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Busiest Day of the Year for TSA as Firearm Detections Continue

TSA officers remain vigilant and continue to see an alarming number of firearms brought to the checkpoint. On November 24, a man was arrested by police after TSA officers stopped him with a loaded handgun in his carry-on bag in Terminal C at Newark Liberty International Airport. The man was the third individual arrested by police in November at Newark for bringing a gun to the checkpoint.

Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoints saw their busiest day of the year on November 27 as 2,560,623 passengers were screened as many chose the Sunday to return home from Thanksgiving holidays. This is the highest number of passengers screened since December 26, 2019 when 2,575,985 passed through TSA checkpoints.

While this year’s daily Thanksgiving traveler total did not surpass that of 2019, which was around 2.8 million, passenger numbers are returning to pre-pandemic figures, with some airports seeing even higher numbers than in 2019. Nationwide even, some days are surpassing pre-pandemic totals. For example, TSA screened 2,435,219 passengers on November 13, 2022, which is more than the 2,396,681 screened on the same day in 2019, pre-pandemic.

TSA officers remain vigilant and continue to see an alarming number of firearms brought to the checkpoint. On November 24, a man was arrested by police after TSA officers stopped him with a loaded handgun in his carry-on bag in Terminal C at Newark Liberty International Airport. The man was the third individual arrested by police in November at Newark for bringing a gun to the checkpoint. The 9 mm handgun was loaded with 13 bullets, including one in the chamber. It marked the 14th gun caught at one of Newark’s checkpoints so far this year and tied the record for the most guns caught at the airport in a single year.

Firearm detections continued after the Thanksgiving holiday. A Louisiana resident was arrested by police after TSA officers prevented her from carrying her loaded handgun onto a flight at LaGuardia Airport on November 28. The .38 caliber revolver handgun was loaded with five bullets. The same day, officers at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport prevented a man from carrying his handgun onto a flight on November 28. It was the 29th gun detected by TSA officers at the airport so far this year, one shy of the previous record of 30. Also on November 28, a TSA officer at Washington Dulles International Airport prevented a traveler from bringing a loaded handgun onto his flight. The 9mm handgun was loaded with eight bullets.

On November 29, a resident of Philadelphia was stopped with his gun among his carry-on items when a TSA officer at Philadelphia International Airport saw the 9mm weapon show up on the security checkpoint X-ray monitor.  When the TSA officer spotted the gun in the checkpoint X-ray machine, the Philadelphia Police were alerted and allowed the man to return to the airline counter to properly declare and check the gun with the airport so that it would be transported properly and safely in the belly of the aircraft. TSA forwarded the incident to be followed up with the issuance of a federal financial civil penalty.

“This individual had the proper paperwork and carrying case for his firearm, but he made a big mistake when he brought it to the security checkpoint when he should have taken it to the airline check-in counter to be declared and transported properly for his flight,” said Gerardo Spero, TSA’s Federal Security Director for Philadelphia International Airport. “It is important to know that you can travel with your firearm when it is done correctly, however bringing it to a checkpoint is never allowed because passengers should not have access to firearms during their flight. Hopefully this incident serves as a reminder to other firearm owners about the proper way to transport their firearm because we have seen too many guns showing up at our security checkpoints this year.”

On November 30, TSA officers at Norfolk International Airport stopped a passenger from carrying his loaded handgun onto a flight. The .380 caliber handgun was loaded with six bullets and marked the 24th gun caught at the airport’s checkpoints, the most detected in a single year.

TSA officers at Harrisburg International Airport have also detected a record number of guns (eight) in carry-on luggage so far this year and most of those guns have been loaded. “The most common excuse we hear is that someone claims that they forgot that they had their loaded gun with them,” said Karen Keys-Turner, TSA Federal Security Director for the airport. “If you own a firearm, you should know where it is at all times. It is part of being a responsible gun owner. Even if a traveler has a concealed weapons permit, they are not allowed to board an airplane with the gun in carry-on luggage. The idea is that nobody should have access to a gun during a flight. However, you can transport it with checked baggage if you do so properly.”

Some airports are seeing fewer firearms at the checkpoints, however. TSA officers stopped a woman from carrying a loaded firearm onto a flight at Bradley International Airport on November 30. This was the fifth firearm detected at the airport’s checkpoint this year. Nine were detected in 2021 and 2018, and seven were detected in 2019 and one in 2020 when traveler numbers were heavily impacted by the pandemic. TSA officers detected the November 30 firearm in the woman’s fanny pack. TSA immediately notified Connecticut State Police. During a search, police officers discovered a loaded .9mm firearm with a chambered round. After questioning, the police arrested the Connecticut resident on a state charge for circumventing security.

Kylie Bielby
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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