TSA firearm discoveries at Tennessee airports nearly triple the national rate in 2020

MEM and CHA post higher firearm totals than 2019 despite reduced passenger throughput
Local Press Release
Tuesday, January 26, 2021

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers at Tennessee airports discovered a total of 162 firearms in travelers’ carry-on luggage in 2020, a decrease of only 19 over the number discovered in 2019, despite a dramatic reduction in the number of travelers departing these airports due to the coronavirus global pandemic. Each of the firearms were discovered by TSA officers during the routine screening of carry-on property at airport security checkpoints.

Three airports – Nashville International Airport (BNA), McGhee Tyson Airport (TYS) and Tri-Cities Airport (TRI) – saw a decrease in the number of firearms brought by passengers in carry-on luggage while two airports – Memphis International Airport (MEM) and Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport (CHA) – saw a slight increase.

Here is a breakdown of TSA firearm discoveries for the past three years at Tennessee airports:

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Tennessee total:




National total:




In 2020, TSA screened approximately 324 million travelers at airports nationwide. That figure represents just 39 percent of approximately 824 million screened in 2019. Despite decreased passenger loads due to the COVID-19 pandemic, TSA officers across the country discovered firearms in carry-on luggage at a rate twice what it was in 2019 and the highest rate since the agency’s inception. Last year, TSA detected 10.2 firearms per million passengers screened as compared to 5 firearms per million passengers screened in 2019. 

Statewide in 2020, TSA screened approximately 5.68 million departing travelers at the five commercial Tennessee airports, about 44 percent of the total number screened in 2019.

Nationwide, a firearm was detected for every 99,583 passengers screened. In Tennessee, the rate was one firearm discovered per every 35,104 passenger screened.

In addition to potential criminal citations, travelers face civil penalties for bringing firearms to the security checkpoint and TSA evaluates each firearm incident on a case-by-case basis. Among the factors TSA considers when determining the civil penalty amount includes whether the firearm was loaded and whether there was accessible ammunition.

The recommended civil penalty for a firearm starts at $2,050 and can go up to a maximum of $10,250 per violation. Even if a traveler has a concealed weapons permit, firearms are not permitted in carry-on luggage.

In addition to civil penalties, individuals who violate rules regarding traveling with firearms will have Trusted Traveler status and TSA PreCheckTM expedited screening benefits revoked for a period of time. The duration of the disqualification will depend upon the seriousness of the offense and if there is a repeated history of violations.

Firearms can be transported on a commercial aircraft only if they are unloaded, packed in a locked, hard-sided case and placed in checked baggage. Any type of replica firearm is prohibited in carry-on baggage and must be transported in checked luggage.

At the airport during the check-in process, a passenger needs to go to the airline ticket counter to declare the firearm, ammunition and any firearm parts. Prior to traveling, passengers are encouraged to check gun laws and regulations at their destination to ensure they are in compliance with local and state laws. TSA also recommends travelers check with their airline prior to their flight to ensure they comply with any airline-specific requirements.

TSA has additional traveler information specifically related to the transportation of firearms and ammunition. A full summary of TSA’s civil penalties for prohibited items is also available.

TSA reminds passengers to be aware of the contents of their carry-on bag prior to coming to the security checkpoint. TSA has multiple resources available to passengers to help them determine whether an item is permitted in carry-on baggage, checked baggage or not at all.

Travelers can use the “Can I Bring?” feature on the TSA website or on the TSA mobile app, myTSA. 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 weekdays from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. EST weekends.