The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is on track to confiscate more firearms from travelers in U.S. airports this year than it has at any time in the past decade, Michael England, a spokesman for the agency, tells The Trace. The projection is consistent with an upward trend: since 2005 — with the exception of 2007, when there was a slight dip — the number of gun seizures at airports has increased on an annual basis.
So far in 2015, TSA agents have seized 1,774 firearms at the more than 450 airports under the agency’s jurisdiction. The number, calculated from reports provided by the TSA and confiscation summaries on its blog, is bolstered by a record-breaking catch of firearms last week: Between September 11–17, a total of 67 guns were confiscated in security lines. Of those firearms, 56 were loaded, and 26 had a bullet in the chamber. (The former figure is part of a broader trend, too. In 2014, of the 2,212 guns that were intercepted in U.S. airports across the country, 83 percent were loaded.)
England says the increase in confiscations is due to “a slight uptick in the number of people flying” and “improved performance by screeners,” though he declined to elaborate. “It’s a security risk,” he explained.
When asked if the increase in seizures might have to do with the fact that more Americans have concealed carry permits, he said, “Certainly that’s one conclusion someone can draw, but I wouldn’t.”
In June, The Trace looked at that possible correlation between concealed carry permits and gun seizures. To wit:
According to the Crime Prevention Research Center, some 12 million Americans had concealed-carry permits last year, compared with 8 million in 2011. Extend the timeline, and the surge becomes even more dramatic: From 1999–2007, the overall number of new permits increased by about 240,000 per year. From 2008–2011, that figure tripled, to 844,000 new permits per year. And from the end of 2011–2014, a whopping 1.4 million new permits were being issued each year. (The center also notes that its numbers don’t account for every citizen who can legally carry a gun, because five states and much of Montana do not even require a permit.)Airline Passengers Are Still Carrying Loaded Guns in Their Carry-on Luggage
The graphic below details the airports with the most seizures so far this year. Dallas/Fort Worth International and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International are two of the busiest airports in the United States. Both facilities also operate in states home to a large number of concealed permit holders: Texas clocks more than 800,000, while Georgia rings in at an estimated 600,000.
For the second year in a row, both airports also lead the way in gun seizures. In 2014, Dallas/Fort Worth topped the list with 120 interceptions, while Hartsfield-Jackson was close behind with 109. This year, Dallas/Fort Worth has already reached 107, and Hartsfield-Jackson, 106.
On the TSA’s blog, the agency posts photographs of the guns it seizes from travelers. According to England, it’s meant to be a kind of warning. “We want to discourage people from bringing guns to the airport,” he says. “We also want to show them that they’ll get caught.”
[Photo: Flickr user Daniel Hoherd]