The Commercial Appeal

Record 6,542 guns are intercepte­d at airports

Concern grows at a time when more are armed

- Rebecca Santana

ATLANTA – The woman flying out of Philadelph­ia’s airport last year remembered to pack snacks, prescripti­on medicine and a cellphone in her handbag. But what was more important was what she forgot to unpack: a loaded .380-caliber handgun in a black holster.

The weapon was one of the 6,542 guns the Transporta­tion Security Administra­tion intercepte­d last year at airport checkpoint­s across the country. The number – roughly 18 per day – was an all-time high for guns intercepte­d at U.S. airports, and is sparking concern at a time when more Americans are armed.

“What we see in our checkpoint­s really reflects what we’re seeing in society, and in society there are more people carrying firearms nowadays,” TSA Administra­tor David Pekoske said.

With the exception of pandemic-disrupted 2020, the number of weapons intercepte­d at airport checkpoint­s has climbed every year since 2010. Experts don’t think this is an epidemic of wouldbe hijackers – nearly all the people caught claim to have forgotten they had a gun with them – but they emphasize the danger even one gun can pose in the wrong hands on a plane or at a checkpoint.

Guns have been intercepte­d literally from Burbank, California, to Bangor, Maine. But it tends to happen more at bigger airports in areas with laws more friendly to carrying a gun, Pekoske said. The top 10 list for gun intercepti­ons in 2022 includes Dallas, Austin and Houspassen­gers

ton in Texas; three airports in Florida; Nashville, Tennessee; Atlanta; Phoenix; and Denver.

When TSA staffers see what they believe to be a weapon on the X-ray machine, they usually stop the belt so the bag stays inside the machine and the passenger can’t get to it. Then they call in local police.

Repercussi­ons vary depending on local and state laws. The person may be arrested and have the gun confiscate­d. But sometimes people have been allowed to give the gun to a companion not flying with them and continue on their way. Unloaded guns can also be placed in checked bags, assuming owners follow proper procedures. The woman in Philadelph­ia saw her gun confiscate­d and faced a fine.

Those federal fines are the TSA’S tool to punish those who bring a gun to a checkpoint. Last year TSA raised the maximum fine to $14,950 as a deterrent.

also lose their Precheck status – it allows them to bypass some types of screening – for five years.

Atlanta’s airport, one of the world’s busiest with 85,000 people going through checkpoint­s on a busy day, had the most guns intercepte­d in 2022 – 448 – but that number was actually lower than the year before. Robert Spinden, the TSA’S top official in Atlanta, says the agency and the airport made a big effort in 2021 to address the number of guns being intercepte­d.

Officials put in new signage to catch the attention of gun owners. Numerous 70-inch television screens flash rotating messages that guns are not allowed.

“There’s signage all over the airport. ... There’s quite a bit of informatio­n that is sort of flashing before your eyes to just try to remind you as a last-ditch effort that if you do own a firearm, do you know where it’s at?” Spinden said.

 ?? BRYNN ANDERSON/AP FILE ?? TSA screeners work at Atlanta’s airport last month. The airport had 448 guns intercepte­d in 2022 – the most of any U.S. airport.
BRYNN ANDERSON/AP FILE TSA screeners work at Atlanta’s airport last month. The airport had 448 guns intercepte­d in 2022 – the most of any U.S. airport.

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