TSA Breaks New Firearms Record In 2023

TSA Breaks New Firearms Record In 2023

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The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has just announced that a new record was set in 2023… for the number of firearms stopped at security checkpoints.

18 guns stopped at TSA checkpoints daily, most loaded

Now that it’s 2024, the TSA has revealed data about the number of firearms that were stopped at security checkpoints in 2023. Over the course of the year, the TSA stopped 6,737 firearms at airport checkpoints, and 93% of those weapons were loaded.

As a point of comparison, in 2022, the TSA stopped 6,542 firearms at airport checkpoints, with 88% being loaded.

While 2023 represents a new record in terms of the total number of firearms stopped at airports, at least the percentage of passengers traveling with undeclared firearms has decreased slightly, thanks to the increased number of travelers in 2023. While 2023 saw 7.8 firearms intercepted per million passengers, in 2022 that number was 8.6 firearms per million passengers.

Prior to the pandemic, we saw a huge increase in the number of guns being stopped as a percentage of passengers, so I guess if there’s any silver lining, it’s that this is starting to plateau.

Of the top 10 airports for firearm discoveries, three were in Florida and three were in Texas, which I think will surprise no one. The other airports were in Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, and Tennessee.

TSA firearm statistics

What happens if the TSA catches with you a gun?

So, what happens if you’re caught with a firearm at a TSA checkpoint? The TSA makes three specific threats:

  • You could receive a civil penalty of up to $15,000
  • You could have your TSA PreCheck revoked for at least five years
  • The TSA may perform enhanced screening on you in the future (in other words, you get “SSSS” on your boarding pass)

On top of that, depending on state or local laws in an airport’s location, passengers who bring firearms to a checkpoint may be arrested by law enforcement. However, that seems to happen very rarely. Furthermore, it’s my understanding that very few people receive a civil penalty anywhere close to $15,000.

I’ll never be able to wrap my head around this

If roughly 18 guns are stopped at TSA checkpoints every day, one has to wonder how many aren’t stopped. Historically the TSA has missed 90%+ of weapons when tests were conducted. Has the TSA improved considerably, or are dozens of loaded firearms getting through security checkpoints daily?

Next, I just don’t get how careless people are with bringing guns to the airport. I’m not a gun owner, but if I’m understanding the argument for guns correctly, it’s about self defense and being responsible. If that’s the case, shouldn’t you always remember you have it on you, and take extreme precautions?

It just seems like someone who shows up at an airport and forgot they had a loaded gun isn’t exactly the most responsible person, and probably shouldn’t be allowed to own a gun (then again, that opens up a whole different can of worms).

Did most of the people getting caught just totally forget that they had a gun? Did they not realize they couldn’t take it on a plane? Did they want to see if they could get away with it? Did they want to save on checked bag fees?

It seems like the punishment is pretty minimal here. For that matter, in early 2021, a US representative tried to board a flight with a loaded gun. Not only was he not charged with any crime, but the gun was even secured at the airport so he could retrieve it upon his return, so that he wouldn’t miss his flight.

I don’t want to be grim, but is it going to take a mass shooting on a plane or past a security checkpoint for stricter punishments to be put into place, to deter people from accidentally bringing guns to the airport?

I have to assume that there’s not another country in the world where nearly 20 people per day show up at security checkpoints with loaded firearms, and they just act as if that’s normal.

Bottom line

The TSA has released data for 2023 regarding firearms at security checkpoints. Over the course of the year, 6,737 firearms were stopped at airports, and 93% of those were loaded. So yeah, over 18 people per day are being stopped at checkpoints with firearms.

What do you make of this data on firearms being stopped at TSA checkpoints?

Conversations (43)
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  1. omatravel Guest

    Ben, given you admit you have a lack of knowledge in this area, I think you need to take care in your statements to avoid spreading misinformation. You're a very reputable blogger and people are going to take your comments as facts instead of the questioning that I think you mean them to be.

    As someone who works in the area of security, in some cases at airports, and is a firearms carrier I have...

    Ben, given you admit you have a lack of knowledge in this area, I think you need to take care in your statements to avoid spreading misinformation. You're a very reputable blogger and people are going to take your comments as facts instead of the questioning that I think you mean them to be.

    As someone who works in the area of security, in some cases at airports, and is a firearms carrier I have a few comments that I think will help with some understanding.

    Firstly, while the wording of the infographic implies all of the 6700+ firearms were found in carry on bags, we really don't know how many were in a bag vs being actually carried. I have a feeling that a lot of them were in the bag and not on the person. With that context it becomes easier to understand why someone might forget, in many cases the reports I read, the passenger is in a rush and is using a bag they might normally carry a gun in for travel and they miss taking the gun out, either because they don't notice or don't remember its in there. While the implication is more serious, it's similar to those forget they have a bottle of liquid or other prohibited items and how often do we see that.

    As to your concerns about a mass shooting, we've already seen one of those at a checkpoint and into the gate area at LAX a few years ago. Any change in regulations or penalties would not have prevented it and those with ill intent will ignore those regulations anyway. Also in terms of potential body count, the two best locations are passenger check in and the screening lines, both of these don't require screening.

    From an intent perspective, for those getting caught, there doesn't seem to be one, in the last several years, we have not heard of a story where an individual was trying to smuggle a firearm past TSA with a plan to shoot someone or hijack a plane. The bigger concern I have is the risk of a negligent discharge while airborne which could lead to a catastrophic depressurization.

    It's unsurprising that TSA is catching a record # of guns at checkpoints because due to a number of factors, we are seeing more and more people carrying guns on them, many of them for the first time in their lives. Coming back to the problem though, there's no indication that the factors leading to the increased number of people carrying are going to change, so if there is a desire to reduce the # of incidents then a focus on using communications for awareness and prevention makes sense. The TSA publishing this and the news putting out stories will help raise awareness. My airport here has signage on all exterior doors to help remind people who might have thought. Perhaps there's a need to do the same during the check in process.

    At the end of the day though, despite seeing more firearms at the checkpoints, we're still seeing the number of firearm incidents post checkpoint at essentially 0, so I am less concerned about this than the continued shoddy workmanship we keep seeing from Boeing and its subcontractors. To me that represents a far greater threat to my safety.

    1. James K. Guest

      Look I have no desire to defend Boeing, but come on - how many people in the US have died in the last 20 years on a Boeing airliner, and how many from a firearm? It's about 1 vs. 500,000

  2. iamhere Guest

    Why....The chance of getting through with it is probably small....

  3. MoreSun Guest

    Doesn’t feel right to give FL and TX all the glory when ATL took 1st place by a good margin…

  4. DBB Guest

    In a perfect world, the passenger should never get the firearm back. The TSA guidelines do not specifically state anything like "Forfeiture of firearm" or something like that

    1. omatravel Guest

      Why? If you take the firearm away, there's no other penalties to prevent them from just buying another one, it's really just an extra fine.
      More importantly, the TSA legally doesn't have the ability to permenantly confiscate anything, all they can do is prevent it from coming through the checkpoint and inform law enforcement if anything illegal is found. That's why from a TSA standpoint the penalties are all administrative and will not go...

      Why? If you take the firearm away, there's no other penalties to prevent them from just buying another one, it's really just an extra fine.
      More importantly, the TSA legally doesn't have the ability to permenantly confiscate anything, all they can do is prevent it from coming through the checkpoint and inform law enforcement if anything illegal is found. That's why from a TSA standpoint the penalties are all administrative and will not go on your record.
      In most cases what happens after the firearm is discovered at a checkpoint will be up to what the local/state laws say. As an example, here in Omaha carrying a firearm on airport property is posted as prohibited so based on state law, you can get jail time even for a 1st offense, which is going to be more effective than taking away 1 firearm from them.

    2. Dusty Guest

      Well, there is the $15k max civil penalty, and I wouldn't call a several hundred to several thousand dollar penalty (forfeiture of the firearm) a small penalty either. I'd think people would be more careful as well if the difference was the loss of their expensive firearm rather than getting the "Whoopsee teehee, my b guys" out they currently have.

  5. Sisyphus Guest

    Meanwhile, Arabs get kicked off flights and investigated as terrorist just for speaking their language, go figure!

    1. TravelinWilly Diamond

      Don't forget economists who almost get kicked off flights for writing in...symbols.

  6. JJ Guest

    How else would those people defend against the devil that is always trying to tear their planes apart mid flight.
    And how will they defend themselves against those dark skin people who are obviously terrorists. Don't mind the fact that the same people who "needs to defend themselves and others" are statistically also the most likely to get drunk and shoot themselves or (sadly) others.

  7. Joseph Guest

    "passengers who bring firearms to a checkpoint"
    "how careless people are with bringing guns to the airport"
    "deter people from accidentally bringing guns to the airport"

    ...should be...

    "passengers who TAKE firearms to a checkpoint"
    "how careless people are with TAKING guns to the airport"
    "deter people from accidentally TAKING guns to the airport"

    Remember the rule: BRING here, TAKE there

  8. TZ Guest

    America = third world country with a Gucci belt

  9. Kanaka Gold

    America, the "land of the free" where any idiot can buy as many guns as he wants, but can't participate in the world's oldest profession or god forbid, buy a beer before the age of 21.

    1. ImmortalSynn Guest

      "but can't participate in the world's oldest profession"

      Sure they can. Just have a camera running somewhere in the room. Then it's porn. :)

    2. David Diamond

      Porn isn’t the oldest profession, that came only after there was a feasible way to record and mass distribute it. He’s talking specifically about prostitution.

    3. ConcordeBoy Diamond

      Porn isn’t the oldest profession, that came only after there was a feasible way to record and mass distribute it. He’s talking specifically about prostitution.

      Dude, he/she was telling one of the oldest jokes around.

      Step back for a minute, read it again, and (hopefully) you'll get it....

    4. STEFFL Diamond

      good one . . . couldn't have replied better! ;-)

  10. MildMidwesterner Diamond

    Constitutional issues aside, if you're dumb enough to "forget" that you have a loaded gun by the time you reach TSA (i.e. after you pack, check-in, and wait in line), then you should be too dumb for the government to issue you a gun license.

    1. D3kingg Guest

      That is the whole point of 2A. Americans don’t need government permission to own a gun. Your removal of the constitution as if it doesn’t apply to you is bigotry.

    2. David Diamond

      The constitutional right to bear arms isn’t a right to bring it where ever I want; there are limits to all constitutional rights.

    3. UA-NYC Diamond

      Just like your boy 45 with respect to the 14th Amendment

    4. Dusty Guest

      And the Constitution came with an amendment process because the Framers understood that things change. The Constitution was intended to be a living document, not something set in stone for eternity. Also worth pointing out that the 2A is a thing because the US used to believe a militia was to be the mainstay of the country's military, but they didn't want to pay for all the guns themselves. 2A is for that purpose, but that need hasn't existed since the 1800s.

  11. D3kingg Guest

    Good people with guns aren’t necessarily the brightest. There’s more good people with guns out there than criminals and mentally ill. We’ve tried taking guns away in the US and it hasn’t worked; it’s time we go back to the drawing board.

    1. ConcordeBoy Diamond

      We’ve tried taking guns away in the US

      Huh? When/where was this?

    2. D3kingg Guest

      Gun control. Buy back programs. Gun laws passed into legislation restricting access to guns. Where ? Chicago. Illinois. NYC. DC. California. Lake County IL has the strictest gun control. It hasn’t worked. We need to try universal Constitutional Carry .

    3. ImmortalSynn Guest

      Who with a straight face believes that that's the equivalent of "trying to take guns," when anyone affected can literally drive to the next city or county over, buy a small army's worth of firearms, and bring back with no consequences. It's political posturing at best, and can't actually be used as an example of what results a serious effort to remove guns in the USA (which unfortunately will never happen) could or could not produce.

    4. Jeff Chang Guest

      "hen anyone affected can literally drive to the next city or county over, buy a small army's worth of firearms, and bring back with no consequences."

      Go ahead and but a pistol in person from one state and take it to another without using an FFL.

  12. ConcordeBoy Diamond

    At first, it just appeared to be a correlation between volume of pax handled vs number of guns discovered. After all, ATL, DFW, and DEN are (as of the 2022 final numbers) the three busiest airports in the country and world, with IAH being the 15th/26th respectively.

    But then again, there's quite the disparity between the number of discovery incidents at DEN and the number at the three located in the geographic/cultural South.

    A bit...

    At first, it just appeared to be a correlation between volume of pax handled vs number of guns discovered. After all, ATL, DFW, and DEN are (as of the 2022 final numbers) the three busiest airports in the country and world, with IAH being the 15th/26th respectively.

    But then again, there's quite the disparity between the number of discovery incidents at DEN and the number at the three located in the geographic/cultural South.

    A bit anecdotal, but not completely. Sad.

    1. W Gold

      But if we're going by passenger numbers, why aren't any of the major airports in the northeast apart of this. There is a correlation between the size of the airport and number of firearms discovered, but there is also a correlation between the location of the airport (as all of these airports are in the geographic south of the country).

    2. ImmortalSynn Guest

      "why aren't any of the major airports in the northeast apart of this."

      Because the graphic being discussed shows the top-10 airports for confiscations, all but two being in the south, and none of which are in the northeast.

    3. omatravel Guest

      Yes, it's a combination of airport size and those states where it is easier to carry concealed legally which is the majority of the south.
      All of the larger states in the NE make it very hard to get a concealed carry permit so you have less people in general carrying.

      I would also be interesting in knowing the breakdown of how many of the weapons were discovered in their carry ons vs on their body.

  13. Sel, D. Guest

    "Prior to the pandemic, we saw a huge increase in the number of guns being stopped as a percentage of passengers, so I guess if there’s any silver lining, it’s that this is starting to plateau."

    If the TSA misses so many guns, perhaps it's actually good that the numbers keep going up, as in they're catching more.

    1. omatravel Guest

      I honestly don't think that's the case. Since the pandemic we have seen a record number of Americans buying and carrying firearms. It makes sense that with more people carrying, we see a greater number of incidents where people forget to leave their firearms at home when they go to travel.
      It seems like almost all of the incidents do not involve a situation where the subject intended to bring the firearm through the checkpoint, let alone was planning to use it.

    1. Sel, D. Guest

      Also note that there have been no incidents.

    2. Icarus Guest

      Not really the point. Shows where the idiots are and always the same region - pro gun, highest number incarcerated / executed and anti everything progressive so you expect them to believe it’s ok to carry a gun at an airport. Go Florida. Lucky Shelby and Dolly didn’t have a gun.

    3. D3kingg Guest

      That is the point. No one’s shooting up a plane just because they’re carrying a gun. Those idiots also know how to change a flat tire and know their way around a gun. Gun ownership is a responsibility.

    4. Andrew Guest

      Gun ownership and changing a flat tire are somehow correlated? Like, only god fearing, salt of the earth folk who own guns are capable of a task like changing a flat? GTFO.

    5. STEFFL Diamond

      yet!
      .... bad enough, to had dumb enough people, to NOT know how to handle things the correct way!
      It's a Mickey Mouse Country, . . . what can i say? ;-)

    6. Dusty Guest

      I'd rather not wait until somebody goes postal in a TSA checkpoint or check-in line to do something about it.

    7. omatravel Guest

      That already happened 10 years ago at LAX.
      What would like to be done about it?

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Icarus Guest

Not really the point. Shows where the idiots are and always the same region - pro gun, highest number incarcerated / executed and anti everything progressive so you expect them to believe it’s ok to carry a gun at an airport. Go Florida. Lucky Shelby and Dolly didn’t have a gun.

4
ImmortalSynn Guest

Who with a straight face believes that that's the equivalent of "trying to take guns," when anyone affected can literally drive to the next city or county over, buy a small army's worth of firearms, and bring back with no consequences. It's political posturing at best, and can't actually be used as an example of what results a serious effort to remove guns in the USA (which unfortunately will never happen) could or could not produce.

3
Kanaka Gold

America, the "land of the free" where any idiot can buy as many guns as he wants, but can't participate in the world's oldest profession or god forbid, buy a beer before the age of 21.

3
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