By the end of this year, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers will, for the 5th year, find a record number of handguns in passengers’ carry-on bags –many of which are loaded, and many with a round chambered. So far this year, TSA screeners have found more than 2,000 firearms.
The continued escalation of TSA hand gun seizures comes at a time when the threat of homegrown Islamist jihadists also is continuing to grow, and attacks on airliners continues to be a target of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in particular.
Last December,“Destination airport, and Guess What’s on the Menu?” was the title to the opening spread of the cover story about how to bomb passenger planes in the slick, professionally designed issue of Inspire magazine published by AQAP. Releasing the digital magazine on Christmas Eve was unlikely a coincidence; it was the 5th anniversary of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s Christmas Day 2009 bombing attempt on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 as it was on its landing approach to Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport.
The entire issue was devoted to inspiring lone wolf jihadists in the US and the West, and especially urged attacks on commercial passenger planes. A lengthy section provided detailed instructions on how to build a new bomb AQAP purports can be “hidden” not only on an aircraft, but also to blow up other targets with the intent of causing ripples throughout US and Western economies.
The successively record-breaking number of passengers trying to slip by TSA screeners with a handgun – not an insignificant number of handguns were what TSA says were “artfully concealed,” which raises the disturbing question: were these individuals deliberately trying to sneak the guns past screeners?
In 2014, 2,212 firearms were discovered in carry-on bags at checkpoints across the country, averaging more than six firearms per day. Of those, 1,835 (83 percent) were loaded. Firearms were intercepted at a total of 224 airports; 19 more airports than during 2013.
The number of hand guns found in 2014 represented a 22 percent increase over the 1,813 firearms discovered by TSA in carry-on bags in 2013.
Of the 1,813 firearms TSA screeners found in carry-on bags in 2013, 1,477 (81 percent) were loaded. Firearms were intercepted at a total of 205 airports with Atlanta on top of the list for the most firearms intercepted (111).
Firearms confiscated by TSA screeners at 199 airports in carry-on bags in 2013 was a 16.5 percent increase (257) over the 1,556 firearms — or more than four firearms a day — discovered in 2012. A whopping 78.7 percent (1,215) were loaded and dozens had a round chambered.
The number of handguns confiscated in 2012 was up from the 1,320 handguns discovered by TSA screeners in 2011, which in turn was up from the 1,123 firearms screeners found in 2010.
As in the previous four years, the majority of handguns found in carry-on bags were loaded and many had a bullet chambered.
TSA said a record 67 firearms were found in carry-on luggage in the week ending September 17, 2015.
Of these 67 firearms TSA officers seized, 56 were loaded and 26 had a round chambered. The last weekly record was 65 firearms found during a week in May 2013, TSA said.
A record number of firearms discovered in one day was set on June 4, 2014, when 18 firearms were discovered around the country in carry-on bags.That broke the previous record of 13 set in 2013.
While TSA attributes the vast majority of the handguns its screeners continue to confiscate to forgetfulness on the part of passengers who simply forgot they’d put a weapon in their luggage before attempting to board a plane, in those instances in which the owners of sidearms clearly tried to conceal their guns from security screeners — many loaded and chambered – nevertheless begs the question about the persons’ intent … and motivation.
"Unfortunately, these sorts of occurrences are all too frequent, which is why we talk about these finds,” Bob Burns wrote on the TSA Blog. Burns is a ten year TSA veteran who has served as a Transportation Security Officer, Operations Watch Officer, instructor, training coordinator, Behavior Detection Officer and vice chairman of TSA’s first National Advisory Council. He also served as a Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Decontamination Specialist in the US Army and served in Operations Desert Shield & Storm.
As Homeland Security Today previously reported, authorities are clearly disturbed by the fact that more than a decade after 9/11 so many people are deliberately trying to take a concealed firearm — including handguns that are loaded or chambered — onboard a passenger plane.
The authorities added there’s no logical reason why someone would “artfully conceal” a handgun (or some other dangerous weapon like a knife or incendiary) unless its a premeditated effort to try to smuggle them past TSA screeners. They noted there’s been sufficient efforts to make the flying public aware that concealed weapons — especially guns — are strictly prohibited. It’s not a secret what people are prohibited from carrying onboard a passenger plane.
“I find it very hard to believe these are people who just simply forgot they were carrying a handgun … or a handgun that was loaded and chambered,” a government counterterrorism official previously told Homeland Security Today. “In these cases,” the official said, “I just don’t buy that these people just forgot … there was something else going on.”
The official expressed exasperation with TSA’s critics and members of the flying public who, he said, seem to believe finding loaded handguns in carry-on bags to be “no big deal.”
“This is completely unacceptable, I don’t care what excuses … people have — as for me, the ban on guns on planes has long been known, passengers should know this – more so  years after 9/11. In other words, there’s just no rational excuse whatsoever. Passengers saying, ‘well, I just forgot,’ just doesn’t cut it when we’re dealing with the level of escalation in [the] numbers of guns we’re now finding in carry-ons … especially with way too many that have a bullet chambered and ready to fire,” said a veteran TSA at a large metropolitan domestic airport.
Photo: Hand guns seized by TSA officers in carry-on bags in September 2015.