A record number of airline passengers brought their guns to airport security checkpoints in 2023, and 93% of the guns were loaded, the Transportation Security Administration said Wednesday.
The federal agency said its officers intercepted 6,737 firearms before the weapons could make their way through terminals and aboard flights last year.
This number marks the highest one-year total of firearm discoveries in TSA's 22-year history and marks the third year in a row in which the number has hit record highs. The previous record was set last year with 6,542 interceptions, and that number had broken the 2021 record of 5,972 recovered guns, TSA records state.
In 2023, the agency saw 7.8 firearms per million passengers, which is a drop from the 8.6 guns per million passengers in 2022. In the year's fourth quarter, TSA officers stopped an average of 18 guns each day at various checkpoints, with only one to two of those being unloaded, the agency's data said.
"We are still seeing far too many firearms at TSA checkpoints, and what's particularly concerning is the amount of them loaded, presenting an unnecessary risk to everyone at the TSA checkpoint," said TSA Administrator David Pekoske.
Three airports saw more passengers trying to bring firearms aboard than any others in the country. The nation's busiest airport, Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, saw the most with 451 intercepted firearms. Dallas Fort Worth International Airport was second with 378, and Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport ranked third with 311 recovered weapons.
Travelers still can bring their weapons on a flight, but they have to follow the TSA's strict guidelines.
The passenger must transport the gun in checked baggage, never a carry-on, and must declare it and its ammunition at the ticket counter. The unloaded weapon also has to be in a locked, hard-sided container that cannot be easily opened.
If a traveler does decide to bring the gun through security, officers who have detected it will contact local law enforcement, who remove the gun and its owner from the area, as TSA does not confiscate weapons. Local laws then decide whether the passenger will face a citation or an arrest for the crime.
But TSA does fine passengers with weapons up to $15,000 and revokes TSA PreCheck eligibility for at least five years. TSA says those who bring a loaded gun and those who bring an unloaded gun with accessible ammunition face the same penalties.