The TSA set a new record in 2014 for firearms confiscated from passengers trying to board airplanes, catching more than 2,000 of them, the agency said.
Worse yet, more than 70 percent of those guns were loaded and some even had a round in the chamber, Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said.
The 2,210 guns seized in 2014 marked a 20 percent spike over 2013’s take of 1,813, and continues a trend of annual increases dating back to the middle of last decade, when just 660 guns were confiscated in 2005.
Jeff Price, an aviation security analyst in Colorado, said the problem is that more people are carrying concealed weapons every day and simply forgetting that they have a firearm when they head to the airport.
“I think a lot forget that they have them with them because they’re so used to carrying them in purses, laptop bags, on belts,” he said. “It becomes a natural extension like their phone or car keys or wallet, they literally don’t even think twice about it.”
As evidence, he points to the fact that states with more relaxed concealed carry laws have seen a spike in guns being brought to TSA checkpoints, while those with strict laws like New York have seen little increase in recent years.
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Five of the top 12 airports where the most guns were confiscated in 2014 are in Texas, where there are looser concealed carry laws: Dallas-Fort Worth was No. 1; George Bush Intercontinental Airport and William P. Hobby Airport, both in Houston, ranked 4th and 6th respectively; Dallas Love Field was 11th and Austin-Bergstrom International Airport was 12th.
Officers at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport collected the second most guns in 2014, though the airport has taken the No. 1 spot the past two years.
TSA officers also found several stun guns, inert grenades and cane swords during the year, according to the TSA blog. They also regularly found live ammunition, which is permitted in checked luggage but not in carry-on bags.
While not its primary mission, TSA also seized illegal drugs and other paraphernalia, including 3 pounds of cocaine wrapped inside a package with raw meat and a marijuana pipe inside a hollowed out peanut butter jar.
Mr. Price said he thinks the country has generally become less concerned with airport security in the 13 years since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and as a result passengers put less thought into what they bring to the airport.
“It used to be going to the airport, you know you were going to be there for hours, you’d wait to go through the checkpoint, you prepared for going to the airport like preparing for a camping trip,” he said. “Nowadays, we’re a long way from 9/11 and falling back to same old, same old. People just, it’s not on their minds as much.”
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While he thinks many firearms get to security checkpoints by accident, he acknowledged that there will always be some people who try to deliberately sneak a gun onto a plane.
A passenger was arrested at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York last month after screeners found a .22-caliber handgun broken down into pieces and hidden inside a PlayStation 2, the TSA said. The passenger was also carrying a video game, “Nicktoons: Attack of the Toybots.”
Sheldon Jacobson, a professor in the department of computer science at the University of Illinois, said that while the number of seized firearms is an interesting statistic, it doesn’t give a complete picture of how well TSA officers are doing in keeping airplanes secure.
There are no statistics, for example, about how many guns officers missed or how many of the seized guns would have been used for an attack if allowed on the plane — though he said these would be nearly impossible to measure, anyway.
He also said explosions are a larger concern now, and there’s no data on how many explosives were detected at checkpoints.
“Cockpits and planes themselves have been hardened so much that even if someone had a gun on an airplane, it’d be very difficult for them to do anything with it to bring an airplane down,” he said.