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TSA seizes 3,250+ guns in 2020, highest ever gun detection rate at airports

Passengers go through security at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. (Ellen M. Banner/Seattle Times/TNS)
January 28, 2021

The Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) firearms detection rate spiked in 2020, doubling the previous year’s discoveries per million passengers and marking the highest rate in the agency’s history.

According to the TSA, officers screened around 324 million travelers at airports nationwide and found 3,257 guns on passengers or in carry-on bags at checkpoints — a highest-ever rate of 10 per every 1 million travelers.

Of the firearms caught, around 83 percent were loaded.

“I commend our officers for their commitment to TSA’s security mission by identifying and stopping these weapons at the TSA checkpoints. Firearms are strictly prohibited onboard planes in the passenger cabin,” said Senior Official Performing the Duties of TSA Administrator Darby LaJoye. “Bringing a firearm to a TSA security checkpoint poses a serious risk to TSA officer and passenger safety, and doing so may result in significant fines or arrest.”

Passengers carrying guns were stopped at checkpoints in 234 airports across the United States. The top ten included Harsfield-Jackson Atlanta, Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston’s George Bush, Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, Denver, Nashville, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood, Orlando, Las Vegas McCarran and Salt Lake City.

The TSA report revealed 220 guns were found at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, followed by 176 at Dallas/Fort Worth International, 126 at George Bush Intercontinental in Houston, 126 at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International and 104 at Denver International.

Travelers wishing to fly with firearms can do so in checked baggage, as long as the guns are properly packed and declared when checking in. The TSA advises passengers to research local and state firearm laws, as well as additional requirements for individual airlines.

If a loaded firearm — or unloaded firearm with accessible ammo — is discovered in a passenger’s possession, the TSA is able to impose civil penalties up to $10,250 per person, plus a criminal referral.

Some cities allow local law enforcement to file criminal charges against passengers who carry a gun to a TSA checkpoint.

“TSA will assess civil penalties that vary by number of previous offenses and whether the firearm was loaded at the time,” the agency’s website states.

Where permitted, firearms in checked baggage must be unloaded and in a hard-sided case. Ammunition must be transported in its original box and can be packed in the hard-side case, as well.

“Data collected represents the number of firearms caught on passengers and in their carry-on bags at the nation’s TSA checkpoints,” the website states. “Excluded from the data are improperly packed guns at checked baggage stations, toys, replicas and BB guns.”