US airport security intercepted over 6,500 guns in 2022. Why are people flying with firearms?
American airport security intercepted more than 6,500 guns at last year - an all time record.
US’s Transportation Security Administration seized around 18 firearms per day throughout 2022, confiscating 6,542 over the course of the year.
The number reflects a wider trend towards increased gun ownership, TSA administrator David Pekoske said.
"What we see in our checkpoints really reflects what we're seeing in society, and in society there are more people carrying firearms nowadays," he warned.
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Why are there so many guns in U.S airports?
With the exception of pandemic-disrupted 2020, the number of weapons intercepted at airport checkpoints has climbed every year since 2010. Experts don't think this is an epidemic of would-be hijackers — nearly everyone caught claims to have forgotten they had a gun with them — but they emphasise the danger even one gun can pose in the wrong hands on a plane or at a checkpoint.
Guns have been intercepted at most airports. But it tends to happen more at bigger airports in areas with laws more friendly to carrying a gun, Pekoske said. T
he top 10 list for gun interceptions in 2022 includes Dallas, Austin and Houston in Texas; three airports in Florida; Nashville, Tennessee; Atlanta; Phoenix; and Denver.
Atlanta's airport, one of the world's busiest with roughly 85,000 people going through checkpoints on a busy day, had 448 guns intercepted in 2022 — the highest tally of any airport.
Pekoske isn't sure the "I forgot" excuse is always true or whether it's a natural reaction to getting caught. Regardless, he said, it's a problem that must stop.
What happens if someone leaves a gun in their bag?
When TSA staffers see what they believe to be a weapon on the X-ray machine, they usually stop the belt so the bag stays inside the machine and the passenger can't get to it. Then they call in local police.
Repercussions vary depending on local and state laws. The person may be arrested and have the gun confiscated. But sometimes they're allowed to give the gun to a companion not flying with them and continue on their way.
Unloaded guns can also be placed in checked bags assuming they follow proper procedures.
Those federal fines are the TSA's tool to punish those who bring a gun to a checkpoint. Last year TSA raised the maximum fine to $14,950 as a deterrent. Passengers also lose their PreCheck status — it allows them to bypass some types of screening — for five years.
It used to be three years, but about a year ago the agency increased the time and changed the rules.
Passengers may also miss their flight as well as lose their gun. If federal officials can prove the person intended to bring the gun past the checkpoint into what's called the airport's sterile area, it's a federal offence.
Retired TSA official Keith Jeffries said gun interceptions can also slow other passengers in line.
"It's disruptive no matter what," Jeffries said. "It's a dangerous, prohibited item and, let's face it, you should know where your gun is at, for crying out loud."
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How many guns are there in America?
The National Shooting Sports Foundation, an industry trade group, tracks FBI data about background
checks completed for a firearm sale. The numbers were a little over 7 million in 2000 and about 16.4 million last year. They went even higher during the coronavirus pandemic.
There are an estimated 400 million guns in possession in America - roughly 120 firearms per 100 people.