Air traffic

TSA seized record number of firearms in 2021 despite air traffic drop

The increase in the number of firearms is particularly marked in relation to the decrease in the number of passengers.

In 2019, the TSA said it found a firearm for every 197,358 passengers. In 2021, this rate doubled to one firearm detected per 97,999 passengers.

This “status quo is simply unacceptable,” said Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (DN.J.), chair of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation and Maritime Security, which has explored ways to reduce the number of firearms seized at airports.

Why the number of guns has increased while airline passenger traffic has plummeted is unclear. Increase in arms sales could be a contributing factor. The same goes for the changing nature of passengers during the pandemic. As airlines lowered ticket prices to attract customers, this theory believes that more passengers who don’t usually fly took to the skies, even as business travelers and frequent flyers stayed home.

“They’re not as familiar with the rules or used to checking for contraband before going to the airport,” said Jeffrey C. Price, professor of aerospace at Metropolitan State University in Denver, in an e -mail. “This is the most common justification given for the increase.”

Whatever the reason, “the increase in incidents involving unruly passengers, along with the increase in firearms being injected into the aviation environment, is a toxic combination,” Watson Coleman said. “Bringing a gun to a checkpoint is a federal crime. If you intend to bring a gun on a plane, you can go to jail for it.

At a recent hearing chaired by Watson Coleman, Balram Bheodari, general manager of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, suggested tougher penalties, mandating gun safety training for violators and to include them on the no-fly list until the end of the training.

Jason D. Wallis, The president of the Airport Law Enforcement Agencies Network and the Portland Port Police Chief, also recommended “drastically increasing civil penalties” and permanently, not just temporarily, revoking the benefits of the trusted traveler program, which allows passengers to access fast-track lanes before airport checkpoints.

The top Republican on the subcommittee opposed tougher penalties and more effective passenger education, through “greater signage throughout the airport.”

“It’s not about gun control,” said Rep. Carlos A. Gimenez (Florida), sticking to a Republican mantra. “It’s a matter of education.”

But contrary to common Republican talking points about federal employees, Gimenez also pushed for a pay raise for “our dedicated transportation security officers. … They deserve better pay that reflects the immense value they bring to our aviation system.

He also urged the TSA to secure next-generation scanning technology “to accurately find firearms and other prohibited items in carry-on baggage.” On Friday, the TSA announced a $781 million purchase of advanced X-ray scanners for airports that create 3D images of carry-on luggage.

This workforce was particularly busy 10 best airports where the TSA caught guns last year. They were all in the South and West, with Atlanta by far the leader with 507.

The latest technology helps, but, said AFL-CIO President Greg Regan Department of Transportation Trades, “There is no action, response, or antidote to the current surge in illegal passenger-carrying firearms more effective than a TSA workforce well trained and well treated.”

Witnesses from two airports present at the hearing agreed that more than 90% of travelers caught with a weapon said they simply forgot about it. This led Gimenez to doubt the effectiveness of tougher penalties against offenders “because it was a mistake”.

But a failing memory is not an acceptable excuse for Watson. Colman.

Noting that 86% of guns found by the TSA are loaded, “I find it hard to believe that 90% of people who get caught with a gun in their bag forgot they had it. And even if they forgot they had it, it’s still an illegal act, and we have to treat it as such.

The danger of guns at airports was demonstrated in November, when a passenger attempted to pass through security in Atlanta with a gun in his bag.

“When his bag was selected for secondary examination, he reached into the bag and grabbed his gun,” Bheodari recalled. “The weapon discharged, once, and the passengers in the security queue naturally took cover.” Passengers, in a long line, panicked, ran, “just give up and start running for safety,” he said. The airport was closed for 2.5 hours, with an estimated financial impact of $6.25 million.

With guns at airports, Watson Coleman said “the possibility of tragedy is hard to overestimate.”

TSA Administrator David Pekoske said CBS News in January that getting caught with a gun at a checkpoint can be costly in more ways than one.

“Be aware that if you have a weapon and it is detected at the checkpoint, it is going to take you a lot longer first,” he said. “Second, there could be local law enforcement action. And third, we’ll be pursuing a civil penalty action, so it’s a very costly mistake to make. Fines range up to $13,910.

Over the past three years, regardless of fines, messages and signage, “the number of guns loaded at every airport just blew it,” Wallis said. “It’s at insane levels” and must be stopped before the checkpoint.

Regarding passengers, forgetful or not, who bring a gun into an airport, he added, “this is, in my view, very irresponsible gun possession.”