During the week of Dec. 10, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the federal agency created after 9/11 to keep America’s airports safe, discovered 78 firearms that travelers were attempting to get past screening checkpoints. The guns were primarily 9mm semi-automatics, with a smattering of .38s, .22s, and .40-caliber Glocks. The TSA reports that 63 of the weapons were loaded, and 28 had a round chambered.
The overall tally for 2018 won’t be finalized for another few days, but if the historical trend line holds, it should be another record-setting year for guns confiscated at US airports.
In 2017, TSA agents intercepted 3,957 firearms at 239 airports across the country, averaging 76.1 guns per week, or 10.8 per day. Of those, 3,324 (84%) were loaded, and 1,378 (34.8%) had a round chambered. The record that year for the most guns found in a one-month period came in August at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport, with 29. A one-day record for the most firearms discovered was set on May 3, when 26 guns—21 of them loaded—were found at 15 airports.
The yearly haul marked a 16.7% increase from the record set in 2016, when the TSA discovered 3,391 guns in travelers’ carry-on bags at airport checkpoints. Of those, 2,815 (83%) were loaded. In 2015, TSA agents found 2,653 undeclared firearms, up from 2,212 the year before. On June 4, 2014, a then-one-day record was set when 18 guns were discovered at airports around the country, breaking the previous year’s record of 13.
In 2013, TSA agents discovered 1,813 firearms while screening travelers, or roughly five per day. In Houston, a passenger attempted to slip two guns past security by wrapping them in newspaper and hiding them inside a box of laundry detergent. In Miami, agents found seven undeclared firearms inside a toolbox, a shotgun was discovered in a golf bag in Detroit, and someone tried to hide a .45 caliber pistol and four magazines in a cassette deck.
The number of guns intercepted that year was up more than 16% from the year before, when 1,556 guns were caught—one stashed in a potted plant (Portland, Oregon), one disassembled and concealed inside three stuffed animals (Providence, Rhode Island), and one hidden inside a hollowed-out book (Honolulu, Hawaii). And so on and so on.
According to the TSA, “most passengers simply state they forgot they had a gun in their bag.” That was also the excuse given by a 76-year-old man who was caught with a loaded .380 pistol strapped to his ankle as he passed through a body scanner at Detroit Metropolitan Airport in 2011.
Flying with a (properly registered) firearm is perfectly legal, as long as it’s in your checked baggage. However, bringing it through a TSA security checkpoint can bring fines of up to $13,333 plus possible criminal referral. Aggravating factors include one’s past violation history, the violator’s attitude during the encounter (including the nature of any corrective action taken by the alleged violator), fraud, intentional falsification, and “artful concealment.”
Here is a listing of all the weapons confiscated during a single week in December, per the TSA.