Gun seizures at airports continue to spike despite fewer travelers

Another gun caught at Pittsburgh International Airport security sets annual record

WASHINGTON — The Transportation Security Administration is reporting that they are finding three times as many firearms in passenger baggage than in July 2019.

The TSA said it detected around 15 guns per million people last month compared to about 5 guns per million people screened during July 2019 despite there being 75% fewer passengers due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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And 80% of the guns are loaded.

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

The discoveries at airports come at a time when U.S. gun sales are surging, and analysts believe many of those purchases are being made by first-time buyers.

FBI figures show that there were more than 3.6 million firearms background checks requested in July, a 79% increase from July 2019.

“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. Travelers must understand that firearms are prohibited items at airports and in the passenger cabins of aircraft. As hard as we are working to mitigate other risks at this time, no one should be introducing new ones,” Pekoske said.

It is legal to transport guns in checked bags if they are unloaded and in a locked case. There are federal civil penalties for improperly placing a gun in a carry-on bag and violators can lose the use of faster-screening programs such as TSA PreCheck, but criminal charges are usually left to local authorities.

TSA’s public appeal to follow gun rules occurred the same day that it reported screening 831,789 people on Sunday. It was the first time checkpoint traffic in U.S. airports has topped 800,000 since March 17. That is still down 69% from the comparable Sunday a year ago.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.