More people than ever tried to bring guns onto planes last year, TSA says

More people than ever tried to bring guns onto planes last year, TSA says

More people than ever were caught with firearms — the vast majority of them loaded — at security checkpoints at U.S. airports in 2023, federal officials said.

The numbers remain small: Out of 858 million people screened before boarding an airplane, Transportation Security Administration agents found just 6,737 guns. But that’s still the most ever found in a single year, capping a three-year span in which each year saw more guns confiscated than the last.

Nearly all of those guns were discovered through X-rays of carry-on luggage, TSA officials said. And most of the time the traveler told agents they left the gun in their bags accidentally.

It wasn’t quite a surprise TSA found more guns, officials said: Nearly 100 million more people passed through U.S. airports last year than the year before. And the rate at which agents found firearms actually fell: In 2023, TSA found 7.8 guns per 1 million passengers, less than the 8.6 guns per 1 million passengers the agency recorded in 2022.

“More people are travelling — there’s more travelers now,” said Lorie Dankers, a TSA spokeswoman. “It kind of makes sense that we’re detecting more.”

But the stubbornly high number of passengers attempting to get through security with loaded guns in their bags, whether they knew the weapons were there or not, still remained alarming to officials with the federal agency tasked with keeping contraband off U.S. airliners.

“It’s a little bit of a mystery, all around,” Dankers said. “(Firearms) have never been allowed on airplanes.”

Jason Pantages, a security director for TSA in the Los Angeles region, said that nationwide, 93% of the guns found in people’s bags were loaded.

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Inside Terminal 7 at the Los Angeles International Airport on Wednesday, Jan. 10, Pantages and LAX police officials spoke next to a table lined with prohibited items found in people’s luggage at the airport last year.

Some of the items, including a trendy portable blender and a toy gun, were benign. But officials showed other items like small wooden bats, metal bars and knives people had brought with them as they tried to get through security.

Pantages said there were 81 guns found in luggage passing through LAX security last year. Of those, 87% were loaded.

That was the largest number of guns found at any of the greater Los Angeles region’s airports. But while the numbers were smaller at local airports, some of those saw their single-year records broken.

At John Wayne Airport in Orange County, agents found 25 guns, the most ever there. At Long Beach Airport, agents found 10 guns, also a record.

Both of those airports also saw more people pass through them last year, but the rate of firearm discovery at Long Beach nearly doubled from 2022 to 2023. The rate also increased for John Wayne.

LAX and other Los Angeles-area airports saw vastly fewer guns appear in security checkpoints than other airports around the country last year, however.

At Hartfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, one of the busiest airports in the world, agents confiscated 451 guns last year. That was followed by Dallas Fort Worth International Airport with 378.

“Travelers should know that TSA can levy a civil penalty for bringing a firearm to a security checkpoint,” Pantages said. “The amount of the penalty, which can be as high as $15,000, depends on whether the firearm was loaded.”

Authorities said the penalties for trying to take a gun on an airplane can vary.

Los Angeles Airport Police Chief Cecil Rhambo said when a gun is found at a checkpoint, officers will respond and take possession of the weapon and check to determine if it is tied to any crimes or warrants. Officers will also check to see if there are “obliterated serial numbers” on the weapon. The passenger found with the weapon is also checked for warrants.

In addition to the possible TSA civil citation, people could be convicted of a misdemeanor for bringing a weapon to an airport security checkpoint. Rhambo said people who are convicted in such cases could be sent to a one-year diversionary program.

“After a year, the owner of the firearm is eligible to retrieve the weapon as long as they remain clear from any disqualifying issues such as a restraining order, some mental health issues or domestic violence incidents,” he said.

TSA-seized firearms by U.S. airport in 2023, top 5

Hartfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, 451

Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, 378

George Bush Intercontinental Airport (Houston), 311

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, 235

Nashville International Airport, 188

Southernn California airports

LAX, 81

John Wayne Airport (Orange County/Santa Ana), 25

Ontario International Airport, 20

Long Beach Airport, 10

Hollywood Burbank Airport (Bob Hope), 9

Source: TSA

City News Service contributed to this story.