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A lone traveller pulls his baggage after being dropped off outside the main terminal at Denver International Airport Thursday, April 23, 2020, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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By David Koenig, AP

With far fewer people flying because of travel restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic, airport security screeners are naturally finding fewer guns in carry-on baggage.

But the ratio of guns to passengers seeking to board airplanes has jumped sharply.

The Transportation Security Administration said Monday that it found 58 guns at checkpoints from March 22 to April 22, compared with 346 guns over the same stretch last year.

Adjusting for the 95% drop in travelers, that means TSA screeners found one gun for every 80,000 people screened — or 2.7 times the rate of a year ago, when they found one gun for every 216,200 people.

TSA declined to offer an explanation or theory about why the rate of finding guns has gone up this spring.

Jeffrey Price, who teaches aviation security at the Metropolitan State University in Denver, said he thinks there are several reasons behind the higher rate of gun discoveries: a recent spike in gun sales, an “apocalypse mindset” that makes people feel justified carrying a gun on a plane, and shorter TSA lines.

With fewer people to screen, TSA screeners “can take a lot more time with each person and their belongings,” Price said.

Checkpoint screeners use X-ray machines that alert them to take a closer look if something appears unusual in the contents of a bag. In past government-run covert tests, TSA screeners processing pre-pandemic levels of passengers failed to find fake weapons a high percentage of the time, according to published reports.

While the exact numbers remain classified, the inspector general of the Homeland Security Department said in an unclassified summary that a 2017 test found problems with both screener performance and TSA equipment.

Another aviation-security expert, Sheldon Jacobson at the University of Illinois, said the uptick in gun-carrying rates could be because people who are still flying during a pandemic may be different — and more prone to carry a gun. Leisure travelers in particular have mostly stopped flying.

“People who are leisure flyers traveling with their families, they don’t bring guns to checkpoints,” Jacobson said.

One trend has held constant in 2019 and 2020: Most of the guns TSA screeners find in carry-on bags are loaded. The agency said that from Feb. 24 through April 22 its screeners found 317 guns, and 263 were loaded.

It is legal to ship guns on an airline plane if they are unloaded, packed in a locked case and stored in checked baggage that goes in the cargo hold.

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  1. “…With fewer people to screen, TSA screeners “can take a lot more time with each person and their belongings,” …”

    You can go blind if you keep doing that. Schmuck.

  2. While you are correct in that most guns found at TSA check points are loaded, The TSA own analysis shows that most are empty chamber, full magazine.
    So most irresponsible gun owners at TSA checkpoints favor “Israeli Carry”

  3. It’s never even crossed my mind to pack my gun with my luggage for a plane trip. Then again, I don’t fly much (maybe once every other year at the most) because I prefer to minimize my interactions with the TSA. I always drive if my destination is within several hundred miles from my home.

      • It’s quite easy to miss, the wedding ring example applies. Married people only tend to notice their wedding ring if they always wear it, and then skip a day…

      • Some of us who travel frequently are often rushed when packing and overlook things. It has happened to me twice since the advent of TSA. That might seem like a lot, but I (used to) fly over 100 times a year. Now in the twice it happened, neither incident happened with a loaded gun because they always made the checked luggage in an unloaded condition. Once it was my HALO knife left in a piece of rarely used luggage grabbed at the last minute on an unplanned business trip, and once it was four loaded magazines left in a briefcase with many compartments that was grabbed and utilized to carry a power point projector that we had not originally planned on taking.

        These situations are not good excuses – just explanations.

        • Same. I fly a similar amount, or did. One time I made it all the way to where you take your shoes off and realized I still had my firearm holstered in my pocket. Oops! I mumbled something along the lines of “I forgot something in the truck” and went out to said truck and stashed it. I definitely understand how it could happen with someone who carries every day.

  4. Years ago, a friend of mine got up in mid flight to get into his carry on. He found his pistol in it. He was shocked but said nothing. He just shipped it home when he got to where he was going. They miss stuff all the time. There have been others who have had this happen to them and brought this to the attention of the airline and wound up in the clink.

    I’ve wondered how he would have acted under the same circumstances had this been an international flight where they’re probably going to X-ray your baggage on arrival.

    I scolded him for not having situational awareness despite the fact that I have no problem with a law abiding citizen carrying on airplanes.

    • NOT surprised at all. I went to do training and there was a guy there that rifled through his backpack looking for something. He found a 4″ spring assist blade. Was certainly not MA legal either. He got this sheepish look on his face and then indicated he carried it on from Seattle.

      • Switchblades are legal in MA. Anyone with an LTC can possess knives of all kinds and other weapons that aren’t firearms. The exemption is clear written in Chapter 269.
        Of the MGL

  5. If you are going to fly the responsible thing is leave your gun secured at home. People who bring their firearms to airports are in no way responsible. If they “forget” and bring their firearm to an airport where everyone knows baggage is screened then there is no telling where else they will forget it. Such firearm incompetence doesn’t help people fighting to protect gun rights.

    • Also, transporting a firearm in checked baggage isn’t that hard. ‘Yes’ it costs money to check a bag, but it’s generally quick & easy.

      • We flew Southwest in December from PA to TX and did not have to pay for checked baggage, which did have a gun in it, and all of my other EDC stuff too.

    • You make this statement based on what? There are many reasons one might check a gun in baggage, either for hunting, sport or self defense. Declared guns in baggage are legal. In many states, carrying a concealed gun is legal unless you enter the secure area, think about picking up someone and dropping dome one off at the airport. That is not really the point is it? A person needs to be self aware of what they are carrying all the time. It applies to carrying any weapon through security or deciding to not carry a weapon and walking through a high crime area. We tend to carry a lot of random stuff around in backpacks or cars, the airport just happens to have slightly more security than the average person sees daily so catches some people unaware.

  6. I don’t fly. Can’t be armed. Driven 1000+ miles each way more than once for that reason. Never regretted it. Saw interesting things. The United States is a beautiful country.

    • We would love to do that if we had the time. From PA to Texas it is about 3 days drive each way. I’ve made the drive twice myself and took the bus once. So I would need 6 days off just for the drive, and more if I wanted to do more than hug everyone and head back. It’s hard to get that much time off. We would rather get there the same day and spend the time with family or enjoying whatever we went there to do.

      Someday when time is not an issue we would really like to drive and stop at every cool thing on road side signs along the way.

      • Crimson, I get it, but I was always maxed out on vacation time. Only allowed to carry 240 hours at the end of the year or loose all above that. I always had to take a few days. That sucked. Being in the middle of hunting season and all.

      • “From PA to Texas it is about 3 days drive each way.”

        Not if you’re serious about getting somewhere. I’ve crisscrossed this continent in every direction. San Diego to Montreal is about three days if you’re limited to the speed limit. Seattle to Miami was four days, running through blizzard conditions from Seattle to KC, and then heavy rains from Memphis to Miami. Based in Texarkana, and no concern for the speed limit, you can be *almost* anywhere in the continental US in a day. Easton, Maine or Weston, Washington is a far reach for a single day’s driving. ;^) Of course, my days are 24 days long, not 6, 8, or 10.

        • Made it from Nashville to LA in a day-and-a-half several times, most recently in February of this year. On a tour bus, with three drivers, keep rollin’. Driven it alone back and forth a dozen times, more like three days without pushing it. The tour bus beats flying any da, if you have the time, and nobody gets pulled over except rappers and Willie.

    • I should add that by the time you add up food, fuel, and hotels it is way more expensive than flying too.

      On the upside you get funny stories. We stopped at a restaurant in Louisiana in 2014 and I asked the waitress “Where are we?” She gave me a really weird look and said “Olive Garden.” I laughed and said “No, I mean where in Louisiana are we? I have been driving all day and I know we are in Louisiana but I have no idea what town this is or where in the state we are.” She thought that was funny as hell.

      That was a good trip. I was able to OC all the way (thanks to I was able to plot a course accommodating that) until the end of Virginia. Stopped at the very last gas station in Virginia, unloaded the gun, and stowed it in the trunk, then snuck through that little shitting tail of Maryland and West Virginia and pulled over to rearm as soon as we crossed the PA line.

      • Crimson, you stopped in Louisiana and ate at Olive Garden?! Really? You couldn’t find a good Cajun restaurant? I’d give my left nut for a good crawfish boil tonight. Not using it anyway.

        • Agree. Admitting that you ate at an Olive Garden in Louisiana is just as bad as admitting that you like Hi-Points.

        • Heh, 1/2 Coonass myself. Admitting Olive Garden was where you stopped is sacrilegious. Might get fed to the gators talking such heresy. I kid, err, maybe. :p

          Some crawfish etouffee fresh out of the Achafalaya bayou’s, at my Pawpaw’s fishing/hunting camp. Stuffed leg of lamb, hot boudin with ornamental christmas peppers, andouille sausage on the side, and a slice of my Grandmothers sweet dough pear pie… Mmmmhmm, that’s how you do, yeah.

          Rest their souls, I miss those days.

      • The Maryland “panhandle” should be taken from Maryland by force by West Virginia. Then Virginia needs to raise taxes so high the filthy DC-tilians run back to Maryland.

        • The DC-tilians seem to be running the show in Virginia now. They are working hard at running out the Virginians.

      • FWIW, I get off 85 onto 522 north and avoid all but about two miles of Maryland when going that way. The drive is more scenic and takes about the same time to get to the PA turnpike.

    • I do the same, but my route is dictated by reciprocity, and unfortunately sometimes my destination prohibits me from ccw on my drive. I think those states which ban possession without a permission slip should be forced to provide safe storage at the borders.

      You are covered by a nice little carve-out for LEOs.

  7. My takeaway is this- all those guns that TSA routinely miss do no harm. Therefore people should be able to CCW and be done with it. If the most careless and unaware gun owner isn’t causing mayhem, neither will the most conscientious among us.

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident…”

    (Apologies to Thomas Jefferson for coopting that phrase, but when the perfect statement has already been penned, why try to improve upon it?)

  8. Likely it’s a case of getting higher scores by making the test easier but it’s possible that the 5% continuing to fly are more prone to be the ones that carry a gun or are the ones more prone to forget it/not know the law.

    Traveling with guns is easy. Just check them. Done it more times than I can count.

    • Driving with ‘em is even easier! I hate flying. To be more precise, I hate airports and TSA’s security theater.

        • ” Obv the family trip to Hawaii was not drivable…”

          That dunce AOC thinks the train goes to Hawaii…

        • Dang it, I coulda had a V8 and taken the train! Why didn’t they tell me? That must be a helluva long tunnel.

        • Yeah, but it’s a hyper speed tunnel so you can drive on the ceiling just like Men in Black.

  9. With air travel waaaaay down has anyone thought “why the he!! do we employ all these mouthbreathers”?!? I never say it but jus sayin’😃😋😏

    • We employ them because they are employees of the Federal government, and employees of the Federal government must never be laid off. They are all essential, unlike productive workers in the private sector.😀

  10. I never use a bag for air travel that I have used at the range. My firearms are either in use, on my hip, or in a safe. What I am worried about is leaving some ammo or having powder residue that might trip me up at TSA.

    I ave bags and such that are made specifically for range and shooting use. Why would I use them for travel?

  11. My favorite story from the ’00s is a guy flying out of Colorado Springs with a shotgun in his duffle bag. He kept going outside to smoke, and he went through TSA twice without a problem before they caught him on his third entry.
    My guess is the incidence of carrying isn’t going up significantly (maybe a few new panic buyers carrying without knowing the laws, but not double), but the agents are so bored just sitting around that they’ll pay attention to their x-ray screens for the novelty.

    • Perhaps the TSA agents find the same guns repeatedly to make themselves look relevant, and keep the security theater show going.

  12. Flying for a living really went downhill when they started checking pilots for any sort of “weapon” to make sure they couldn’t take control of the aircraft. That actually was the TSA’s logic at the time. Some people probably don’t believe this.

  13. Things are missed ALL the time. I was getting ready to board a flight back to the states from Nice, France and realized I forgot to throw a sizable pocket knife in my checked bag. It was in my carry on and figured they would find it, and it would be lost. With the checks to the UK and then on NYC and my final destination, my carry on went through 3 checks – still have the knife to this day. But I do not have confidence that the security theatre actually provides security.

    • Adam Savage accidentally got through TSA with foam carver blades (the equivalent of 2 12″ razor blades) when travelling to w00tstock in Seattle. He gave them away at the show instead of trying to fly back with them.

  14. Hard to imagine someone could forget a gun like that, but it happens. In fact it apparently happens often enough it is within the range of behavior for the average person who intends no harm or criminal act. Common forgetfulness is annoying, even embarrassing, but normal.

    Therefore, unless the TSA has evidence of criminal intent the air traveler showing up with a gun or ammo or mag they “forgot” was in their carry-on, they should simply be told to take it home and come back without it. Or call someone to come take it away for them, or go to an FFL and ship it home that way, etc etc etc.

    The option to run out and pick up one of those TSA approved locking gun cases, return and declare the gun in checked baggage should always be brought up.

    No seizing the gun, no arrest, no charges, no fines, no denial of right to travel. Not without clear criminal intent, which would be a rare thing indeed.

    (I’ve traveled with a rifle that way, taken down to fit in a full size suitcase. Never had a problem.)

    • This looks like a business opportunity to establish an air terminal based FFL to take care of such for the cost of a transfer fee plus shipping costs. Alternately, sell the traveler an approved container to check in the weapon. Check in costs or transfer/shipping fees would be much less costly than the current system which presumes evil intent by the passenger. So much for the presumption of innocence…

  15. Years ago I picked up my girlfriend at the airport and I was driving her car when I picked her up. Once she got in her car she reached in the glove box and pulled out her a full-sized carry piece. I then asked her where her Ruger LCP was? She said “Oh crap, it’s been in my purse the whole time”. It had made it through airport screening in both Dallas Texas and again in San Francisco for the return trip.

  16. I despise commercial flying so much that I built my own plane, finishing it in 2007. Avoiding the security theater and lines can make up for much of the time lost by flying in a much slower plane. It is not very cost efficient for as little as I travel but still worth it to me.

    • Vic, what did you build? Was it one of Van’s RV’s? I admire anyone with the patience to build their own. I have a spam can.

  17. I’ve lost two knives I can think of to airline travel. I also almost walked into an airport with a loaded pistol tucked into a carry-on, but on the way there I realized it and the driver was nice enough to detour to my house on his way back from the airport. I had taken it off the night before and just put it in the bag for some strange reason.

    One of the knives made it from O’Hare to New Orleans and didn’t get spotted on the x-ray machine until we were on our way back, leaving just ahead of a hurricane. The TSA wouldn’t let me dispose of the knife in the trash or even snap the blade off before they confiscated it. Thieves.

  18. I once forgot I had two G19 mags loaded with hollow points in my carry on at Trenton airport in NJ. Was detected and local sheriff called over to assist TSA. Guy was pretty cool about it. Said in NJ even he wasn’t allowed to carry hollow points and possession of them was a crime. He apologized that he had to confiscate everything and advised me where to get a good deal online for replacements. Months later I got a letter from TSA with a fine, and my pre-check was held up for about a year or so.

    Back then I did not EDC. We were in the midst of a move to N.H. and things just got shoved into my bag.

    • Dum dum bullets in NJ? You’re lucky they let you go. As for the fine, I’d send them a bill for the stolen good, and I’d be sorely tempted to pay in pennies.


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