WASHINGTON – Nearly every day, security officers find all manner of guns on passengers or in their carry bags, pocketbooks and briefcases as they try to pass through airport screening in the United States.
In the first six months of this year, Transportation Security Administration screeners found 894 guns, a 30 percent increase over the same period last year. The agency set a record in May for the most guns seized in a single week — 65 in all, 45 of them loaded and 15 with bullets in the chamber and ready to be fired. That was 30 percent more than the previous record of 50 firearms, set just two weeks earlier.
Last year the TSA found 1,549 firearms on passengers attempting to pass through screening, up 17 percent from the year before. The number of guns found at checkpoints has more than doubled in the past eight years. There were 660 firearms found in 2005, the year the TSA began keeping data on the incidents.
Passengers are prohibited from carrying any type of gun on board a plane. But some are positively bristling with weapons.
TSA officers noticed that one passenger who took off his jacket to go through screening in Sacramento, California, last year was wearing a shoulder holster. In it was a loaded 9mm pistol. The same passenger was also found to have three more loaded pistols, 192 rounds of ammunition, two magazines and three knives.
TSA officials have said they have no idea why passengers try to carry guns with them onto planes when virtually everyone who flies knows that’s forbidden. Passengers are allowed to take guns with them on flights, but only as checked baggage. They are required to fill out a form declaring the weapons and to carry them in a hard-sided bag with a lock.
Just last week, the TSA discovered 29 guns, 27 of which were loaded and nine had rounds chambered ready to be fired, according to information posted on the agency’s website. Screeners have found pistols hidden in tape decks, inside boots, in the lining of carry-on bags and even one that was disguised to look like a writing pen.
Airports in the south and the west, where American gun culture is strongest, had the greatest number of guns intercepted, according to TSA data. Of the 12 airports with the most guns last year, five were in Texas, including Dallas/Fort Worth International, with 80 guns; and George Bush Intercontinental in Houston, with 52. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International had the most for any airport, at 96.
Many passengers found to have guns by screeners are arrested, but not all. It depends on the gun laws where the airport is located. If the state or jurisdiction where the airport is located has tolerant gun laws, TSA screeners will frequently hand the firearm back to the passenger and recommend locking it in a car or finding some other safe place for it.
The TSA doesn’t track what happens to the people who are arrested.