TSA airport security
AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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Fewer people have been flying  — a lot fewer — since the pandemic national emergency began in Marc, but apparently those who are flying have something in common: lots of them are leaving loaded guns in carry-on luggage. No, it isn’t exactly new for guns to be found during the screening process, but apparently the problem is at an all-time high.

According to USA Today the occurrence of guns being found in the wrong spot by TSA has tripled:

…[A]irport security is finding guns in passenger carry-on bags at three times the rate recorded before the pandemic.

And 80% of the guns are loaded.

Officers found 15.3 guns for every million people screened in July, compared with 5.1 per million people in July of last year, the Transportation Security Administration said Monday.

There has been a significant increase in loaded guns at checkpoints, said TSA Administrator David Pekoske. He said screeners are already working in conditions of heightened risks and that “no one should be introducing new ones.”

“Even more concerning is that 80% of the firearms coming into the checkpoint are loaded, and it’s just an accident waiting to happen,” Pekoske said.

There are all kinds of fines and criminal charges tied to trying to go through a TSA checkpoint with a gun, loaded or not. The USA Today article was blessedly brief. They could’ve gone off the deep end with it, but they didn’t and another half-dozen news outlets also miraculously refrained from going a gun-bashing tirade. Not going to lie, I’m amazed they passed the opportunity up.

This firearm was caught by TSA officers at the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport checkpoint on July 30. Photo: TSA

Homeland Security Today listed the fines associated with getting caught with a gun by TSA:

The recommended civil penalty for a firearm starts at $2,050 and can go up to the statutory maximum of more than $10,250 per violation. Civil penalties for stun guns start at $350 and can go up to $2,050. In addition to civil penalties, individuals who violate rules regarding traveling with firearms will have Trusted Traveler status and TSA PreCheck expedited screening benefits revoked for a period of time. The duration of the disqualification will depend upon the seriousness of the offense and if there is a repeated history of violations.

So, what’s going on? Most likely it’s simple: more people are buying guns now than ever before and they aren’t familiar with the rules. Ignorance is never an excuse for breaking a gun law, but that’s probably what’s going on. People don’t know the rules and they’re also so unfamiliar with gun handling there are probably also instances of forgetting they put the guns in their bags to begin with.

This is a good time for yet another push for gun education. Know your gun laws and keep up on them. Being well-educated in these things is all part of being a responsible gun owner.


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    • “People are tired of crime in the streets”
      Yes ,
      Your post makes perfect sense and really ties into the article.
      I guess all the real American patriots in first class will stand their ground in case someone carjacks the beverage cart and attempts a “ straight outa economy “ Drive-by shooting.
      Could happen, with all those communists in steerage class.

  1. Another result of the Democrat’s ultimate plan to destroy the country as long as Trump’s in the White House. Keep allowing their hired thugs to control the streets, and you’ll find everyone carrying, EVERYWHERE!

  2. ““Even more concerning is that 80% of the firearms coming into the checkpoint are loaded, and it’s just an accident waiting to happen,” Pekoske said.”

    Oh, *please*.

    As long as the TSA keeps their booger-hook off the bang-switch, nothing will happen…

    • It should be a standard TSA question when they find an unloaded gun.

      “This thing is empty? What’s wrong with you? An empty gun isn’t even a decent hammer!”

  3. Okay so it is difficult to imagine how anyone could forget they have a gun in their carry-on luggage. Truth remains that it happens so much, it is well within the realm of normal human behavior. By that I mean it requires no criminal intent.

    Therefore, the unintentional carrying of a gun onto a commercial aircraft should be decriminalized. It should be no worse than a parking ticket. The owner should always be given the option of retaining the gun. Such as by going home or checking it with the TSA into a big locked room, with the right of getting it back when they return. The TSA should be forced by law to safely retain and return all seized property to a lawful owner.

    Only in cases where criminal intent to use the firearm for an illegal purpose should there be criminal charges, prosecutions, heavy fines, loss of Second Amendment rights, loss of property, etc.

    I’d sure like to know how people forget they have a gun, but since it’s been a victimless crime so very many times, it should be no worse than an “Oops, I didn’t see that NO RIGHT TURN ON RED sign!” or “No parking aft sunset? But I live here!?”

    Stuff like that.

    • Let me break and down for you, as I have never done it, but can easily see how it would happen.

      When my wife and I fly out of Philly we typically have one large checked bag, 2 carry on bags, a computer bag (my small item) and her purse. We usually spend the preceding night at her family’s house in Philly, and get driven to the airport by her father or brother in the wee hours of the morning.

      I carry my gun the preceding day as usual. When we get up in the morning we are always in a hurry. Her father is last minute kind of guy, and my wife is a worrier so if TSA says get there 2 hours early she wants to get there 3 hours early. She likes to schedule flights very early and i like to sleep as late as I possibly can. So it’s a lot of “Hurry up! OMG we’re running late! We’re going to miss our flight! Do you really need a shower! OMG! Breakfast?! We don’t have time for breakfast! OMG! Hurry up!”

      We’re in Philly, so I want to carry on the way to the airport. I have my lock box and my magazine box in the car with me or in the trunk. When we get to the airport I take the gun off, unload it, lock it in the lock box, place the magazine in the magazine box which also contains my spares that I will be carrying at our destination, and stick those boxes in the CHECKED BAG. Now, it is entirely conceivable, in the round and round they go shell game of bags that is going on at that point, that I could stick it in the wrong bag. i have in fact stuck it in another bag intentionally just to get going and then moved it to the checked bag when arrive at the place where we check it. But I could see how it could wind up in the wrong bag. If I did unknowingly put it in the wrong bag I would probably figure it out when I tried to check it and it wasn’t where it should be. But if I was new person and not up on gun laws, and security theater I might not know or notice until TSA found it.

      Another thing to consider is where any layovers or plane changes are. There are people who have had a layover or plane change in a non gun friendly state, have been given their checked bags to take to their next flight in said non gun friendly state, and then been arrested for illegal possession.

      Inadvertently trying to take a gun through a TSA checkpoint should absolutely be decriminalized, and i would add to the options you have suggested that you be given an opportunity to secure your gun in your checked bag, which is what you are supposed to do in the first place.

      • I’m always cognizant of the knife, flashlight, and micro multi-tool I always EDC. I’m hyper-aware of my gat at all times if/when I carry a concealed gun, so I just don’t understand how people can “forget” theirs as they drive up to a well-known TSA nest, pass all the No Weapons signage, and approach the security checkpoint area.

        If after all of this you still don’t remember you have a loaded gun in your possession, perhaps you aren’t responsible enough to be carrying it in the first place.

        • I have forgotten that I can’t take a bottle of water through security and had to dispose of it before. Maybe I am not responsible enough to have water. But I am not a “water nut” so I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about water bottles.

          I am a gun nut. So I do spend a lot of time thinking about guns, gun laws, and related topics. I must read the airlines gun rules on their website a thousand times in the months before taking a flight. in the months before driving back from Texas to Pennsylvania in 2014 I printed and assembled a notebook with the handgunlaw.us and NRA/ILA gun law pages on every state we were passing through and knew where I coudl and couldn’t OC, and where I could and couldn’t conceal, and where, for a few minutes going through the tip of Maryland, I had to stop, unload, and place gun and ammo in separate containers in the trunk.

          For comparison Shaneen Allen ignorantly drove into New Jersey with a handgun. When pulled over by NJSP she dutifully but ignorantly informed the officer she was armed and dutifully but ignorantly presented her PA LTCF along with her drivers license, registration, and insurance. She was not a gun nut. She had not studied the laws. She was just a working single mom with 2 jobs who carried to protect herself and her family. It is a travesty that it took a gubernatorial pardon to save her from prison.

          I could easily see ladies who purse carry forgetting they had their gun. Especially if they are juggling multiple bags and/or herding kids. I could see people sticking a gun in the wrong bag in the rush and hustle to get everything done and moving. At Philly the TSA security line can be 2 hours long. People do miss their flights because of it. This creates a hurried atmosphere in which people are more likely to make mistakes.

          As Enuf said, there is no reason for a non criminal citizen with no mens rea to be made a felon and excessively fined and lose their property for a mistake. In fact I’ll go so far as to suggest that you should probably be able to carry onto a plane as long as you unload your gun and place your ammo in a separate pocket.

        • Why unload? Are you afraid it might went off? A separate pocket? So the gun can’t find the ammo and load itself on the way to went off?

      • The Crimson Pirate said: “Inadvertently trying to take a gun through a TSA checkpoint should absolutely be decriminalized, and i would add to the options you have suggested that you be given an opportunity to secure your gun in your checked bag, which is what you are supposed to do in the first place.”
        This should be standard operating procedure considering no crime has been committed. The TSA in essence is calling passengers liars and that should be more offensive that a statue in a park.
        The reasons people forget anything including guns in luggage is limited to one’s imagination. Anyone is subject to forget at any given time. People aren’t perfect.
        Has anyone forgotten anything lately?

  4. The scary thing is, what is probably happening here is the TSA just had more time per person to screen, so they are just finding more guns, not that there are a higher percentage of people bringing guns through the screening process. How many more guns did the TSA miss when they had less time per passenger?

      • 911 was it’s own solution.

        Prior to that, all of my life, we were always told that if we were on a plane that was hijacked we should just cooperate. The hijackers would swap us for the release of prisoners the Israelis were holding, or they would fly to some communist or Islamic shithole where we would be released, or a hostage rescue team would come and kill us all. The passengers were always bargaining chips to trade for something or compel some action on the part of their government. No one ever considered that hijackers might want to use the planes themselves as weapons of mass destruction. Now that option is on the table every time and no one with any sense or any semblance of a backbone will ever cooperate with hijackers again. Most especially Americans will not cooperate. Cut me with a box cutter? Shoot me with a gun you somehow smuggled on board? Beats the hell out of being flown into a building.

        We all know TSA is a joke, and the “security” they provide is nothing more than a show to make low information people feel better. The passengers and the possibilities are the real security measures.

  5. One possibility is that people are quickly grabbing a backpack out of the closet that had been previously used on a hiking or camping trip. Even in CA it was legal (until recently?) to carry a firearm on hikes outside incorporated areas.

    • But not legal, in ca, to store the firearm in a backpack in the closet.. it must be locked away inside a safe, inside a vault, inside a volcano…

  6. I have made it through TSA twice with an automatic knife in my carry on. Both times I didn’t realize it was in my pocket until preparing to empty my pockets. Lucky I had time to stuff it in my bag.

    • I myself once thought I had removed my pocket knife and stowed it away, then later found that it was still in my pocket…while I was in the plane’s lavatory in mid-flight. I somehow made it through all the TSA personnel and equipment with my metal-bladed knife, right up to the plane, and nobody knew.

      I avoid flying nowadays whenever possible. The TSA checkpoints are just a major hassle and the planes have become cages with wings. No comfort whatsoever unless you pay big upgrade fees. Sebastian Maniscalco’s skit about the check-in luggage is spot on. That happened to me once…my bag was two pounds over the limit and would have cost me +$50, so I removed some items, put them into my carry-on, and everybody was happy. But the sum total weight going on to the plane remained the same. How’s that for logic???

      • The bride and I are retired, both of us love the US and I love to drive, we fly when there are no roads to where we are going. Like, overseas. Given notice, if going overseas, we would drive to the port and take a cruise ship there. If cruise ships survive. Because you are correct, flying commercial is no fun, any more. And that from a pilot!!

  7. I haven’t gotten on an airplane in over 30 years. But when I did fly on business, I wasn’t packing. I suspect that there are a lot of older folks out there like me, and it would have been helpful had the article reviewed the rules for travelling by air with a gun.

    • Each airline differs slightly, but broadly speaking it has to be unloaded, and in a checked bag. A gun case or lock box can count as a checked bag if you are not checking a bag per say. The bag it is in or the gun case or lock box has to be locked.

      Review the rules for your particular airline before you fly. They are all on the various airlines websites.

      Ammo also has to be in a checked bag and some airlines require it to be in an ammo box of some sort. Last time we flew, last December, we went southwest, and I just threw my loaded magazines and my loose round in a Lock N Lock container and tossed that in the checked bag with my lockbox containing the unloaded gun.

      Going out of Philly I had to fill out a card which was taped to the outside of the lockbox. The lockbox then had to be placed in the checked bag, which was placed on a cart of other bags with unique requirements. One of the bags in the pile had skis on it, for example. Another had some sort of glass framed picture or something. I had to wait with the cart with my bag until the airline employee handling special bags came and got the cart. Then we could go to the security line to be screened as usual.

      Flying back, out of San Antonio, we were taken to a back room and our checked bag was thoroughly manually searched, metal detected, and swabbed for explosives. The guy didn’t seem to like the Lock N Lock with my mags and the lose round, but he just kept picking it up and looking at it. He never said anything to me about it. After that they took the bag to the airline and we went to screening as usual. That wasn’t Southwests procedure, that was a TSA thing. I was disappointed that Philly handled it better than San Antonio.

      At other times in previous years we have flown other airlines and procedures have varied slightly. I remember at times not being able to have my magazines loaded and instead having my ammo in cardboard, or plastic ammo boxes.

      If you have seem my What I’m Carrying Now contributions, I also put all of my other crap in a nylon ditty bag from the camping section at Wal Mart, and place that in my check bag. Get a luggage scale, as a gun and ammo can add some weight to a bag and that may incur a cost if you exceed the airlines checked bag weight limit.

    • And there are many articles available describing the process … noting that the details may differ a little between airlines and airports. No point in going into it in depth in this article imo.

      DuckDuckGo is your friend.

  8. Somebody should set up a locker business where you can leave such items there, pick them up when you return.

    And try not to drool over, “Welp, you aren’t paying anymore so that piece in the locker is now mine!”

    • No, but it’s an explanation.

      And it should not be criminal unless they can show that there was intent to commit a crime.

      • It’s not even an “explanation”, you packed the bag, you know what’s in it and what isn’t, and what isn’t supposed to be…these are individual trying to skirt the system, and perhaps they got away with it in the past, but eventually, everyone gets caught…

  9. “So, what’s going on?”

    Maybe TSA is actually doing its job, instead of trying to feel up old ladies in wheelchairs.

  10. A friend was flying to the Southeast with his wife, on their way to a cruise, and he forgot to check every pocket of a duffel bag he was carrying, having used it for a prior deer hunting trip to WVA. TSA found a single .30-30 cartridge, whoa Nelly! That was years ago, and his sojourn on the watch list must be permanent because still today he can’t even approach any kind of checkpoint without getting the third degree.

  11. Some folks still think it’s the sixties lol, I’ll just throw my handgun in the carry on and get on that plane, no biggy

  12. They took a box of paperclips from me once when they saw it on xray. I didn t even ask why.

    They missed that W88 nuke warhead in my carry on so it was all good.

  13. People don’t appreciate how many times loaded guns make get onto an airplane after passing through screening. Because of the reduced workload screening passengers the TSA is now able to spend more time looking at the X-ray when examining a bag. That’s why they’re finding more guns.

  14. Perhaps there is no increase in people carrying, only an increase in folks being caught. The TSA has more time on their hands with fewer travelers.

  15. I guess the owners of the 20% of guns found that aren’t loaded are carrying for a Die Hard scenario where they will be trapped somewhere with brazen terrorists.

    On a related note, I wonder if it’s the policy of the TSA that a loaded firearm is the equivalent of a ticking time bomb or a live pit viper?

    • Why not just allow anyone with a license/permit to carry on planes? We were all background checked when we got our license/permit. And again with every renewal. And for every gun purchase from an FFL. And twice if you live in a state that has it’s own background check. Some states, such as Utah, rerun background checks on their permit holders on a routine basis. At this point most people who own multiple guns and have a license/permit to carry them have background more times than they can remember. It’s pretty clear we aren’t criminals or terrorists. Just let us carry on planes just like we do everywhere else everyday.

      Same with carrying in schools. Remove the restrictions and let those with the legal ability to carry in their state do so in schools as well.

  16. The simple explanation is that many people who own a gun, or are new to owning guns, decide to travel somewhere where they believe they may want/need to carry.

    These people however, not being used to traveling with a gun, don’t know the regs and don’t bother to look them up. So they toss the gun in carry-on figuring they want to keep it with them so it’s harder to steal because it’s in their possession the whole trip.

    I’ve seen enough people get popped with a knife at a TSA checkpoint and say “What do you mean I can’t have this with me? It’s in my bag!” to suspect that a great many people don’t think through this kind of thing at all.

    • And don’t forget the constant drumbeat from the grabbers that there are no laws concerning guns, that’s why we need to pass some. A new guy might well believe there are no laws forbidding carry on an airplane.

  17. My days of air travel with a firearm pre-date 9/11, the TSA and many restrictions. That travel was only with a Ruger 10/22, taken apart to fit into a checked baggage suit-case. I do not recall the airline, but the procedure was simple. Declare the gun at check-in before the Gate, not at the Gate. The agent takes your bag to a table, opens it and views the weapon, determines it meets their rules. Then places a large red plastic tag on the bag that reads “FIREARM”, but which I nervously interpreted as “STEAL THIS BAG!!!”.

    Oddly enough, all went smoothly, no problems.

    At the time I was 17 years old, traveling cost to cost between the northeast and the southwest and back.

    Times change, so always review current up to the moment rules for the airline and TSA websites. NEVER assume you know the rules, even if the last few times you checked you found yourself to be correct. Bureaucrats can change rules faster than you can imagine.


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