TSA officers detected this handgun at Philadelphia International Airport on October 15. (TSA)

Weekly Update on TSA Firearm Detections as Gun Sales Soar

The U.S. gun industry is seeing record sales in 2020, which may explain why Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers are detecting such a high rate of firearms at checkpoints this year, despite much lower passenger numbers.

A report by Reuters says the rise is being fueled by first-time gun owners including women and politically liberal buyers who have not previously considered gun ownership.

While the prospect of a Democratic president sometimes sees a spike in gun ownership, this year’s increase of around 40% is largely attributable to a heightened sense of fear and need to protect, sparked by the sometimes violent protests across the country as well as the global pandemic situation. Some new gun owners have also spoken of their concerns for unrest following this November’s election. In addition, the pandemic has meant more people are spending more time outside, and taking up new pursuits such as hunting.

It’s no surprise then that TSA officers have recorded higher firearm detection rates this year.

Last week started with TSA officers stopping a man from carrying a loaded .380 caliber handgun onto an airplane at Appleton International Airport on October 12. The officer detected the gun in the local man’s carry-on bag. TSA officials immediately alerted the Outagamie County Sheriff’s Department, and a deputy responded, confiscated the weapon and escorted the man away from the checkpoint.

On October 15, TSA officers detected the 21st gun caught at Philadelphia International Airport this year, exceeding the number caught in 2020. The 9mm handgun loaded with eight bullets was detected by TSA officers who alerted the Philadelphia Police. The gun was confiscated and the woman, a resident of Philadelphia, was arrested.  

“Traveler volume since the pandemic hit has ranged anywhere from 80 to 60 percent lower than last year, and yet with about two and one-half months to go before the end of this calendar year, we have already exceeded the number of guns caught in 10 months as we saw during all 12 months of 2019 when passenger volume was significantly higher,” said Gerardo Spero, TSA’s Federal Security Director for Philadelphia International Airport. “You would think that the number of guns being brought to the airport would be lower due to the lower passenger volume, but that’s not the case. It is a stunning development.”

And TSA officers caught a Philadelphia man with a .40 caliber handgun loaded with seven bullets in Terminal C at Newark Liberty International Airport on October 17.

TSA officers spotted the handgun as it entered the checkpoint X-ray machine inside the man’s backpack. It was the 11th gun caught at one of the airport checkpoints so far this year, tying the number caught during 2019 when passenger throughput was significantly greater.

Thomas Carter, TSA’s Federal Security Director for New Jersey said that since the pandemic hit several months ago, the number of passengers flying out of Newark has ranged in the neighborhood of 70 to 85 percent fewer than last year, adding “it is a sad statement about the number of people trying to bring their guns onto airplanes.”

TSA officers at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport found more than just a firearm on October 18 when they caught a Gwinn Oak, Maryland, man with two knives and a .38 caliber revolver loaded with five bullets at the checkpoint.

A TSA officer spotted the knives and handgun in the man’s carry-on bag while it was inside the checkpoint X-ray machine. TSA immediately alerted the Maryland Transportation Authority Police, who arrived at the checkpoint, confiscated the firearm and detained the man for questioning before arresting him on weapons charges.   

The number of guns in circulation, coupled with the fact that many people are first-time owners, explains the disproportionate number of detected firearms to travelers. It’s possible that these first-time owners are not aware of the correct way to travel with firearms. TSA provides full and easy to understand guidance and urges travelers to check this information and ensure they comply before traveling.

It is essential that travelers follow this advice as more and more people return to the checkpoint, placing a greater burden on TSA officers.

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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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