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Friday, December 9, 2022

New Year, Same Old Story at TSA Checkpoints

Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers across the country had a record year for firearm detections last year, and 2022 is continuing in much the same vein.

On the first day of the year, TSA officers at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport prevented a man from bringing a gun onto his flight after he was caught with a .40 caliber handgun loaded with six bullets at one of the airport’s checkpoints. The gun was spotted while the man’s belongings were in the X-ray machines. TSA alerted the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority police who confiscated the guns and ammunition and cited the man.

On January 3, TSA officers stopped a woman from carrying a firearm onto an airplane at Boston Logan International Airport. It was the first detection by TSA officers at a Boston Logan security checkpoint this year. Last year, the airport did not have its first gun detection until mid-May. 

During security screening in the afternoon of January 3, a TSA officer detected the unloaded .380 caliber firearm in the woman’s carry-on bag. TSA officers immediately alerted the Massachusetts State Police who responded and discovered the woman’s firearm permit was expired. The state trooper took possession of the firearm and issued the Massachusetts resident a citation. She was eventually cleared to fly.

“It’s unfortunate that we already have a gun that was brought to the checkpoint so early in the new year,” said Bob Allison, TSA’s Federal Security Director for Massachusetts. “Carelessly traveling with a firearm is a public safety concern, considering it could accidentally be discharged during a search. I strongly urge all gun owners to ensure they know where their firearm is before traveling to the airport.”

January 6 was a particularly busy day for TSA officers. A man was cited by police after Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers prevented him from carrying a loaded handgun and knife onto his flight at Richmond International Airport. The .40 caliber gun and the knife were spotted inside the man’s carry-on bag when a TSA officer who was staffing the checkpoint X-ray monitor spotted the weapons. The gun was loaded with 13 bullets.  TSA then alerted the police who confiscated the handgun and knife and cited the man on weapons charges.

The same day, TSA officers prevented a handgun from making its way onboard an airplane at Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport. During the routine screening of carry-on luggage, a TSA officer spotted the image of a handgun on the X-ray screen. The incident occurred around 10 a.m., and TSA officials immediately alerted the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office. A deputy responded to the checkpoint, confiscated the firearm, which was loaded, and issued a citation.

Also on January 6, a local man was arrested by police after he was prevented from carrying a loaded handgun onto his flight at Newark Liberty International Airport. The gun was spotted inside the man’s carry-on bag when a TSA officer who was staffing the checkpoint X-ray monitor spotted the weapon. TSA then alerted Port Authority Police who confiscated the handgun and arrested the man on weapons charges.

“It’s 2022 and the law regarding the prohibition of guns in airplanes has been in place for decades. This is nothing new,” said Thomas Carter, TSA’s Federal Security Director for New Jersey. “Let me be perfectly clear. Guns are not permitted to be carried onto planes. Not if they are loaded. Not if they are unloaded. Not even if you have a concealed carry permit. Under no circumstances are travelers permitted to bring guns through our security checkpoints. Our TSA officers are very good at detecting weapons from getting through the checkpoints.”

The week ended with 11 firearms being discovered on January 9 by TSA officers at airport security checkpoints nationwide. These included a catch at Santa Barbara Municipal Airport when TSA officers detected a 9 mm Glock 43 pistol loaded with seven rounds of ammunition in the carry-on luggage of a traveler ticketed for travel to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. Upon discovery of the firearm, TSA notified the Santa Barbara Airport Police, who responded to the security checkpoint. Following an interview with law enforcement, the traveler will be charged with the state violation “carrying a concealed weapon on your person.” This is the first firearm find at the airport in 2022. In 2020, TSA officers at Santa Barbara Municipal discovered one firearm over the course of the year. No firearms were found in carry-on luggage in 2021.

Passengers are permitted to travel with firearms only in checked baggage if they are properly packaged and declared at their airline ticket counter. Firearms must be unloaded, packed in a hard-sided locked case, and packed separately from ammunition. Then the locked case should be taken to the airline check-in counter to be declared. TSA has details on how to properly travel with a firearm posted on its website.

Bringing a gun to an airport checkpoint 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 into 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. The complete list of civil penalties is posted online. Additionally, if a traveler with a gun is a member of TSA PreCheck®, that individual will lose their TSA PreCheck privileges.

Firearm possession laws vary by state and locality and TSA urges passengers to do their homework to make sure that they are not violating any local firearm laws. Travelers should also contact their airline as they may have additional requirements for traveling with firearms and ammunition.

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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