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TSA reports more guns found in luggage as passengers return to airports

(Travelers going through the security checkpoint at Salt Lake International. Credit: Paul Nelson, file)

As airports begin to see a five-month high in air traffic, TSA reports finding guns in passenger carry-on bags at three times the rate before the pandemic — with 80% of these guns loaded. 

Security officers found roughly 15.3 guns for every 1 million people screened at airports in July. Last July, security officers found a much smaller 5.1 guns per million people. 

“Even more concerning is that 80% of the firearms coming into the checkpoint are loaded, and it’s just an accident waiting to happen,” David Pekoske, TSA administrator, told USA Today.

The numbers come at the same time airports across the U.S. are reporting more travelers. TSA agents screened 831,789 people Sunday. It’s the first time TSA has topped 800,000 people since March 17 — when several states began experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks. 

Pekoske said the coronavirus pandemic forced security officers to adapt already to increased risks.

“[N]o one should be introducing new ones,” he said. 

U.S. laws allow passengers to travel with guns in checked bags, but only with the guns unloaded. Passengers must also transport those weapons in a locked case. However, passengers who improperly pack a gun in carry-on bags could face federal civil penalties. Violators could also lose Pre-Check privileges. 

However, the TSA leaves most criminal charges up to local authorities to decide. 

In 2019, TSA reported 4,432 guns found in carry-on bags — or roughly 12.1 per day. Around 87% of those guns were found loaded.