The Transportation Security Administration intercepted a record number of firearms at airport security checkpoints last year in what the agency’s leader called a “deeply troubling” trend. Officers found 4,432 guns — most of them loaded — in carry-on bags or on passengers moving through checkpoints, the TSA said in a report
“The continued increase in the number of firearms that travelers bring to airport checkpoints is deeply troubling,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske said in the report. He reminded travelers that they may bring a legal firearm provided it is unloaded, locked in a hard-side case and declared as part of checked luggage.
While the number of guns discovered last year represents a nearly 5 percent increase from the year before and the highest overall levels in the agency’s 18-year history, University of Illinois professor Sheldon Jacobson cautioned that what the 2019 figures really mean isn’t exactly clear. Jacobson, who has studied aviation security system analysis for 25 years and is among the researchers whose work led to the development of the TSA PreCheck screening system, told The Washington Post that TSA’s concerns over the 2019 increase come without context.
“What if they found 10 firearms, or what if they found 10,000? Yes, it’s a big number, but it’s inconclusive what it means,” Jacobson said. “If it’s increased, that means the TSA is doing a better job, potentially, of finding firearms. But it could be bad, because why are more firearms being brought to checkpoints?”
The TSA keeps data on the number of recovered guns going back to 2005, but Jacobson notes that the number of security checkpoints was significantly lower than current levels in the first several years of the agency’s existence. It’s not clear how many checkpoints the TSA operates; that number is among the few operational statistics that the agency excludes from its public-facing information.