WASHINGTON, DC -- Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers stopped 55 handguns at Virginia airport security checkpoints in 2020, a 25.6 percent decrease from the 74 guns caught in 2019, however there was a dramatic drop of approximately 65 percent of passengers who flew last year due to the pandemic. Each of the firearms were discovered by TSA officers during the routine screening of carry-on property at airport security checkpoints.
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.
Across the airports in Virginia, only Richmond International Airport saw an increase in the number of guns that were brought to the airport’s checkpoints.
Firearms caught by TSA officers at airport checkpoints in Virginia, 2016 to 2020
Richmond International Airport
Norfolk International Airport
Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport
Washington Dulles International Airport
Charlottesville-Albemarle Regional Airport
Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport
Lynchburg Regional Airport
Newport News-Williamsburg Regional Airport
Travelers who bring firearms to the checkpoint are subject to criminal charges from law enforcement and civil penalties from TSA. Even if a traveler has a concealed weapon permit, firearms are not permitted to be carried onto an airplane. However, travelers with proper firearm permits 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
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)
Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)
Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH)
Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX)
Denver International Airport (DEN)
Nashville International Airport (BNA)
Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL)
Orlando International Airport (MCO)
Las Vegas McCarran International Airport (LAS)
Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC)
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
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.