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May Ends With a Flurry of Firearm Detections for TSA

Despite facing penalties, travelers continue to arrive at airport checkpoints with firearms, most of which are loaded. Vigilant Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers are also alert to the insider threat, evidenced by a catch at Pittsburgh International Airport recently.

TSA officers at Washington Dulles International Airport prevented a Culpeper, Va., man from bringing a loaded revolver onto his flight on May 31. The .38 caliber handgun was loaded with five bullets. The weapon was caught as the man entered the security checkpoint. The gun was found among the traveler’s carry-on items via the X-ray machine. TSA officials notified the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority police who confiscated the gun and cited the man on a weapons charge. He told officials that he forgot that he had his loaded gun with him.

It was the second gun stopped at one of the airport checkpoints in the last five days. On May 27, a TSA officer at the airport prevented a Fauquier County, Va., woman from bringing a handgun onto her flight. The 9mm handgun was not loaded, however it was accompanied by a gun magazine loaded with eight bullets. TSA officials again notified the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority police who confiscated the gun and cited the woman on a weapons charge.  

“Carrying a loaded gun to an airport is an accident waiting to happen,” said Scott T. Johnson, TSA’s Federal Security Director for the airport. “Passengers are not to have access to a gun during a flight. Responsible gun owners know the right way to transport a firearm for a flight.”

So far this year, eight firearms have been stopped by TSA officers at Washington Dulles checkpoints. This is significantly less than the 30 detected for the whole of 2021, bucking a trend seen at some other airports such as Boston Logan, which is seeing a higher rate of detection than last year. However, Dulles’ total of eight guns as of May 31 is still ahead of previous years with between 10 and 16 being stopped annually in the years 2017 to 2020.

Boston Logan TSA officers stopped the sixth firearm for the month on May 31. TSA officers detected the firearm in a passenger’s backpack during security screening in Terminal A. TSA immediately alerted the Massachusetts State Police, who upon inspection discovered the firearm was loaded with a round chambered and another eight rounds in the magazine. After questioning, police officers confiscated the firearm and informed the New Hampshire resident he would receive a summons in the mail.

On May 27, TSA officers at Pittsburgh International Airport prevented a traveler from bringing his loaded handgun onto a flight. The 9mm handgun was loaded with eight bullets including one in the chamber. When the TSA officer spotted the gun in the checkpoint X-ray machine, the Allegheny County Police were alerted, confiscated the handgun and arrested the man on a weapons charge. The man did not have a valid permit to carry a firearm.

A few days later, an individual who works at Pittsburgh International Airport was stopped with a loaded handgun when TSA officers detected the gun in the man’s backpack when he reported to work. The man, a resident of nearby Wellsville, Ohio, was caught on May 30 with a 9 mm handgun loaded with 12 bullets, including one in the chamber. The man, an airplane cabin cleaner, had access to the secure area of the airport to perform his job duties. TSA conducts regular checks on individuals who work in the sterile area of the airport to ensure that they do not have any prohibited items that they might use or might hand off to someone else for their use.

“Insider threats are something that we are highly aware of and are constantly on the lookout for,” said Karen Keys-Turner, TSA’s Federal Security Director for the airport. “Insiders, or individuals with authorized access to sensitive areas of an airport, might misuse or allow others to misuse their access to exploit vulnerabilities in an effort to compromise security, facilitate criminal activity, terrorism or other illicit actions that could inflict harm to people, organizations, the transportation system or national security. This was an excellent catch on the part of our TSA team.”

When the TSA officer spotted the gun in the worker’s backpack, the Allegheny County Police were alerted, confiscated the handgun and arrested the man on a weapons charge.  

Meanwhile, TSA officers at Raleigh County Memorial Airport prevented an Alabama man from carrying his handgun onto a flight on May 26. The .380 caliber handgun was not loaded. TSA officers stopped the man when his backpack triggered an alarm in the security checkpoint X-ray unit. It was the first handgun that TSA officers have detected at the airport’s security checkpoint so far this year. Upon spotting the weapon, TSA alerted airport police, who responded to the checkpoint and confiscated the weapon. The man told officials that he forgot that he had placed the gun in his backpack.

On May 27, An Ocean County, N.J., man was arrested by police after TSA officers prevented him from carrying a loaded handgun onto his flight at Newark Liberty International Airport. It was the ninth gun caught at one of the airport checkpoints so far this year, indicating a higher than average detection rate for the airport which saw 12 guns stopped last year and 11 in both 2020 and 2019. The handgun was detected when the TSA officer who was staffing a checkpoint X-ray monitor in Terminal A spotted the weapon inside the man’s carry-on bag. TSA officials then alerted Port Authority Police who confiscated the handgun and arrested the man on weapons charges. The man claimed that he forgot that he had placed the firearm into his carry-on bag.

TSA officers at Richmond International Airport prevented a Petersburg, Va., woman from carrying her handgun onto a flight on May 29. The 9mm caliber handgun was loaded with eight bullets, including one in the chamber. TSA officers stopped the woman when her carry-on bag triggered an alarm in the security checkpoint X-ray unit. It was the sixth handgun that TSA officers have detected at the security checkpoints at the airport so far this year, considerably less than the 20 and 22 detected in 2021 and 2020. Upon spotting the weapon, TSA alerted airport police, who responded to the checkpoint, confiscated the handgun and cited the woman on a weapons violation.

And on May 31, TSA officers at Norfolk International Airport stopped a local man from carrying a loaded handgun onto his flight. The 9mm handgun was loaded with 10 bullets. TSA officers stopped the man when his carry-on bags triggered an alarm in the security checkpoint X-ray unit. Upon spotting the gun, TSA alerted the Norfolk Airport Authority Police, who responded to the checkpoint, confiscated the handgun and cited the man on a weapons violation. The case will be forwarded to the Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney for possible criminal prosecution.

Bringing a gun to an airport checkpoint also carries a federal civil penalty because TSA reserves the right to issue a civil penalty to travelers who have guns and gun parts with them at a checkpoint. Civil penalties for bringing a handgun to a checkpoint can stretch into thousands of dollars, depending on 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.

Read guidance on the correct way to travel with a firearm at TSA

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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