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TSA Sees an Increase in Prohibited Items at Airport Checkpoints

TSA officers prevented a man from carrying a loaded firearm onto an airplane on October 13 at Boston Logan International Airport. Some 24 firearms have been detected at the airport's security checkpoints this year, four more than the previous record of 20 in 2018.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) team at Baltimore/Washington-Thurgood Marshall International Airport (BWI) is coming across an abundance of prohibited items that travelers are bringing to the security checkpoints, which delays passengers from getting to their gates. TSA has seen a return to near pre-pandemic passenger volume at BWI and one of the results has been an increase in the volume of prohibited items that travelers have tucked among their carry-on items.

One reason for the increase is that passengers who haven’t traveled recently are somewhat “rusty” in terms of remembering security checkpoint protocols, especially when it comes to remembering not to place prohibited items in a carry-on bag. “Travelers play an important role in ensuring a smooth and efficient security checkpoint screening experience,” said Christopher Murgia, TSA’s Federal Security Director for Maryland. “It starts with knowing what you should and should not pack in a carry-on bag.”

Advance planning and packing properly is key to a smooth security checkpoint experience. “We ask travelers to do their part by ensuring that they do not have any prohibited items with them at the checkpoint,” Murgia said. “Our TSA officers are seeing a lot of knives, brass knuckles, martial arts weapons and large tools, which can be used as bludgeoning instruments.”

Knives also are all-too common at checkpoints. “Unfortunately we see people bring all types of knives with them,” Murgia said. “We see Boy Scout knives, fishing knives, credit card knives, hunting knives, tactical fighting knives, chef’s knives, butter knives, keychain knives, folding knives, butterfly knives, switchblades, straight-edged knives, cleavers, knuckle-knives, cake knives, Swiss Army knives, souvenir knives, Leathermans, daggers and even machetes. These items should be packed in checked bags to be transported on a flight.”

Other common prohibited items that TSA officers see with some regularity include pepper spray, inert grenades, axes, railroad spikes, throwing stars, stun guns, fireworks, and of course ammunition and firearms – most of which are loaded.

TSA officers prevented a man from carrying a loaded firearm onto an airplane on October 13 at Boston Logan International Airport (BOS). During Wednesday morning security screening at Delta checkpoint, lane 6, TSA officers detected a firearm in a passenger’s backpack. Massachusetts State Police responded and discovered a .40 caliber firearm. During questioning police officers discovered the man did not have a permit to carry. Police then confiscated the firearm and summoned the Massachusetts resident.

TSA officers have now detected 24 firearms at BOS security checkpoints this year, four more than the previous record of 20 in 2018.

BOS TSA officers also prevented a 78-year-old man from carrying a loaded firearm onto an airplane on October 11. In this instance, TSA officers detected the firearm in the passenger’s backpack. Massachusetts State Police responded, discovered a loaded .380 firearm and took possession of the gun and summoned the Massachusetts resident.

Also on October 11, a woman was cited by the police after TSA officers at Richmond International Airport caught her with a handgun in her carry-on bag. The 9mm handgun was loaded with six bullets. TSA officers stopped the woman when her carry-on bag triggered an alarm in the security checkpoint X-ray unit. Upon spotting the weapon, TSA officials alerted airport police, who responded to the checkpoint, confiscated the handgun, and cited the woman on weapons violations. “It is important for gun owners who have a concealed carry permit to understand that regardless of their having a permit, they still are forbidden from carrying their firearm onto a flight,” said Robin “Chuck” Burke, TSA’s Federal Security Director for the airport. “The reason for the prohibition is because travelers should not have access to a gun during a flight. Simple as that. “Hopefully, this will serve as a reminder to other gun owners not to place a firearm in their carry-on bag for their flight.”

On October 9, a North Carolina resident was arrested by police after TSA officers prevented him from carrying his loaded handgun onto his flight at LaGuardia Airport. The 9mm handgun was loaded with 10 bullets. A TSA officer spotted the handgun on the checkpoint X-ray machine’s monitor as the traveler’s belongings entered the X-ray unit. TSA immediately alerted the Port Authority Police, 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 man also faces a stiff federal civil penalty for bringing a gun to an airport security checkpoint. The man told officials that he forgot that he had his loaded gun with him. “This individual told us that he forgot that he did not realize that his loaded gun was with him,” said Robert Duffy, TSA’s Federal Security Director for the airport. “That’s no excuse, and this man is now likely to receive a civil financial penalty that could possibly cost him thousands of dollars. Responsible gun owners know where their firearm is at all times.”

TSA officers at Pittsburgh International Airport detected a loaded handgun in the carry-on bag of a local resident on October 7. The 9mm gun was loaded with 13 bullets. After detecting the gun, TSA officers notified the Allegheny County Police who confiscated the weapon from the traveler and issued him a criminal citation. When a traveler brings a gun to the airport checkpoint, the U.S. States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania requests county sheriffs to rescind a resident’s firearm concealed carry license due to negligence.

On October 12,  a man was prevented from carrying his handgun onto his flight at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. The 9mm gun was loaded with eight bullets, including one in the chamber, and was detected among the man’s carry-on items. When a TSA officer spotted the firearm, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Police were notified, confiscated the weapon and cited the man on weapons charges. It was the 25th gun that TSA officers have prevented from being carried onto a flight at the airport so far this year.

Find out which items are prohibited at airport checkpoints at TSA

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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