The Commercial Appeal
Record 6,542 guns are intercepted at airports
Concern grows at a time when more are armed
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.