The federal agency tasked with screening passengers before they get on planes says officers this year have stopped a record number of guns brought by passengers attempting to go through airport security checkpoints.
The Transportation Security Administration said in a news release Friday that officers have stopped 6,301 firearms so far this year, and the agency is anticipating that number will rise to 6,600 by the end of the year.
That is nearly a 10% increase over last year, which was already a record, the agency said. Nearly 90% of the weapons caught so far were loaded, the agency said. The agency considers a weapon to be loaded if the passenger has access to both the gun and the ammunition.
Eighty-eight percent of the guns found this year were loaded. Firearm possession laws vary by location, but guns are never allowed in carry-on bags at any airport security checkpoint, even if a passenger has a concealed-weapon permit. Passengers transporting firearms must do so in a locked case in checked baggage. They also must declare them to the airline, the TSA said.
The agency said it is increasing the maximum civil penalty for firearms violations to $14,950. Passengers caught with a weapon also lose their TSA PreCheck status — a security program that allows passengers that go through prescreening to bypass some airport security measures like taking their shoes off — for at least five years, the agency said.
In addition to the fine, the TSA will revoke PreCheck eligibility for at least five years for anyone caught with a gun at a security checkpoint. Passengers may also be arrested for a firearms violation depending on the state or local laws in the airport’s location.
“Firearms are prohibited in carry-on bags at the checkpoint and onboard aircraft. When a passenger brings a firearm to the checkpoint, this consumes significant security resources and poses a potential threat to transportation security, in addition to being very costly for the passenger,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske said in the news release.
At a congressional hearing earlier this year, some lawmakers and airport administrators called for higher fines, gun safety classes for violators and other measures. They said the maximum fines were rarely imposed and clearly were not working as a deterrent.
With the exception of 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic caused air traffic to plummet, the number of guns intercepted at airport checkpoints has steadily climbed every year since 2010, the agency said.