For a variety of reasons—but mostly due to plain-old forgetfulness—a growing number of American travelers are being found with handguns packed inside their carry-on baggage at airport Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoints.
Just 5 years ago, when airline passenger traffic was slightly higher than it is now, TSA agents discovered a total of about 500 handguns in carry-on bags at checkpoints over a 12-month period. A recent posting on the TSA Blog notes that last year the number of firearms discovered at TSA airport checkpoints across the country increased about two-and-a-half times the 2007 level, to nearly 1,200.
Most sportsmen and gun owners are aware that traveling by air with firearms is allowed, but only in checked baggage and when properly declared during check-in. The complete TSA regulations regarding traveling with firearms may be found here.
Through Thursday, June 7, TSA agents have already found 567 guns in carry-on bags, according to the updated count posted each week on the TSA Blog, which identifies the guns by caliber, the airport where discovered, and whether or not they were loaded.
Not surprisingly, most are found loaded.
Of the 22 handguns discovered during the week beginning June 1 and ending June 7, 18 were loaded.
“Every time we [find a handgun], the local law enforcement authority for that airport is notified,” according to TSA spokesman David Castelveter. “At that point, they determine what action they are going to take. Sometimes it may be just detaining and questioning. Other times it may be an arrest, depending on the circumstances.”
Citing the data provided by the TSA, New York Times travel reporter Joe Sharkey speculates in a recent article that the increase of incidents involving handguns in airline carry-ons is due in part to the growth in the number of states with liberalized concealed-carry laws, as well as because of an overall increase in the number of Americans who own and carry handguns for personal protection.
“Unfortunately these sorts of occurrences are all too frequent, which is why we talk about these finds,” TSA blogger Bob Burns wrote in his blog last week. “Just because we find a prohibited item on an individual does not mean they had bad intentions; that’s for the law enforcement officer to decide. In many cases, people simply forgot they had these items.”