For the 50+ Traveler

Transportation Security Administration officials confiscated record numbers of firearms at security checkpoints at U.S. airports during 2020.

TSA officers discovered 3,257 firearms in carry-on luggage during airport screenings in 2020. That number represents about 10 guns found for every one million passengers, more than double the rate from 2019.

Southern cities took up six of the top 10 locations where guns were discovered in 2020, topped by Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, where 220 guns were found.

Other cities in the top 10 were Dallas (176), Houston (126), Phoenix (124), Denver (104), Nashville (94), Fort Lauderdale (87), Orlando (79), Las Vegas (72), and Salt Lake City (71).

More total guns were found in 2019, 4,432, but the number of passengers screened in 2020 dropped by 500 million due to the coronavirus pandemic, officials said. The 2019 rate was about five for every one million passengers.

Of the firearms discovered in 2020, 83 percent, or five out of every six guns, were loaded.

“I commend our officers for their commitment to TSA’s security mission by identifying and stopping these weapons at the TSA checkpoints,” said Darby LaJoye, the current senior official at TSA. “Bringing a firearm to a TSA security checkpoint poses a serious risk to TSA officer and passenger safety.”

The data only represents TSA checkpoints and excludes weapons found improperly packed in checked luggage, toys, replicas, and BB guns.

Passengers found with a gun at a TSA checkpoint face civil penalties that vary based on the number of previous offenses and whether the gun was loaded. In addition, local police may file criminal charges against the passenger.

Firearms are not allowed in the passenger cabin of commercial flights, including for travelers with concealed carry permits. Travelers can fly with firearms in checked luggage as long as it is properly stored and declared at check-in.

The increase in guns discovered at airports in 2020 correlates with a massive surge in gun sales during the year. Due in part to the pandemic and a year of unrest, nearly 23 million firearms were purchased (PDF) in 2020. The number of guns purchased by Labor Day 2020 surpassed the total for all of 2019, records show.

Those figures do not account for weapons that were sold illegally without a background check.

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