Transportation Security Administration agents intercepted 1,508 firearms in carry-on luggage at airport security checkpoints in the first three months of 2023, a 10.3% rise over the same time frame last year, the TSA said in a release Thursday.
While security officials have seen an increase in guns seized, it’s partly due to more Americans traveling by airplane, as airlines saw a 20.4% rise in customers in the first quarter of 2023.
More than 93% of the firearms intercepted so far have been loaded, while just 86% were loaded in 2022, the TSA said.
Travelers who are caught with a firearm in their carry-on luggage may be subject to whatever state and local laws apply. Even if carrying a gun is perfectly legal, the traveler will have their PreCheck eligibility suspended for five years, the release said. They may also be subject to additional screening on future flights and a maximum civil penalty of $14,950.
It can also cause a massive headache for fellow travelers.
“It is the busy spring travel season and when someone shows up with a firearm at the checkpoint the conveyor belt is stopped until the police arrive and can remove the carry-on bag from the X-ray machine to safely secure the weapon,” John Essig, the TSA’s federal security director at New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, said after a passenger was stopped with a handgun this week.
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While many of the intercepted firearms are small pistols left in someone’s bag by accident, travelers have been caught with larger, more powerful guns.
A New Orleans man was stopped at an airport in Louisiana with a loaded Palmetto PA-15 Multi AR rifle and five additional loaded magazines in his carry-on bag in February.
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More than 6,540 firearms were intercepted at security checkpoints in all of 2022, a record high, according to the TSA. It’s a relatively new problem, as just 1,913 firearms were detected one decade ago in 2013.
Travelers who do want to fly with a gun can do so if they keep it in a locked hard-sided container in their checked baggage. They also must declare it to the airline while checking in for their flight, the TSA said.