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Friday, March 31, 2023

TSA Sets 20-Year Record for Firearm Catches Before the Year is Through

By October 3 this year, TSA officers had stopped 4,495 airline passengers from carrying firearms onto their flights, surpassing the previous record of 4,432 firearms caught at checkpoints in the full calendar year 2019.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has announced that its officers have detected a record number of firearms at airport security checkpoints this year, establishing a 20-year record with three months remaining in the calendar year and fewer passengers traveling due to the pandemic.

By October 3 this year, TSA officers had stopped 4,495 airline passengers from carrying firearms onto their flights, surpassing the previous record of 4,432 firearms caught at checkpoints in the full calendar year 2019. TSA officers 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 reported data represents the number of firearms caught on passengers or in their carry-on bags at the nation’s airport security checkpoints. Excluded from the data are improperly packed firearms at checked baggage stations, toys, replicas, and BB guns.

“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 airplane, and represent a very costly mistake for the passengers who attempt to board a flight with them.”

Just last week, TSA warned of a “gun epidemic” as more and more airports were equaling or surpassing their previous record for the number of guns detected at checkpoints. By the end of September, TSA officers at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport had already detected more firearms at the checkpoint in 2021 than in any other year. Some airports are even detecting multiple firearms the on same day.

Pittsburgh International Airport is also seeing a large number of firearms being brought to the checkpoints. On October 9 for example, a Washington County, Pennsylvania, woman was caught with a loaded handgun by Pittsburgh’s TSA officers. It was the second gun caught in two days and the 29th gun TSA officers detected this year at the airport. The woman had the gun inside her purse and laughed at the TSA officers when they pulled her bag aside with the gun inside.

“Carrying a loaded gun to an airport is no laughing matter. Carrying a deadly weapon to a checkpoint is a serious matter,” said Karen Keys-Turner, TSA’s Federal Security Director for the airport. “This traveler, like all individuals who bring guns to our checkpoint, now faces a stiff federal financial penalty. She made a mistake and will now pay for it. Even if you have a concealed carry permit, you cannot bring your gun into the cabin of the plane.” 

The handgun was a .380 caliber firearm loaded with 10 bullets, including one in the chamber. When the TSA officer spotted the gun in the checkpoint X-ray machine, the Allegheny County Police were alerted and confiscated the weapon. TSA forwarded the incident to be followed up with the issuance of a federal financial civil penalty.

Recognizing the worrying trend, the U.S. States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania recently announced they will be requesting County Sheriffs to rescind concealed carry licenses due to negligence.

“In order to send the message that airport security checkpoints and guns don’t mix, we need a deterrent strategy, in addition to the stiff civil penalties issued by TSA,” said Acting United States Attorney Steve Kaufman on October 6. “So today we are announcing that in incidents involving an individual who possesses a valid concealed carry permit, we will be requesting County Sheriffs to rescind that resident’s firearms concealed carry license due to negligence. We have already secured the cooperation of the Allegheny County Sheriff’s Office to revoke concealed carry permits of residents who are determined to have acted negligently. And we will be contacting Sheriff’s Offices in other counties in Western Pennsylvania requesting that they consider enacting the same policy.

“The message to the flying public is this: Check your bags five times if you have to, but make 100% sure that your carryon bags do not contain a firearm or other dangerous weapon. That’s responsible gun ownership, which is essential to protect the flying public.”

Passengers can follow the correct packing guidance for firearms in checked baggage and declare them to their airline at check-in. Firearm possession laws vary by state and local government and TSA advises that travelers know state and local firearm laws for each point of travel prior to departure to ensure they transport firearms in accordance with applicable law. Airlines may have additional requirements for traveling with firearms and ammunition, so travelers should also contact their airline regarding firearm and ammunition carriage policies prior to arriving at the airport.

Firearms are not permitted in the passenger cabin of an airplane; this includes travelers with a concealed weapon permit. Passengers may travel with firearms in checked baggage when they are 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 the airline representative of their intention to travel with the firearms. Firearms are transported with checked baggage and are placed in the cargo hold of the aircraft.

When passengers bring firearms to airport checkpoints, TSA will assess a civil penalty that varies by number of previous offenses and whether the firearm was loaded at the time. The complete list of penalties is published on TSA’s website. In addition, TSA PreCheck® members caught with a firearm at a TSA checkpoint may lose their expedited screening privileges for three years or more.

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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