TSA officers have already seized a record 1,500 guns, 1,295 of which were loaded, according to David Castelveter, TSA’s director of external communications. Most of these ended up at airport security checkpoints in the American South.
Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International, the world’s busiest airport by passenger numbers, saw the most firearms, along with five airports in Texas and two in Florida.
Beyond keeping a tally of incidents, Castelveter said the TSA doesn’t follow any arrests that may stem from the violations.
“We just keep track of the confiscations because the police don’t always keep us apprised of what happens,” he told travel news site Skift, which has monitored the trend throughout the year. “We don’t pay attention to the arrest unless it turns into an indictment and we have an agent give testimony in a trial.”
Castelveter said the TSA, which was created following the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, does not have detention authority.
“If somebody comes through with a weapon, the immediate procedure is to call the local authority,” he noted. “There are some states where they just tell you to take it back to the car, in others [like New York] you’ll end up at Rikers.”
Those without a permit to own a gun typically face more serious charges.
TSA’s Bob Burns keeps track of weapons violations each Friday on the agency’s tongue-in-cheek blog.
“In many cases, people simply forgot they had these items,” he said in a recent weekly roundup. “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.”
Still, he urged passengers to leave these items at home. On average, Burns said TSA officers catch about four travelers each day trying to pass through security with a gun. Other seized weapons in 2012 included grenades, axes, throwing stars and a bazooka.
Travelers are allowed to check-in with basic firearms depending on the states they’re traveling between and what gun they have. They’re required to notify the airline in advance, and the guns must be unloaded and stored in a hard-locked case in checked baggage.
The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that left 26 dead on Dec. 14 put gun control at the forefront of a heated debate, leaving many advocates on the defensive. Some say the prohibitions while flying are too limiting, as the Second Amendment offers Americans the right to bear arms and defend themselves against an attacker.
Others point to the fact that in the week after the shooting, between Dec. 14 and Dec. 21, TSA officers confiscated 34 handguns. Only two were unloaded. The first week of December was even busier, with 41 guns, a stun gun, four grenades and a rocket launcher seized at security.