Transportation Security Administration screeners found guns in air travelers’ carry-on bags at three times the usual rate this past July as compared to last year, the agency says.
“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 in a press release Aug. 10.
Screeners found 15.3 guns per million passengers this past July, compared to 5.1 over the same period last year. That 200% increase is “particularly alarming,” the agency says, given that air travel has nearly evaporated amid the pandemic—TSA screened about 75% fewer passengers in July 2020 compared to July 2019, it says (given that the vast majority of air travelers are screened, such screenings are a pretty good proxy for overall air travel volume).
The six airports where the largest number of guns were found by TSA officers last month include: Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (27 firearms), Denver International Airport (13), Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (13), Nashville International Airport (12), Dallas Love Field Airport (9) and Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport (also 9).
Air travelers in the U.S. are generally allowed to travel with firearms, but only if they’re properly stored in checked luggage. People caught with a firearm in their carry-on face civil penalties starting at about $2,000 for an unloaded weapon and about $4,000 for a loaded one, up to $10,250 “depending on the circumstances,” according to the TSA.
There are at least two explanations for the trend. It’s possible that, for some reason, those choosing to fly right now are also more likely to try to stash guns in their carry-on luggage. But it’s also possible—and probably more likely—that TSA officers are doing a better job of finding weapons because they simply have fewer bags to screen, given the dramatic drop-off in overall air travel.