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TSA Sees ‘Gun Epidemic’ at Checkpoints

Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and local law enforcement officials are highly concerned about the frequency that they are seeing travelers carry their handguns to security checkpoints.

Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and local law enforcement officials are highly concerned about the frequency that they are seeing travelers carry their handguns to security checkpoints at Pittsburgh International Airport. Most of those guns are found to be loaded.

“What we are seeing is a gun epidemic—one that is entirely and easily preventable,” says Karen Keys-Turner, TSA’s Federal Security Director for the airport. “Guns are never allowed to pass through a security checkpoint to be carried onto a flight. However, passengers can transport their guns for their trips if they pack them properly and declare them to the airline.”

A Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, man was arrested by the police on October 8 after TSA officers at Pittsburgh International Airport detected a loaded gun in the man’s carry-on bag. The man told officials that the .357 caliber handgun did not belong to him, rather it belonged to his father, yet the gun was in the traveler’s carry-on bag. He also told officials that he forgot to remove the gun from the bag, thus confirming that he knew that the gun had previously been placed inside the bag. When the TSA officer spotted the gun in the checkpoint X-ray machine, the Allegheny County Police were alerted, confiscated the weapon and arrested the man. TSA forwarded the incident to be followed up with the issuance of a significant federal financial civil penalty.

The TSA team at Pittsburgh International Airport has detected 27 firearms at the security checkpoint so far this year – including five guns in six days in September – with three months still remaining in 2021. In 2020, TSA officers discovered 21 firearms at the security checkpoints and in 2019 they detected 35 firearms.

“After TSA officers find guns, we respond and conduct an investigation,” says Kenneth Ruckel, Inspector and Division Commander of the Allegheny County Police Department at the airport. “We are often told by the passenger, ‘I didn’t know it was in my bag’ or ‘I forgot it was in there.’  We will be requesting that the county sheriff’s office revoke concealed carry permits on the basis of irresponsible gun ownership.”

Pittsburgh International is not alone in seeing an increase in guns being brought to TSA checkpoints, with several airports recording record totals with three month still left to go in 2021 and with passenger numbers still below pre-pandemic levels. For example, more passengers have brought guns to the checkpoints at Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in 2021 already than in any other year.  The total is now 103 year-to-date. The previous record was 100 in 2019.

“This is a troubling trend and one that threatens the safety of other passengers and our officers,” said TSA spokesperson Sari Koshetz. “You see the way some travelers fling their bags onto the x-ray belt for screening, posing the risk of an accidental discharge with tragic results.”

Before the pandemic curtailed travel, the highest number of firearms caught by TSA at checkpoints at Washington Dulles International Airport was 19. On October 6, the 15th gun this year was detected at the checkpoint, putting the airport on course to match or surpass its previous high total. TSA officers at Washington Dulles stopped the Fredericksburg, Virginia, man from taking his gun and ammunition onto his flight on Wednesday, October 6. The 9 mm handgun was not loaded, although the man was in possession of a magazine loaded with five bullets. TSA alerted the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority police who confiscated the gun and cited the man on weapons charges. As has become commonplace, the man said he forgot that he had his handgun with him. He now faces a stiff federal financial penalty for carrying a gun to a TSA checkpoint.

Full guidance on the correct way to travel with firearms and ammunition is available at the TSA website

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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