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July 22, 2014

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TSA finds guns on hundreds of passengers each year

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Damian Dovarganes / AP

An unidentified Transportation Security Administration screener advises passengers to take all loaded cameras and film sensitive materials out of luggage before their luggage is screened at the gates the Los Angeles International Airport Thursday, April 22, 2004.

WASHINGTON — Transportation Security Administration officers don't carry guns, but airline passengers do.

Nearly every day, and sometimes multiple times a day, TSA officers find all manner of guns on passengers or in their carry bags, pocketbooks and briefcases as they try to pass through screening in the U.S.

In the first six months of this year, Transportation Security Administration screeners found 894 guns, a 30 percent increase over the same period last year. The TSA set a record in May for the most guns seized in one week — 65 in all, 45 of them loaded and 15 with bullets in the chamber and ready to be fired. That was 30 percent more than the previous record of 50 guns, set just two weeks earlier.

Last year TSA found 1,549 firearms on passengers attempting to go through screening, up 17 percent from the year before. The number of guns found by TSA at checkpoints has more than doubled in the past eight years. There were 660 firearms found in 2005, the year TSA began keeping data on the incidents.

Passengers are prohibited from carrying any type of gun on board a plane.

But some passengers are positively bristling with weapons. TSA officers noticed that one passenger who took off his jacket to go through screening in Sacramento, Calif., last year was wearing a shoulder holster. In the holster was a loaded 9 mm pistol. The same passenger was also found to have three more loaded pistols, 192 rounds of ammunition, two magazines and three knives.

Just this week, TSA discovered 29 guns, 27 of which were loaded and nine had rounds chambered ready to be fired, according to information posted on the agency's website. Screeners have found pistols hidden in tape decks, inside boots, in the lining of carry-on bags and even one that was disguised to look like a writing pen.

Airports in the South and the West, where the American gun culture is strongest, had the greatest number of guns intercepted, according to TSA data.

Of the 12 airports with the most guns last year, five are in Texas: Dallas-Fort Worth International, 80 guns; George Bush Intercontinental in Houston, 52; Dallas Love Field, 37; William P. Hobby in Houston, 35; and Austin-Bergstrom International, 33. Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta had the most for any airport, at 96. Others include Phoenix Sky Harbor, 54; Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International in Florida, 42; Denver International, 39; Seattle-Tacoma International, 37; Orlando International Airport in Florida, 36; and Tampa International in Florida, 33.

When expressed as a proportion of airport traffic volume, small airports in the West and South lead the way. The airport in Roswell, N.M., had 8.5 guns intercepted per 100,000 passengers last year; Cedar City, Utah, and Provo, Utah, both 6.5; Longview, Texas, 4.9; Dickinson, N.D., 4; Joplin, Mo., 3.8; Twin Falls, Idaho, 3.4; Fort Smith, Ark., 3.3; and Walla Walla, Wash., and Elko, Nev., both 2.9.

TSA officials have said they have no idea why passengers try to carry guns with them onto planes when virtually everyone who flies knows that's forbidden. Passengers are allowed to take guns with them when they fly, but only as checked baggage. They are required to fill out a form declaring the weapons and to carry them in a hard-sided bag with a lock.

Many passengers found to have guns by screeners are arrested, but not all. It depends on the gun laws where the airport is located. If the state or jurisdiction where the airport is located has tolerant gun laws, TSA screeners will frequently hand the gun back to the passenger and recommend locking it in a car or finding some other safe place for it. TSA doesn't track what happens to the people who are arrested.

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