US fliers were caught packing heat at record levels last year, the Transportation Security Administration said Monday.
TSA agents seized 6,542 guns, almost all of which were loaded, at the nation’s airports in 2022, an average of 18 a day — the highest ever recorded, the agency said.
“What we see in our checkpoints really reflects what we’re seeing in society, and in society, there are more people carrying firearms nowadays,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske said.
But Pekoske insisted that the figures are no indication of a potential spike in would-be hijackings or terrorism. The bulk of the gun-toting travelers appeared to simply forget they had a gun, he said.
The number of guns intercepted at US airports has risen every year since 2010, except for the pandemic-tainted year of 2020, when air travel dipped, the agency said. Last year’s gun grab was about a 10 percent increase over the record-setting year before.
Atlanta’s airport topped the list of intercepted guns last year, with 448 seized there.
The most guns also were confiscated at airports in gun-friendly states such as Texas and Florida, as well as cities such as Nashville, Phoenix and Denver.
The TSA’s top official in Atlanta, Robert Spinden, said the frustrated agency has gone above and beyond to curtail the number over the past two years.
“There’s signage all over the airport,” he said. “There is announcements, holograms, TVs. There’s quite a bit of information that is sort of flashing before your eyes just to try to remind you as a last-ditch effort that if you do own a firearm, do you know where it’s at?”
Stashing weapons in luggage is a huge headache for TSA agents, the agency said.
“It’s disruptive no matter what,” said ex-TSA official Keith Jeffries. “It’s a dangerous, prohibited item, and, let’s face it, you should know where your gun is, for crying out loud!”
The agency has tried to put deterrents in place, including upping the fine for trying to carry a gun on a plane to as much as $14,950 and leveling a suspension of pre-check flight status for up to five year, as well as potential confiscation of the weapon.
The number of weapons turning up in airport luggage mirrors the spike in gun ownership in the country: The National Shooting Sports Foundation, which tracks FBI info on background checks conducted for firearms sales, reported about 16.4 million checks in 2022, a jump over just 7 million conducted in 2000.
With The Associated Press
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