The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has revealed that it intercepted 3,251 firearms at airport security checkpoints during the first half of 2023, which ended June 30.
The total represents an average 18 firearms per day at TSA checkpoints of which more than 92% were loaded. This is an increase from the first half of 2022 when Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) stopped 3,053 firearms at security checkpoints of which more than 86% were loaded.
In the first five days of July, TSOs nationwide intercepted 90 additional firearms bringing the total through July 5 to 3,341. Although the rate at which passengers bring firearms to airport security checkpoints has actually declined in 2023, the number of passengers traveling has also increased, so the agency is expected to surpass last year’s record of 6,542 firearm interceptions.
Passengers who wish to travel with a firearm must ensure it is properly packed in checked baggage and declared at the airline ticket counter. Airlines may have additional requirements for traveling with firearms and ammunition, so travelers must also contact their airline for carriage policies prior to arriving at the airport. Firearms and ammunition are prohibited at TSA security checkpoints.
“Anyone traveling with a firearm must follow the rules and pack it properly in checked baggage in addition to declaring it to the airline,” said TSA Administrator David Pekoske. “Passengers who bring a firearm to the security checkpoint present a security risk, and there are consequences for doing so. I applaud the work of our Transportation Security Officers for their dedication to our transportation security mission, ensuring these firearms do not get into the secure area of the airport and on board aircraft.”
When passengers bring firearms to the TSA security checkpoint, TSOs contact local law enforcement to check the contents of the carry-on bag, safely unload and take possession of the firearm and process the passenger in accordance with local laws on firearms. TSA will impose a civil penalty up to $14,950, eliminate TSA PreCheck® eligibility for five years and may require enhanced screening. Some passengers will be arrested or cited, depending on local laws on firearms. See the complete list of penalties at TSA.
The number of firearm catches during the first half of 2023 represents a 6% increase over the same period in 2022. However, over the same period, passenger volume at checkpoints increased 15%, showing the rate at which passengers brought firearms to airport checkpoints declined in 2023. As of June 30, 2023, TSA stopped about eight firearms per million passengers. During the first half of calendar year 2022, TSA prevented 8.5 firearms per million passengers.
During the second quarter of 2023, TSOs stopped 1,744 firearms at airport checkpoints of which more than 92% of those firearms were loaded. During the second quarter of 2022, TSOs prevented 1,686 firearms from entering the secure area of airports of which about 86% of those firearms were loaded.
Recent detections include a 9 mm handgun that was loaded with 11 bullets, including one in the chamber, which was stopped by TSOs at Pittsburgh International Airport. “We are starting to see the makings of an epidemic of guns showing up at our airport,” said Karen Keys-Turner, TSA’s Federal Security Director for the airport. “Our officers are doing a tremendous job staying vigilant while screening travelers during this peak summer travel period. This was the 22nd gun we have stopped here at Pittsburgh so far this year. Nationwide our TSA officers have prevented more than 3,000 guns from being carried onto flights. Remember, carrying firearms to security checkpoints slows down the security lines for everyone. If you’re flying this summer, it is vitally important to know that the items you have in your carry-on bag are allowed through our security checkpoints.”
Firearm possession laws vary by state and local government, but firearms are prohibited at TSA security checkpoints, in the secure area of an airport, and on board aircraft, even if a passenger has a concealed carry permit.
TSA recommends that passengers pack an empty bag and check the agency’s “What Can I Bring?” tool to know what is prohibited. The most common prohibited items at TSA checkpoints are oversized liquids under the liquids, gels and aerosols rule.