TSA detained record number of firearms at US airports in 2019

The agency says the number of guns seized at checkpoints increased by 5%.

January 16, 2020, 4:25 PM

More guns were found and detained from passengers or in carry-on bags at airport security checkpoints across the United States in 2019 than recorded in agency history, according to the Transportation Security Administration.

The agency found 4,432 firearms at these checkpoints -- a 5% increase from the previous year, the agency reported on Wednesday. Of the weapons discovered, the press release said 87% were loaded, according to the TSA. Nearly 40% of those were found with a round in the chamber, TSA said.

“The continued increase in the number of firearms that travelers bring to airport checkpoints is deeply troubling,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske said in a statement. "There is a proper way to travel safely with a firearm. First and foremost, it should be unloaded."

He added, "It should be packed in a hard-sided locked case, taken to the airline check-in counter to be declared, and checked."

PHOTO: Transportation Security Administrator David Pekoske speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 23, 2018.
Transportation Security Administrator David Pekoske testifies before the Senate Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security Subcommittee in the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 23, 2018.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, FILE

TSA has set strict laws prohibiting passengers from bringing firearms aboard planes. They do, however, allow weapons with proper permits to travel in checked baggage, requiring that they are unloaded and packed in locked and hard-sided cases, with the ammunition stowed in its original box.

Passengers who carry legally are also subject to local and state gun laws wherever they land.

TSA officials detected these firearms at 278 airports nationwide last year. The agency named five cities where the most firearms were detected at checkpoints: Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth, Denver, Houston and Phoenix.

The airports with the highest number of gun seizures in 2019 were:

  1. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International with 323
  2. Dallas/Fort Worth International with 217
  3. Denver International with 140
  4. George Bush Intercontinental with 138
  5. Phoenix Sky Harbor International with 132

The airports above were also on TSA's list for 2018.

PHOTO: Transportation Security Administrationsignage is displayed near a check-point at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Jan. 8, 2019.
Transportation Security Administrationsignage is displayed near a check-point at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Jan. 8, 2019.
Bloomberg via Getty Images, FILE

Hartsfield-Jackson also set the record for most firearms detained in one month -- 34 were found in May 2019.

The checkpoints experienced a rocky start to 2019, as the United States was in the midst of one of the longest government shutdowns in history. The rate of unscheduled absences at airports throughout the country spiked, and security screening lines grew, forcing travelers to often wait longer than an hour -- sometimes missing their flights.

The Atlanta airport reported a breach of security in early 2019 -- unrelated to the shutdown -- when a passenger traveling to Japan successfully brought a gun through security and on to a Delta Air Lines flight. The gun was not discovered until the passenger told Delta authorities what he had brought “upon arrival” in Japan.

TSA also reminded travelers that individuals who are caught with firearms at airport security checkpoints are subject to federal civil penalties of up to $13,000.

The agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment on next steps.

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