U.S. Airport Gun Seizures Hit Record High

(Bloomberg) -- A record number of firearms were found in bags at Transportation Security Administration airport checkpoints across the U.S. last year, the agency announced this week. In 2017 the TSA found 3,957 firearms, an average of 10.8 per day and a 16.7 percent increase from the 3,391 found in 2016. The rising popularity of carrying concealed firearms, in addition to a boost in passenger numbers, could be to blame for the record-setting number, experts said. 

“While it’s impossible to ascertain an exact, scientific reason for the increase, there does seem to be a correlation between the increase in the number of firearms caught and the increase in passenger volume,” said TSA spokesman Mike England. The spike in seizures far outpaced the rise in passenger volume. In 2016, 738.3 million passengers went through federal airport checkpoints, compared with 771.5 million in 2017, a 4.5 percent increase.

Guns weren’t the only thing passengers (such as former Mississippi Governor and Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour) tried to bring on board. TSA agents also discovered grenades, gun powder and, in one instance, a box of inert explosives. They were being carried by a military instructor, who told the TSA he forgot they were in his carry-on bag while traveling through Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport.

Of the firearms discovered at checkpoints, 84 percent were loaded (including Barbour’s). Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport led the nation in firearms found by the TSA, with 245, followed by Dallas Fort Worth International, George Bush Continental Airport in Houston and Denver International. Atlanta’s airport is the world’s busiest

U.S. Airport Gun Seizures Hit Record High

Jeff Price, a professor of aviation management at Metropolitan State University of Denver, said the rates of recovered firearms at TSA checkpoints could be higher in states where concealed carry is more common. “In Georgia they have a situation at the Atlanta airport where you can lawfully carry into the airport as long as you don’t get into the TSA line,” he explained. “The states where there’s more firearms typically carried, there’s just more of a chance you’ll have it at the checkpoint.”

Price also attributes the increase to new screening policies the TSA introduced last year. The updated security measures require that flyers put electronics larger than a phone into bins. “That could be responsible for some of the higher numbers because they’re better able to see what’s left in the bag,” he said.

Confusion surrounding concealed carry laws is one of several contributing factors to the increased number of firearms found at checkpoints, Price added. “I think, unfortunately, there’s a lot of people who forget they have [a gun]. A lot of people, they’ll put it in their laptop bag and they’ll put it in a purse. They’ll forget they have it with them.”

In December, the House of Representatives approved the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Bill, which would allow the concealed transport of handguns across state lines and supersede state statutes on concealed firearms. If the Senate passes the same legislation and it becomes law, it could lead to even more firearms ending up in carry-on bags, Price said. “A lot of people aren’t aware you can’t do it, and a lot of people just forget that they have it.”

To contact the author of this story: Polly Mosendz in New York at pmosendz@bloomberg.net.

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