‘Huge problem’: Passengers bringing record number of guns to airport, TSA says | Archive

By Gregory Wallace and Pete Muntean, CNN

(CNN) – Airline passengers are bringing firearms to the airport in numbers never seen before, and it’s a “huge problem,” the head of the Transportation Security Administration told CNN.

At the same time, security and law enforcement officials are facing an unprecedented increase in the number of belligerent passengers who are straining the systems designed to keep air travel safe.

“We have had many more incidents where there is disruption to passengers both at checkpoints and on board aircraft. This makes it more important that there are no weapons involved,” he said. said TSA Administrator David Pekoske in an interview.

The TSA reports catching 4,650 firearms at checkpoints in the first 10 months of the year, the majority of which were loaded. This number exceeds the annual record of 4,432, set in 2019.

And with 11 weeks left in the year — including the busy Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons — Pekoske says he thinks the number of guns confiscated reflects an increasingly armed American population.

“I think more people are carrying guns, generally across the country, and then whatever happens across the country, we see that reflected in our checkpoints,” he said. “As a passenger, I don’t want another passenger flying with me with a firearm in their possession.”

The agency is also finding firearms at a much faster rate than it has ever known. During pandemic air travel lows in 2020, transportation security officers confiscated a firearm from about 10 in every 1 million passengers. This year, they find 11 armed passengers out of 1 million.

Most firearms found were loaded – over 3,900, or over 80%.

“No checkpoint, no airport is safe from passengers trying to carry weapons through the checkpoint,” Pekoske said. “This happens more frequently in states where gun carrying is at a higher rate compared to other states.”

Gun finds by TSA workers create an inconvenience for flyers at a time when more people are looking to travel again and restrictions on international travel are loosening. Findings of firearms slow down lines of control and trigger a response from local police or the airport. Airline officials, meanwhile, are calling on airport police to be proactive in spotting intoxicated or otherwise agitated passengers who could trigger an in-flight disruption.

These unruly passengers are also at levels never seen before.

The Federal Aviation Administration said Tuesday that airline crews have reported 4,724 incidents this year, including 98 in the past week. She opened more than 880 investigations; in a typical year, it conducts approximately 180 investigations.

Penalties for attempting to smuggle a firearm through a checkpoint start at around $2,500 for an unloaded gun and go up to $10,000 for a loaded gun. Penalties are higher for subsequent offenses, although Pekoske said they rarely see repeat offenders. The agency can also revoke PreCheck membership, local authorities can pursue criminal charges, and in the Pittsburgh area, the TSA says a sheriff’s department has agreed to revoke concealed carry permits for people who attempt to smuggle a weapon through a checkpoint.