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TSA Officers Already Seeing Multiple Firearms at Airport Checkpoints in 2022

Over the past couple of weeks, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers at airport checkpoints have stopped more guns making their way onto flights. Many airports have already seen multiple gun catches, thanks to the diligence of TSA officers. 

A Georgia man was cited by police after TSA officers detected a handgun in the man’s carry-on bag at a security checkpoint at Philadelphia International Airport on January 28. It was the third handgun that TSA officers have detected at the airport’s checkpoints in a seven-day span. Officers also stopped a Philadelphia woman on January 22, and a Harleysville, Pa., man on January 25, each with guns among their carry-on items. 

In each instance, when the TSA officers spotted the guns in the checkpoint X-ray machine, the police were alerted and confiscated the weapons. TSA forwarded each incident to be followed up with the issuance of a federal financial civil penalty.

The man who was stopped on January 28, claimed that the .40 caliber handgun in his possession was a training weapon, however it was an actual functioning firearm.

A further two firearms were found at the airport’s checkpoint in January, making a total of five for the year so far. Last year, TSA officers at Philadelphia International stopped 39 guns in total, 19 more than in 2019 before the pandemic affected traveler numbers. Given that five firearms have been detected at the checkpoint already this year, the total figure for 2022 could be considerably higher than the already worrisome number found in 2021.

“To me, this looks like a gun epidemic—one that is easily preventable,” said Gerardo Spero, TSA’s Federal Security Director for the airport.

“Guns and airplanes don’t mix,” Spero added. “Guns of any type are not permitted through security checkpoints. That includes actual firearms, replica guns, toy guns, training guns, BB guns, starter pistols, air-soft guns and any other type of gun. Even realistic replica guns can cause a panic on a flight.”

“Travelers who own handguns need to take a little extra time when packing for a flight to make sure that they have not packed a gun or ammunition in any of their carry-on bags,” Spero said. “The right way to transport your gun is to pack the unloaded firearm in a locked hard-sided case, place it in your checked baggage and declare it at the check-in counter so that the airline can place it in the belly of the plane where nobody has access to it during a flight. These individuals now face a stiff federal civil penalty that could cost them thousands of dollars.”

Meanwhile, TSA officers at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport saw their fifth gun at the checkpoint in 2022 when they prevented a Bunker Hill, W.Va., man from bringing a loaded handgun onto his flight on February 1. The 9mm gun was loaded with eight bullets, including one in the chamber. It was detected as the man was entering the security checkpoint with his carry-on items. TSA officials notified the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority police who confiscated the gun and cited the man on a weapons charge.

TSA officers at Richmond International Airport prevented a Henrico County, Va., woman from carrying her handgun onto her flight on January 27. It was the third handgun that TSA officers have detected at the security checkpoints at the airport so far this year. The 9mm handgun was loaded with seven bullets. TSA officers stopped the Sandston, Va., woman when her carry-on bag triggered an alarm in the security checkpoint X-ray unit. Upon spotting the weapon, TSA alerted airport police, who responded to the checkpoint, confiscated the handgun and cited the woman on a weapons violation.

Nationwide, TSA officers detected 5,972 firearms on passengers or their carry-on bags at checkpoints last year. Of the guns caught by TSA in 2022, about 86 percent were loaded. Despite the penalties facing travelers and repeated pleas by TSA to check bags for firearms before leaving for the airport, early indications show that 2022’s detection rate is following or even surpassing last year’s trend.

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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