TSA Found More Than 4,000 Firearms in Airport Carry-on Baggage in 2018

The Transportation Security Administration discovered an average of 11 guns per day in carry-on luggage in United States airports in 2018, the agency reported in a press release Thursday.

In 2018, TSA agents found 4,239 firearms in carry-on luggage—up 7 percent from the previous record set in 2017, when they found 3,957. Disturbingly, nearly 34 percent of the firearms the TSA found last year had a bullet in the chamber, according to the report. But the most troubling statistic might be, as Gizmodo reported Friday, is that 86 percent of the guns discovered last year by TSA were loaded.

Most of the guns came through the following airports in 2018: Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International with 298, Dallas/Fort Worth International with 219, Phoenix Sky Harbor International with 129, Denver International with 126 and Orlando International at 123.

In New England airports as a group, TSA officers across the region stopped 45 handguns at checkpoints in 2018, a significant increase from the 29 seized in 2017.

The Washington Post reported on January 13 that an unidentified armed passenger made it through a TSA checkpoint to board a Delta Air Lines flight at Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport on their way to Tokyo.

"TSA has determined standard procedures were not followed and a passenger did in fact pass through a standard screening TSA checkpoint with a firearm," the agency said of the incident, according to the Post. "TSA has held those responsible appropriately accountable."

Reportedly, when Japanese authorities met the passenger after the flight landed in Narita International Airport, the passenger was cooperative. TSA agents denied the incident had anything to do with the government shutdown, when some TSA agents did not report to work in protest.

In 2008, TSA agents found 928 guns nationwide, according to the agency report. The number has increased every year.

It is legal for Americans to fly with guns, but they must be unloaded and locked away in checked luggage, Gizmodo reported. Toy guns must follow the same procedure. If a person is caught with a firearm, fines can range up to $13,000 in federal fines, and it is a civil—not criminal—matter.

However, it is up to local law enforcement to decide whether or not to seize a gun from a passenger, depending on state law.

"I like to call it firearm detections," TSA regional spokesperson Mark J. Howell told Gizmodo. "When we find those firearms we shut that lane down until law enforcement comes over. They remove the firearm from the machine and remove the person from the checkpoint."

"We collect the information from [the gun owner] and we issue the civil penalty to them in the mail afterwards," Howell says, adding that it takes about a month for those citations to go out. "Any confiscation is a determination made by law enforcement."

Here's an official TSA breakdown of the number of guns found each year, showing a consistent increase:

  • 2018—4,239
  • 2017—3,957
  • 2016—3,391
  • 2015—2,653
  • 2014—2,212
  • 2013—1,813
  • 2012—1,556
  • 2011—1,320
  • 2010—1,123
  • 2009—976
  • 2008—926