The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) intercepted more guns on airline passengers in 2023 than any other year with a record 6,737 firearms stopped at TSA security checkpoints at airports across the United States.
Despite clear signage and the risk of civil penalties and even criminal conviction in many states, the vast majority of firearms found by TSA agents last year were loaded.
Only 7% of the intercepted firearms weren’t loaded, but even then, guns can only be transported on domestic flights if they are locked within a secure hard-sided case within a passenger’s checked-in luggage.
The airport with the most offenders was Atlanta with 451 intercepted firearms, followed by Dallas Fort Worth with 373 intercepted firearms, Houston with 311, Phoenix with 235, and Nashville rounding out the top five worst airports for firearm interceptions with 188 intercepted guns.
“We are still seeing far too many firearms at TSA checkpoints, and what’s particularly concerning is the amount of them loaded, presenting an unnecessary risk to everyone at the TSA checkpoint,” commented TSA Administrator David Pekoske on Wednesday.
“Firearms and ammunition are strictly prohibited in carry-on baggage,” Pekoske continued. “Passengers are only allowed to travel with an unloaded firearm, and only if they pack it properly in a locked, hard-sided case in their checked baggage and first declare it to the airline at the check-in counter.”
Despite the record number of firearms interceptions, which was UP from 6,542 in 2022, there was at least some good news.
Last year, the TSA screened more than 858 million passengers, which means that the interception rate per million passengers fell to 7.8 from 8.6 million in 2022.
The final three months of 2023 were perhaps the busiest time for the TSA, with 18 firearms being located every single day from the start of October through year-end.
The TSA has the power to fine passengers between $3,000 and $10,700 for attempting to bring a loaded firearm through an airport security checkpoint. Repeat offenders face a potential maximum civil penalty of $14,950 plus criminal referral.
In addition, if you have TSA PreCheck, expect that benefit to be rescined for at least five years.
Before the pandemic, the TSA only found 4,432 firearms in 2019, although it remains unclear whether more passengers are no longer heeding security rules or whether the TSA has just gotten better at screening carry-on luggage.
The TSA failed to intercept the firearm, which was lurking in the bottom of U.S. State Senator Jeff Wilson’s bag when he started an international trip to Asia from his local Portland Airport in October 2023.
Senator Wilson, 19th Legislative District for the State of Washington, only discovered the gun after he was on the international segment of his flight to Hong Kong and ended up getting arrested when he declared the firearm to authorities.
Thankfully for Senator Wilson, in the end, the Hong Kong judicial system dropped the charges against Senator Wilson.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.