Security officers are finding significantly more guns in carry-on bags at airports, which officials say is alarming as fewer passengers are flying during the coronavirus pandemic.
Three times as many firearms were detected at airport checkpoints in July compared to July 2019 — up from 5.1 guns per million passengers screened to 15.3, the Transportation Security Administration said Monday in a news release.
Meanwhile, the TSA said it screened 75% fewer passengers during that period this year.
Nearly 832,000 passengers went through airport checkpoints across the country on Sunday, according to the TSA. That’s the first time since March the number has surpassed 800,000, but it’s still significantly lower than the same day last year, which topped 2.6 million.
Eighty percent of guns found by security last month were loaded, said TSA Administrator David Pekoske, who called the situation “an accident waiting to happen.”
“Travelers must understand that firearms are prohibited items at airports and in the passenger cabins of aircraft,” Pekoske said in the news release. “As hard as we are working to mitigate other risks at this time, no one should be introducing new ones.”
Last year, 4,432 firearms — 87% of which were loaded — were discovered in carry-on bags, or an average of about 12.1 per day, according to TSA. That was up 5% from 2018.
The TSA did not say what might be causing the spike in guns found in carry-on bags.
But data from the FBI suggests Americans are buying more guns during the coronavirus pandemic, McClatchy News previously reported.
A record 3.9 million background checks associated with firearm purchases were recorded in June, and another 3.6 million were recorded in July. Gun sales have historically spiked during times of national tragedies, McClatchy News reported.
“Travelers need to know that if they bring a gun to the security checkpoint, regardless of whether it is in a handbag, knapsack, roller-bag or strapped to their belt, it will be an inconvenient and expensive mistake on their part,” Pekoske said.
Recommended penalties start at $2,050 for unloaded guns and $4,100 for loaded guns but can increase to more than $10,250 per violation depending on the circumstances, according to the TSA.
Those violating the rules will have their “trusted traveler status” and TSA PreCheck benefits taken away for some time, the TSA says.
Passengers can bring guns in their checked baggage, but the weapons must be “properly packaged” and declared at check-in with the airline,” officials said.
“Firearms must be unloaded, packed in a hard-sided case, locked and packed separately from ammunition. Ammunition and firearm parts, including firearm frames, receivers, clips and magazines are also prohibited in carry-on baggage and must be checked,” the TSA said.
Gun replicas are also not allowed in carry-on bags and must be in checked baggage.
Rules can vary and travelers should check state and local laws, the TSA advises.