WASHINGTON (AP) - Transportation Security Administration officers donít
carry guns, but airline passengers do.
Nearly every day, and sometimes multiple times a day, TSA officers find all
manner of guns on passengers or in their carry bags, pocketbooks and
briefcases as they try to pass through screening in the U.S.
In the first six months of this year, Transportation Security Administration
screeners found 894 guns, a 30 percent increase over the same period last
year. The TSA set a record in May for the most guns seized in one week - 65
in all, 45 of them loaded and 15 with bullets in the chamber and ready to be
fired. That was 30 percent more than the previous record of 50 guns, set
just two weeks earlier.
Last year TSA found 1,549 firearms on passengers attempting to go through
screening, up 17 percent from the year before. The number of guns found by
TSA at checkpoints has more than doubled in the past eight years. There were
660 firearms found in 2005, the year TSA began keeping data.
Passengers are prohibited from carrying any type of gun on board a plane.
But some passengers are positively bristling with weapons. TSA officers
noticed that one passenger who took off his jacket to go through screening
in Sacramento, Calif., last year was wearing a shoulder holster. In the
holster was a loaded 9 mm pistol. The same passenger was also found to have
three more loaded pistols, 192 rounds of ammunition, two magazines and three
Just this week, TSA discovered 29 guns, 27 of which were loaded and nine had
rounds chambered ready to be fired, according to information posted on the
agencyís website. Screeners have found pistols hidden in tape decks, inside
boots, in the lining of carry-on bags and even one that was disguised to
look like a writing pen.
Airports in the South and the West, where the American gun culture is
strongest, had the greatest number of guns intercepted, according to TSA
data. Of the 12 airports with the most guns last year, five are in Texas:
Dallas-Fort Worth International, 80 guns; George Bush Intercontinental in
Houston, 52; Dallas Love Field, 37; William P. Hobby in Houston, 35; and
Austin-Bergstrom International, 33. Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta had the
most for any airport, at 96. Others include Phoenix Sky Harbor, 54; Fort
Lauderdale-Hollywood International in Florida, 42; Denver International, 39;
Seattle-Tacoma International, 37; Orlando International Airport in Florida,
36; and Tampa International in Florida, 33.
When expressed as a proportion of airport traffic volume, small airports in
the West and South lead the way. The airport in Roswell, N.M., had 8.5 guns
intercepted per 100,000 passengers last year; Cedar City, Utah, and Provo,
Utah, both 6.5; Longview, Texas, 4.9; Dickinson, N.D., 4; Joplin, Mo., 3.8;
Twin Falls, Idaho, 3.4; Fort Smith, Ark., 3.3; and Walla Walla, Wash., and
Elko, Nev., both 2.9.
TSA officials have said they have no idea why passengers try to carry guns
with them onto planes when virtually everyone who flies knows thatís
forbidden. Passengers are allowed to take guns with them when they fly, but
only as checked baggage.
They are required to fill out a form declaring the weapons and to carry them
in a hard-sided bag with a lock.
Many passengers found to have guns by screeners are arrested, but not all.
It depends on the gun laws where the airport is located. If the state or
jurisdiction where the airport is located has tolerant gun laws, TSA
screeners will frequently hand the gun back to the passenger and recommend
locking it in a car or finding some other safe place for it. TSA doesnít
track what happens to the people who are arrested.