TSA continued to detect firearms at Pennsylvania airports in 2020

Philadelphia International Airport saw a notable increase in guns caught last year
Local Press Release
Tuesday, January 26, 2021
This loaded handgun was detected by a TSA officer at Philadelphia International Airport in November 2020. (TSA photo)

PHILADELPHIA - Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers stopped 57 handguns at Pennsylvania airport security checkpoints in 2020, a decrease from the 71 caught in 2020 during a year in which there was a dramatic drop of approximately 65 percent of passengers who flew last year due to the pandemic.

However, Philadelphia International Airport saw a marked increase in the number of guns caught at checkpoints in spite of the lower passenger volume. TSA officers detected 26 firearms at the airport checkpoints last year compared to 20 in 2019, approximately a 30 percent increase in the number of guns that travelers brought to the checkpoints in Philadelphia.

Nationwide, TSA officers detected 3,257 firearms on passengers or their carry-on bags at checkpoints last year, although the total number of passengers screened at airport checkpoints across the country fell by 500 million compared to 2019 due to the pandemic. The result was that twice as many firearms per million passengers screened were detected at checkpoints in 2020 compared to 2019. In 2020, TSA caught approximately 10 firearms per million passengers as compared to about 5 firearms per million passengers in 2019.  Of the guns caught by TSA in 2020, about 83 percent were loaded. Firearms were caught at 234 airport checkpoints nationwide.

TSA firearms caught at TSA checkpoints in airports in Pennsylvania, 2017 to 2020

Airport

2017

2018

2019

2020

Philadelphia International Airport (PHL)

35

25

20

26

Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT)

32

34

35

21

Harrisburg International Airport (MDT)

6

6

7

4

Lehigh Valley International Airport (ABE)

4

7

1

3

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport (AVP)

1

 1

4

1

Arnold Palmer Regional Airport (LBE)

2

2

3

1

Erie International Airport (ERI)

0

0

0

1

University Park Airport (UNV)

0

0

1

0

Totals

80

 75

71

57

Travelers who bring firearms to the checkpoint are subject to criminal charges from law enforcement and can travel legally with their firearms in their checked bags if they follow a few simple guidelines.

Top 10 Airports with guns caught by TSA at checkpoints in 2020

Rank

Airport (Code)

Total

1

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)

220

2

Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)

176

3

Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH)

126

4

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX)

124

5

Denver International Airport (DEN)

104

6

Nashville International Airport (BNA)

94

7

Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL)

87

8

Orlando International Airport (MCO)

79

9

Las Vegas McCarran International Airport (LAS)

72

10

Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC)

71

Firearm possession laws vary by state and locality. TSA advises travelers to familiarize themselves with state and local firearm laws for each point of travel prior to departure to ensure that they have the proper gun permits for the states that they are traveling to and from. Airlines may have additional requirements for traveling with firearms and ammunition so travelers should also contact the airline regarding firearm and ammunition carriage policies prior to arriving at the airport.

Passengers are permitted to travel with firearms in checked baggage if they are unloaded, packed in a hard-side case, locked, and packed separately from ammunition. Ammunition must be in its original box and can be packed inside the hard-side case, next to the firearm. Even if the box of ammunition is not full, the bullets must be in their original case. Then the case with the firearm should be brought to the airline check-in counter and the airline representative informed that the passenger wants to travel with the gun. Firearms are transported inside checked baggage and are placed in the belly of the aircraft so that nobody has access to them during the flight. TSA has details on how to properly travel with a firearm posted on its web site.

Individuals who bring weapons to a checkpoint are subject to federal civil penalties of up to $13,669. A typical first offense for carrying a handgun into a checkpoint is $4,100. The complete list of penalties is posted online.     

National statistics: Firearms caught by TSA at checkpoints, 2008 to 2020

Year

Nationwide

2020

3,257

2019

4,432

2018

4,239

2017

 3,957

2016

3,391

2015

2,653

2014

2,212

2013

1,813

2012

1,556

2011

1,320

2010

1,123

2009

976

2008

926

TSA officers continued their overall vigilance in protecting our nation’s transportation systems in 2020, in spite of the pandemic, including catching other prohibited items at the checkpoints.

Travelers can use the “What Can I Bring?” feature on the TSA website or on the free downloadable myTSA app. Travelers can also tweet or message “@AskTSA” if they have a travel question or are unsure if an item is allowed through security in a carry-on bag. Just snap a picture or send a question and get real-time assistance.

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