TSA seized guns at checkpoints in July 2020 at 3 times the rate of July 2019, despite 75% fewer travelers

The Transportation Security Administration announced Monday it has confiscated firearms in July of 2020 at three times the rate of the same month in 2019, despite the agency screening about 75% fewer passengers this year.

In a news release, the agency said it detected 15.3 guns per million people in July 2020, a significant increase from the 5.1 guns per million people that the agency counted in July 2019.

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The highest number of firearms that was seized in July at a single airport by the TSA was 27 at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta, according to data from the agency. There were 13 firearms seized each at Denver and Dallas-Fort Worth airports, and 12 guns were caught at Nashville’s airport in the same month.

“TSA is diligently working to ensure our employees and passengers are safe and secure while traveling during a pandemic, and yet we are noticing a significant increase in loaded firearms coming into checkpoints,” said TSA Administrator David Pekoske. “Travelers must understand that firearms are prohibited items at airports and in the passenger cabins of aircraft. As hard as we are working to mitigate other risks at this time, no one should be introducing new ones.”

Travelers who are found carrying an unloaded firearm in their carry-on luggage can be fined starting at $2,050, according to the news release. If the gun is loaded, fines start at $4,100 and can go up to $10,250 or higher per violation, depending on the circumstances.

It is also possible that travelers who violate the TSA’s firearm restrictions will lose their trusted traveler status and TSA PreCheck expedited screening benefits for a certain amount of time, depending on the seriousness of the offense and if the traveler is a repeat offender.

“Even more concerning is that 80 percent of the firearms coming into the checkpoint are loaded and it’s just an accident waiting to happen,” Pekoske said. “Travelers need to know that if they bring a gun to the security checkpoint, regardless of whether it is in a handbag, knapsack, roller-bag or strapped to their belt, it will be an inconvenient and expensive mistake on their part.”

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In 2019, the TSA said it had found 4,432 firearms in carry-on bags across the U.S., averaging about 12.1 firearms per day, which was a 5% increase from 2018. Nearly 90% of those firearms were loaded, according to the news release.

Travelers are allowed to fly with firearms as long as they are inside checked baggage and are packed in a hard-sided case, which can be locked. The agency also requires that travelers pack ammunition separately from their firearm.

The TSA said that replica firearms are not allowed in carry-on baggage and must be treated as a real firearm, which means they need to packed away in a checked bag.

Laws regarding travel and firearm possession vary from state to state, so travelers should familiarize themselves with those laws before departure, the TSA suggested.In recent months, the TSA made significant changes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to help keep facilities and aircraft clean to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Over the Fourth of July weekend, passengers were permitted to bring one liquid hand sanitizer in a container of up to 12 ounces in a carry-on bag. Other liquids, such as gels and aerosols, were still limited to 3.4 ounces or less.

In addition, social distancing is continuing to be enforced at all security checkpoints, with all TSA officers required to wear masks and gloves. Plastic shielding has been installed at checkpoints to help prevent further spread between TSA employees and travelers.

The changes were part of the TSA’s “Stay Healthy. Stay Secure.” campaign, which “continues to evaluate additional safety measures in close coordination with federal partners.”