TSA officers detected this loaded gun in a carry-on bag at Newark Liberty International Airport on October 9. (TSA)

Weekly Update: TSA Firearm Detections

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) says passengers are bringing firearms to some airport checkpoints at a disproportionally higher rate than last year when there were far more passengers traveling. 

For example, year-to-date, 39 guns have been stopped at Miami International Airport (MIA) compared to 32 during the same period last year. At Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL) 56 guns have been stopped year-to-date, with 74 last year as of this date. A total of 61 guns have been intercepted by the TSA at Orlando International Airport (MCO) with 69 during the same period last year. And at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport (PIE), nine guns have been stopped when last year the number in early October had reached two. In each case, the proportion of guns to passengers is higher this year.

Seven guns have been intercepted in 2020 at Destin-Ft. Walton Beach Airport compared to four in the same period in 2019.  At Jacksonville International Airport, 23 guns were kept out of the cabin this year compared to 31 at this time last year. At Tampa International Airport, TSA officers have stopped 51 so far in 2020 compared to 57 in the comparable period a year ago. 

Four additional guns were stopped on October 8 by TSA officers across the state with one each at Miami, Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood, Orlando and St. Pete-Clearwater international airports. All four guns were loaded; two had ammunition chambered.  

The same day, TSA officers at Philadelphia International Airport detected a 9mm handgun loaded with six bullets, including one in the chamber. This marked the 20th gun that TSA officers caught at the airport this year, which ties the number caught in 2019. TSA officers alerted the Philadelphia Police, who arrived at the checkpoint and confiscated the gun and arrested the man, a resident of Glen Mills, Pennsylvania. The man said that he forgot that he had his loaded gun with him.

“It is extremely disappointing to see so many people bringing their firearms to the airport,” said Gerardo Spero, TSA’s Federal Security Director for Philadelphia International Airport. “Traveler volume since the pandemic hit has ranged anywhere from 80 to 60 percent lower than last year, and yet with about three months to go before the end of this calendar year, we have already seen as many guns caught in 10 months as we saw during all 12 months of 2019 when passenger volume was significantly more robust. Yesterday was a case of carelessness on the part of the traveler. Claiming that you forgot that you had a loaded gun on you just doesn’t fly. If you own a gun, you need to know where it is at all times.”

TSA officers at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport detected three firearms in travelers’ carry-on luggage on October 8 during X-ray screening of carry-on luggage at the security checkpoints. The officers discovered a loaded 9 mm caliber firearm (one chambered) with 11 rounds of ammunition in the carry-on bag of a male passenger. On the same day, TSA officers discovered a loaded 9 mm caliber gun with 16 rounds, in the bag of a male passenger. A third gun, a loaded 9 mm firearm with eight rounds of ammunition, was discovered in the carry-on bag of a male passenger. There is no evidence that the incidents are linked. So far in 2020, TSA officers at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport have detected 92 firearms in carry-on luggage. 

The day continued to be an active one for TSA across the country as officers stopped an Alabama woman from bringing a .22 caliber handgun onto an airplane at Norfolk International Airport. The gun was not loaded, although two magazines each loaded with four bullets were found in the carry-on bag along with the handgun. A TSA officer detected the gun as the woman’s carry-on items entered the checkpoint X-ray machine. The Norfolk Airport Authority Police were contacted, responded to the checkpoint, confiscated the weapon and detained the woman for questioning before citing her on weapons charges. The case will be forwarded to the Office of the Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney for criminal prosecution. The woman also faces a stiff federal financial civil penalty for carrying a gun to a TSA checkpoint.

And the same day TSA officers stopped a man from carrying a loaded 9mm handgun onto an airplane at General Mitchell International Airport (MKE). At approximately 6 a.m., a TSA officer detected the gun in the Kentucky man’s carry-on bag. TSA officials immediately alerted the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department, and a deputy responded to the checkpoint and confiscated the weapon.

Earlier in the week, TSA officers caught two travelers with handguns at Pittsburgh International Airport on October 6. First, a Pittsburgh resident showed up with a 9mm handgun loaded with 17 bullets and an additional magazine loaded with another 17 bullets then an Oakdale, Pennsylvania man showed up with an unloaded 9mm gun. Both guns were caught at the airport security checkpoint within an hour of each other, although the incidents were not related.

In each instance, a TSA officer spotted the guns on the checkpoint X-ray machine’s monitor. TSA immediately alerted the Allegheny County Police, which responded to the checkpoint, and questioned the men. Each man faces stiff Federal civil penalties for bringing their firearms to an airport security checkpoint.

Meanwhile, a man was stopped from carrying a loaded .45 caliber handgun and magazine onto an airplane at Indianapolis International Airport on October 7. At approximately 12 p.m., a TSA officer detected the gun in the Alabama man’s carry-on bag. TSA officials immediately alerted the Indianapolis Airport Police Department, and an officer responded to the checkpoint and confiscated the weapon.

Heading into the weekend, on October 9, TSA officers caught an Essex County, New Jersey, man with a 9 mm handgun loaded with 15 bullets at a checkpoint at Newark Liberty International Airport. The officers caught the handgun as it entered the checkpoint X-ray machine. It was the 10th gun caught at one of the airport checkpoints, one shy of the 11 caught during 2019, further demonstrating the high number of firearms detected at TSA checkpoints this year.

On Saturday, October 10, TSA officers at Norfolk International Airport stopped the second firearm in a week from getting through the checkpoint. A Hampton, Virginia, woman was stopped when an officer detected a .22 caliber handgun in the X-ray machine among her carry-on items. It was not loaded. Police were alerted, confiscated the weapon and detained the woman for questioning before citing her on weapons charges. The case will be forwarded to the Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney for criminal prosecution, and the woman also faces a federal financial civil penalty.

The rules on traveling with firearms are by no means new and have in fact been in place before the TSA was even established.

TSA reminds travelers to check how to safely travel with a firearm before they arrive at their departure airport.

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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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