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A record number of firearms were found in bags at Transportation Security Administration airport check points across the U.S., the agency announced this week. In 2017, 3,957 firearms were found, an average of 10.8 per day, which is a 16.7 percent increase over the 3,391 firearms found in 2016. But the increasing popularity of carrying concealed firearms, in addition to a boost in passenger numbers, could be to blame for the record-setting number, experts said.
“While it’s impossible to ascertain an exact, scientific reason for the increase, there does seem to be a correlation between the increase in the number of firearms caught and the increase in passenger volume,” said Mike England, a national spokesperson for TSA. The spike in seizures far outpaced the rise in passenger volume. In 2016, 738.3 million passengers went through federal airport checkpoints, as compared with 771.5 million in 2017, a 4.5 percent increase.
Guns weren’t the only thing passengers (such as former Mississippi Governor and Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour) tried to bring on board. TSA agents also discovered grenades, gun powder and, in one instance, an inert box of explosives. They were being carried by a military instructor, who told TSA he forgot they were in his carry on bag while traveling through Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport.
Of the firearms discovered at checkpoints, 84 percent were loaded (including Barbour’s). Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport led the nation in firearms found by TSA, with 245, followed by Dallas Fort Worth International, George Bush Continental Airport in Houston and Denver International. Atlanta’s airport is the world’s busiest.
Jeff Price, a professor of aviation management at the Metropolitan State University of Denver, said that the rates of recovered firearms at TSA checkpoints could be higher in states where concealed carry is more common. “In Georgia, they have a situation at the Atlanta airport where you can lawfully carry into the airport as long as you don’t get into the TSA line,” he explained. “The states where there’s more firearms typically carried, there’s just more of a chance you’ll have it at the checkpoint.”
Price also attributes the increase to new screening policies TSA introduced last year. The updated security measures require that flyers put electronics larger than a phone into bins. “That could be responsible for some of the higher numbers because they’re better able to see what’s left in the bag,” he said.
Confusion surrounding concealed carry laws is one of several contributing factors to the increased number of firearms found at checkpoints, Price added. “I think, unfortunately, there’s a lot of people who forget they have [a gun]. A lot of people, they’ll put it in their laptop bag and they’ll put it in a purse. They’ll forget they have it with them.”
In December, the House of Representatives approved the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Bill, which would allow the concealed transport of handguns across state lines and supersede state statutes on concealed firearms. If the Senate passes the same legislation and it becomes law, this could lead to even more firearms ending up in carry on bags, Price said. “A lot of people aren’t aware you can’t do it and a lot of people just forget that they have it.”
©2018 Bloomberg L.P.