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TSA sees rise in variety of firearms at security checkpoints

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“I forgot.”

That is the primary reason Transportation Security Administration agents say they hear at airport security checkpoints after they catch a passenger with a firearm.

Of the 5,832 firearms stopped to this point this yr, as of Monday, nearly 88% were loaded, in line with the TSA. The overall number is quickly catching as much as last yr’s record of 5,972 – or roughly 17 guns a day.

The news comes ahead of the busiest travel time of the yr – when nearly 55 million Americans are estimated to be traveling this Thanksgiving, in line with AAA – just shy of pre-pandemic levels. 

“It is very concerning because firearms are prohibited within the checkpoint – and positively onboard the aircraft,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske told CNBC. “We have seen a rise nationally…  [and in] parts of the country where open carry and concealed weapons permits are higher, [that] generally indicates we’ll find higher weapons at our checkpoints.”

Top 5 airports for TSA gun catches, through Nov. 21

  1. Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL) 407
  2. Dallas/Fort-Value International Airport (DFW) 340
  3. Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) 268
  4. Nashville International Airport (BNA) 185
  5. Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport (PHX) 172

It’s legal to travel with a firearm – but provided that it’s declared with the airline before the flight, unloaded and packed appropriately inside checked luggage. In response to the TSA, passengers caught with guns were fined $52 million in civil penalties over the past three years.

“I actually have total confidence in our transportation security officers to stop these,” said Steve Wood, the Federal Security Director for the TSA in Tennessee. “But we’d like the general public’s assist in not bringing them.”

Atlanta tops the list since it’s such a big airport, Pekoske said. “There’s just more people moving through Atlanta airport.”

Up to now, Atlanta is 100 shy of last yr’s record of 507. Nonetheless, three of the highest 5 airports on the list – DFW, IAH and BNA – have already broken records for the variety of firearms stopped at security checkpoints in 2022.

Just last month, Nashville’s airport broke a record with the variety of firearms present in a single yr at 170, beating last yr’s record of 163. That number has since jumped to 185.

“We have moved up on the list – from number 6 to number 5 after which number 4,” Wood said.

A part of the rationale, he says, is that in July 2021, the firearm laws modified in Tennessee to not require a permit to hold a firearm. “During that first month we saw 25 firearms – which was the most important month we have ever had,” Wood told CNBC.

In response to TSA officials the variety of firearms intercepted at Nashville is 2.5 times higher than the national rate – or, one firearm for nearly 37,799 passengers screened. 

It will not be a federal criminal offense to bring a firearm to a checkpoint. Nonetheless, the agency has the authority to impose a federal civil penalty against those that do.

In response to the TSA, getting caught with a firearm carries a civil nice of $1,500. If the gun is loaded, that figure jumps to $3,000. For repeat offenders, the fines can go as high as nearly $13,910.

“It’s a really expensive mistake, and it’s a really time consuming mistake as well,” Pekoske said. “It is very likely that you’re going to not give you the option to fly on the flight you had originally reserved, and sometimes passengers aren’t even capable of fly that day, depending on the flight schedules out of the airport.”

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