The number of people who traveled the skies last year plummeted amid the coronavirus pandemic, but it appears that those who did opt to fly in 2020 were far more likely to be packing heat.
The Transportation Security Administration discovered 3,262 firearms at security checkpoints in U.S. airports last year. That number represents a decrease from the year prior, when security officers found more than 4,000 guns when scanning people and their possessions at airport security.
But on average, the likelihood of someone trying to take a gun onto a plane was much higher last year than it was in 2019. In 2020, one firearm was discovered for every 270 passengers screened, on average. That was more than twice as often as the previous year, when on average one gun was uncovered for every 521 passengers at TSA screenings.
TSA unveiled the statistics as part of a social media campaign highlighting its airport-screening practices and reminding the public which items air travelers are prohibited from carrying with them.
The agency routinely posts snapshots on Twitter /zigman2/quotes/203180645/composite TWTR -0.04% of the dangerous items it confiscates, with multiple tweets picturing loaded guns that passengers either knowingly or unwittingly tried to take onto their flight.
If a passenger is discovered to have a loaded firearm or an unloaded firearm with accessible ammunition at or beyond airport security, they are subject to a fine of between $3,000 and $10,000 and a “criminal referral” — meaning that local law enforcement will investigate and decide whether to press charges — for a first violation.
Repeated instances will lead to higher monetary penalties in addition to the possibility of a criminal investigation.
Additionally, travelers who try to bring other types of gun-like devices — such as BB guns, starter pistols, stun guns or replicas of firearms — past security can face a fine of between $260 and $2,090.
Passengers can generally travel with firearms and ammunition if they are stowed in their checked luggage — though specific rules may vary depending on where they’re traveling to and the airline they’re using. According to the TSA, guns must be unloaded and locked in a hard-sided container that prevents others from accessing the weapon. Travelers must declare the gun at the ticket counter if they plan to pack it in their checked bags. Additionally, replica firearms including toy guns are only allowed in checked luggage.
Guns aren’t the only dangerous item people tried to fly with recently. On Tuesday, the security agency posted a photo of a knife that was disguised as a comb that one of its officers apprehended at security.