A man was caught with this loaded handgun in his carry-on bag at a Philadelphia International Airport checkpoint on February 11. (TSA)

Weekly Update: TSA Firearm Detections

Last week got off to a busy start for Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers as several guns were caught around the country on Monday 8 February. These included a .380 caliber handgun loaded with five bullets at Pittsburgh International Airport. 

Officers stopped the Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, man at the security checkpoint early in the morning of February 8, after spotting the handgun on the checkpoint X-ray machine’s monitor as the man’s belongings were being screened. The gun was inside the man’s carry-on bag. TSA immediately alerted the Allegheny County Police, which responded to the checkpoint, confiscated the weapon and questioned the man. He is facing stiff federal civil penalties for bringing a loaded gun to an airport security checkpoint.

The same morning, TSA officers caught an Arlington County, Virginia, man with a 9mm handgun loaded with seven bullets including one in the chamber at a Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport security checkpoint. A TSA officer spotted the handgun on the checkpoint X-ray machine’s monitor as the man’s carry-on items were being screened. TSA immediately alerted Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority police, which responded to the checkpoint, confiscated the weapon and questioned the man, who was cited on a local charge. He is now also facing stiff federal civil penalties.

At Cleveland Hopkins International Airport the same day, TSA officers prevented a loaded handgun from making its way onboard an airplane at around 10:20 a.m. TSA alerted Cleveland Police who seized the weapon, which was loaded with 15 rounds of ammunition, and arrested the man who claimed to have forgotten the gun was in his bag.

“Travelers need to know the contents of their carry-on items, and forgetting about a loaded weapon in your bag is no excuse,” said Ohio TSA Federal Security Director Donald Barker.

Also on February 8, TSA officers caught a Madison County, New York, man with a .45 caliber handgun loaded with five bullets at the Syracuse Hancock International Airport security checkpoint. A TSA officer spotted the handgun on the checkpoint X-ray machine’s monitor as the man’s belongings were being screened. TSA immediately alerted the Syracuse Police, which responded to the checkpoint, confiscated the weapon and questioned the man. He now faces stiff federal civil penalties.

“It is once again disappointing to discover a loaded handgun in carry-on luggage at the checkpoint, that was brought to the airport by an individual who failed to be aware of where their weapon was,” said Bart R. Johnson, TSA Federal Security Director. “I would like to commend the actions of the officers who discovered the weapon, and through their actions, prevented the weapon from getting onto the plane.”

On February 11, TSA officers at Philadelphia International Airport stopped a .40 caliber handgun loaded with eight bullets, including one in the chamber, from getting through the checkpoint. When the TSA officer detected the gun in the checkpoint X-ray machine, the police were alerted, responded to the checkpoint and confiscated the weapon. The man, a resident of Sicklerville, New Jersey in Camden County, told officials that he forgot that he had his firearm with him. He also faces a federal financial civil penalty for carrying a gun to a TSA checkpoint.

And it was back to Pittsburgh as the airport’s TSA officers caught the second loaded gun in a week and the third in nine days. The February 11 gun catch took place when a TSA officer stopped a man from Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, with a .38 caliber handgun loaded with five bullets. The TSA officer spotted the gun on the checkpoint X-ray machine’s monitor as the man’s belongings were being screened. TSA immediately alerted the Allegheny County Police, which responded to the checkpoint, confiscated the weapon and questioned the man, a resident of Hannastown, Pennsylvania. Police then arrested the man on weapons charges. Additionally, he is facing federal civil penalties.

TSA reserves the right to issue a civil penalty to travelers who have guns and gun parts with them at a checkpoint. A typical first offense for carrying a loaded handgun into a checkpoint is $4,100 and can go as high as $13,669 depending on any mitigating circumstances. This applies to travelers with or without concealed gun carry permits because even though an individual may have a concealed carry permit, it does not allow for a firearm to be carried onto an airplane. In addition, if a traveler with a gun at the checkpoint is a member of TSA PreCheck®, that individual will lose their TSA PreCheck privileges.

Nationwide, TSA officers detected 3,257 firearms on passengers or their carry-on bags at checkpoints last year, although the total number of passengers screened at airport checkpoints across the country fell by 500 million compared to 2019 due to the pandemic. The result was that twice as many firearms per million passengers screened were detected at checkpoints in 2020 compared to 2019. In 2020, TSA caught approximately 10 firearms per million passengers as compared to about five firearms per million passengers in 2019.  Of the guns caught by TSA in 2020, about 83 percent were loaded.

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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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