security checkpoints in 2021.

At the weekend, TSOs at Norfolk International Airport stopped a Virginia Beach resident from carrying a loaded handgun onto his flight on Saturday, April 9. TSA officers stopped the man when his carry-on bags triggered an alarm in the security checkpoint X-ray unit. Upon spotting the gun, TSA alerted airport police, who responded to the checkpoint, confiscated the handgun and arrested the man on a weapons violation. The man was carrying a 9mm caliber handgun loaded with nine bullets, including one in the chamber. He told officials that he forgot that he had his loaded gun with him.

The TSA teams at San Antonio and South Texas airports have also expressed concern at the number of firearms still being brought to airport checkpoints. The teams detected a combined 86 guns at the security checkpoints in 2021 and have already stopped 36 guns, so far in 2022.  

“The most common excuse we hear is that someone forgot that they had their gun with them,” said Jes Presas, TSA’s Federal Security Director for San Antonio International Airport. “That’s no excuse. If you own a firearm, you need to know where it is at all times. It’s part of being a responsible gun owner.”

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has also reminded overseas-bound travelers of the importance of complying with federal laws regulating the temporary and permanent exportation of firearms after officers seized a handgun and firearms accessories from a Nigeria-bound man.

During outbound baggage examinations on March 17, CBP officers discovered a Taurus G2c 9mm Luger handgun, two 12-round magazines, 25 rounds of ammo, and a taser inside a lock box in the traveler’s baggage. CBP officers interviewed the traveler, a Nigerian citizen and U.S. lawful permanent resident, and learned that he did not possess the appropriate export licenses to take the handgun out of the United States. CBP officers detained the weapon and accessories and released the man to continue on to Nigeria.

The Department of Commerce later confirmed that the traveler did require a license to export the firearm and accessories. Consequently, on April 4, CBP seized the firearm, ammo and accessories as a violation of U.S. firearms export control laws.

“Customs and Border Protection wants to ensure that people who intend to travel from the United States with their firearms do so lawfully so that they can enjoy a problem-free departure or return to the United States,” said Daniel Escobedo, CBP’s Area Port Director for the Area Port of Washington, D.C. “Oftentimes, firearms being smuggled out of the United States are destined to the hands of transnational criminal organizations who use those weapons to terrorize or hurt innocent victims. CBP’s border security mission helps to protect the defenseless by intercepting illegally exported firearms.”

Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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