WASHINGTON -- As air travel soars, the number of guns found at airport checkpoints is up, with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) reporting a more than 10% increase in recovered firearms for the first quarter of 2023 compared to the same time last year.
TSA said officers intercepted 1,508 guns at airport security checkpoints from Jan. 1 to March 31 of this year, averaging 16.8 firearms a day -- more than 93% of which were loaded. The agency found 1,367 during the same months in 2022, according to a press release from the agency.
"Firearms at TSA security checkpoints present an unacceptable safety and security risk to other passengers and I am deeply concerned that the majority of these firearms our (officers) catch are loaded," TSA Administrator David Pekoske said in a news release.
Though the number of guns found at checkpoints is up, the rate at which they're found has decreased. TSA said it found 7.9 firearms per 1 million passengers this year, down from the same time last year when the rate of discovery was 8.6 firearms per 1 million passengers.
This comes as air travel continues to rebound toward pre-pandemic levels. TSA said it screened 191 million passengers during Q1 of this year, up more than 20% from the 158 million screened in the first quarter of 2022.
While air-travel numbers plunged during the pandemic, the rate of firearms discovered increased. TSA found 3,257 firearms in carry-ons in 2020 -- approximately 10 guns per million passengers screened. In 2021, the agency detected 5,972 guns. The rate of discovery that year was 10.2 firearms per million passengers.
Pre-pandemic numbers show the agency found 4,432 firearms in 2019 at a rate of five firearms per million passengers screened.
Passengers caught with guns in carry-ons can face fines of up to $14,950.
"If you carry a firearm to the checkpoint, our (officers) will see it and there will be significant penalties, to include federal penalties and additional screening, which may prolong the security screening process," Pekoske said. "You may still travel with a firearm -- it just must be properly packed in your checked baggage and you must declare it to the airline."