One of the guns caught recently at Philadelphia International Airport. (TSA)

Weekly Update: TSA Firearm Detections

Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers prevented four travelers from carrying guns onto their flights in a two-day span at Philadelphia International Airport checkpoints. Two men were stopped on Friday, May 7, and two more on Saturday, May 8, when the TSA officers detected the guns inside carry-on bags at the checkpoints. The incidents were not related.

“There is no excuse for carrying a gun to an airport security checkpoint,” said Gerardo Spero, TSA’s Federal Security Director for the airport. “This is not a new regulation. In fact, the prohibition of carrying guns onto airplanes was in place long before TSA even existed. The majority of individuals who we catch with a gun claim that they forgot that they had their gun with them. If you own a firearm, you should know where it is at all times. Guns inside carry-on bags are accidents waiting to happen.”

On May 7, a Duncannon, Pennsylvania, resident was caught with a .45 caliber handgun and a Douglassville, Pennsylvania man was stopped with a unloaded .380 caliber handgun along with a gun magazine that was loaded with six bullets. Police confiscated both guns and cited each individual.

The very next day, a Dalmatia, Pennsylvania, woman was stopped with a loaded .38 caliber revolver (known as a “38 special”), and was cited by Philadelphia Police. A Woodbine, New Jersey, man was caught with a .22 caliber handgun and was arrested by the police. In each instance, police confiscated the weapons.

In addition to the police actions, the travelers also face a stiff federal financial civil penalty for carrying a loaded gun to an airport checkpoint. 

Elsewhere, TSA officers prevented a Florida resident from boarding his flight with a 9mm handgun along with a gun magazine loaded with seven bullets, at the Syracuse Hancock International Airport security checkpoint on May 4.  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 and confiscated the weapon. The man told officials that he had inherited the handgun and forgot that he had it with him. He now faces a stiff federal civil penalty for bringing a gun to an airport security checkpoint.

On May 6, TSA officers at Richmond International Airport prevented a Richmond resident with a .38 caliber handgun loaded with five bullets from carrying the revolver onto her flight. The gun was detected among her carry-on items at the security checkpoint. TSA alerted airport police, who responded to the checkpoint, confiscated the handgun and cited the woman on a weapons charge. She told officials that she forgot that she had her loaded gun with her. In addition to being cited by the police, she also faces a stiff federal financial civil penalty for bringing a loaded gun to an airport security checkpoint.

And on May 9, TSA officers stopped a female passenger from carrying a .380 caliber firearm onto her flight at Appleton International Airport. The firearm was the second one detected at the airport this year, whereas TSA officers detected three firearms at Appleton International in 2020. A total of 10 firearms have been found at TSA security checkpoints in Wisconsin so far this year. A TSA officer detected the firearm on May 9 in the woman’s carry-on bag during security screening. TSA officers immediately alerted the Outagamie County Sheriff’s Office. A sheriff then escorted the woman’s husband to their vehicle to securely store the firearm. The woman was cited by the police and released.

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.  Most of these guns were loaded.

Darby LaJoye, the senior official performing the duties of the administrator at TSA, recently spoke about firearm detections and explained some of the action being undertaken to prevent travelers arriving at the checkpoint with guns.

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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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