TSA photo

TSA’s Firearm Discovery Rate Rises as Passenger Numbers Fall

As the country has fewer travelers as a result of the coronavirus restrictions, this would surely mean fewer firearms detected at TSA checkpoints. But it’s not that simple.

Since March, TSA has been posting daily travel figures online with a side-by-side comparison to last year’s statistics. 

From March 22 to April 22 2020, TSA officers caught 58 guns at checkpoints nationwide. And from March 22 to April 22 2019, TSA officers caught 346 guns. So yes, there have been fewer guns caught at TSA security checkpoints this year during the pandemic than last year.

There have even been four days (March 30, April 4, 14 and 16) where not a single firearm was brought to a security checkpoint. For some perspective, last year TSA officers discovered an average of 11 firearms per day in travelers’ carry-on bags. The last time that there were no firearms at checkpoints was November 13, 2014. 

But TSA has delved deeper into the numbers. From March 22 to April 22, this year, TSA screened 4,675,650 individuals at checkpoints. And from March 22 to April 22 of last year, TSA officers screened 74,805,525 individuals. That’s a 93.8 percent drop in the number of people screened at checkpoints. 

Taking this decrease in travelers into account, TSA discovered that its officers actually caught more guns this past month than the same month last year. During the same March 22 to April 22 period year-over-year that the rate of gun discoveries for the time period in 2019 was one per 216,200 people screened or .46 guns per 100,000 people screened. But in 2020, the rate of gun discoveries was one per 80,614 people screened or 1.24 guns per 100,000 people screened. 

The bottom line is that the discovery rate for this current period is 2.68 times greater than for the same period in 2019. And that was with four days of no guns showing up at checkpoints.

TSA has not as yet provided any insight as to why the discovery rate may have jumped, but it is known that there has been a recent spike in gun sales. People not used to traveling with firearms may therefore be unaware of the regulations involved.

There is also the consideration that with fewer people to screen, TSA officers (and their associated screening equipment) are able to spend longer on each traveler and their bags. However, it is unlikely that this alone would account for such an increase in discovery rate.

In addition to firearms, TSA has also caught some unusual – and dangerous – items at its checkpoints. On February 25, a traveler at Denver International Airport was found to have a 16-cylinder Tannerite multi-shot special effect pyrotechnic with an electrical match in their checked bag.

Just the day before, a checked bag at South Carolina’s Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport was found to contain two empty grenades.

And more recently, on March 25, TSA officers at Cyril E. King Airport on St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands discovered a razor blade concealed in a traveler’s shoe. 

Read TSA’s tips for traveling with firearms here

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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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