The Transportation Security Administration passed a sobering milestone last year.
For the first time in the agency’s 20-year history, it seized more than 6,000 firearms in a year from passengers at U.S. airport security checkpoints—6,542, to be exact. That’s a 9.5 percent increase from the 5,972 seized in 2021.
Significantly, the number of weapons seized by TSA has risen dramatically since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, even as passenger traffic continues to fall short of the record number of travelers set in 2019. That year, TSA officers caught 4,432 guns.
Perhaps more worrisome, about 88 percent of the weapons seized in 2022 were loaded, according to the agency. That’s up from 86 percent in 2021 and 83 percent in 2020.
“The most common excuse from people is they forgot they had the firearm with them,” said TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein at a December press conference held at Pittsburgh International Airport. “That excuse doesn’t fly with us.”
Fortunately, PIT bucked the national trend; officers here stopped 26 guns in 2022, down from 32 the year before. However, the airports in Harrisburg and Philadelphia both set records for number of guns seized at their checkpoints.
Nationally, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the world’s busiest airport, topped the list with 448 seizures, followed by Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (385), Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport (298) and Nashville International Airport (213).
“I applaud the work of our Transportation Security Officers who do an excellent job of preventing firearms from getting into the secure area of airports and onboard aircraft,” said TSA Administrator David Pekoske in a December statement.
“When a passenger brings a firearm to the checkpoint, this consumes significant security resources and poses a potential threat to transportation security, in addition to being very costly for the passenger,” Pekoske said.
Firearms are prohibited in carry-on bags at the checkpoint and onboard aircraft. Passengers are permitted to travel with firearms in checked baggage if they are unloaded and packed in a locked hard-side case. Ammunition must be in its original box and can be packed inside the hard-side case, next to the firearm.
The case with the firearm should be brought to the airline check-in counter to be declared with an airline representative. TSA has more details on how to properly travel with a firearm posted on its website.
Individuals who bring weapons to a checkpoint are subject to federal civil penalties of up to $15,000 as well as potential criminal charges. In Western Pennsylvania, the U.S. Attorney’s Office works with county sheriffs to revoke the concealed carry licenses of people stopped with weapons at PIT’s checkpoints.