As more Americans get vaccinated and rates of coronavirus are on the decline, more Americans are heading to the airport, but unfortunately, too many people are forgetting to leave the gun at home or properly check it in. The number of firearms being detected at airport checkpoints has spiked, but the problem actually began last year.
Earlier this month, Darby LaJoye, the acting head of the Transportation Security Administration, told members of Congress that even with reduced traffic during the novel coronavirus pandemic, more people attempted to pass through airport checkpoints with a firearm in 2020. Now as more people are flying the numbers have continued to go up.
“It really is a fairly substantial increase,” LaJoye told The Hill in an interview. “When you measure it against per millions, it was double last year than what it was the year prior.”
LaJoye said that for the last week of April, TSA agents found 120 firearms, and on a single day there were more than thirty-two firearms detected. Even more worrisome is the fact that more than eighty percent of the firearms detected at the checkpoints were loaded.
“This is a public safety concern because as I pointed out, 80 percent of them are loaded, they’re often just thrown at the bottom of a bag,” LaJoye told lawmakers. “The excuse we generally get the most often is they simply forgot it was in there.”
That slip of the mind could be expensive for the traveler, as a loaded or unloaded firearm with accessible ammunition, found at a checkpoint or on a plane can carry a fine between $3,000 and $10,000 and a criminal referral. Slipping up a second time has fines range from $10,000 to $13,910. Additionally, most airports have state and/or local law enforcement present and those who try to get past security with a firearm will likely face arrest.
The problem became far more serious during the pandemic, and the TSA had announced in January that the firearm catch rate for last year was the highest in the agency's nineteen-year history, with agents catching about ten guns per one million passengers screened. That was double the rate from 2019.
According to The Hill, the airports with the highest numbers last year were for cities like Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, Denver, Nashville, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Las Vegas and Salt Lake City. In Atlanta alone, 220 firearms were taken by TSA officers in 2020.
As the TSA declared on its website, “You may transport unloaded firearms in a locked hard-sided container as checked baggage only. Declare the firearm and/or ammunition to the airline when checking your bag at the ticket counter. The container must completely secure the firearm from being accessed. Locked cases that can be easily opened are not permitted. Be aware that the container the firearm was in when purchased may not adequately secure the firearm when it is transported in checked baggage.”
Moreover, travelers should understand that every airline has its own regulations regarding the transport of firearms, while travelers need to comply with the laws concerning the possession of guns at the local, state and international level.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.