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Have gun, will travel. Americans trying to pack heat on airplanes in record numbers

Salt Lake City International Airport ranks 8th nationally for gun confiscations

Items confiscated at Transportation Security Administration checkpoints at the Salt Lake City International Airport.
A collection of items confiscated at Transportation Security Administration checkpoints at the Salt Lake City International Airport are displayed at the airport in Salt Lake City on Friday, Dec. 14, 2018. Apparently many Americans — a record number, according to the TSA — were caught trying to take their firearms on airplanes, including at the Salt Lake City International Airport.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Have gun, will travel.

Apparently many Americans — a record number, according to the Transportation Security Administration — were caught trying to take their firearms on airplanes, including at the Salt Lake City International Airport.

TSA officers confiscated a record number of guns at airport security checkpoints this year, setting a 20-year high with three months remaining in the year and fewer passengers traveling due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The number of firearms that our TSA officers are stopping at airport checkpoints is alarming,” said David Pekoske, TSA administrator. “Firearms, particularly loaded firearms, introduce an unnecessary risk at checkpoints, have no place in the passenger cabin of an airplane and represent a very costly mistake for the passengers who attempt to board a flight with them.”

Through Oct. 3, TSA officers had stopped 4,495 airline passengers from carrying firearms onto their flights, surpassing the previous record of 4,432 in 2019. Officers discovered 11 guns in carry-on bags at airport checkpoints per million passengers screened so far in 2021. That compares to five guns per million passengers in 2019.

Staci Merten, a transportation security officer with the Transportation Security Administration, checks a passenger’s identification at the TSA security checkpoint at Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, May 18, 2021. Air travel is expected to increase this summer.
Staci Merten, a transportation security officer with the Transportation Security Administration, checks a passenger’s identification at the TSA security checkpoint at Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, May 18, 2021.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

In Salt Lake City, officers found 90 guns in passengers’ carry-on luggage during the routine screening process through Oct. 3. Since then, two more were detected — one on Oct. 8 and one on Oct. 10 — bringing the total to 92. The previous high for the entire year was 85 in 2019.

Salt Lake City is tied with Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport as the eighth-highest airport nationally for gun confiscations. That’s up two spots nationally from last year when 71 guns were seized and TSA screened 48% fewer passengers in Salt Lake City due to the pandemic.

In addition to potential criminal citations, travelers face civil fines for bringing firearms to an airport security checkpoint. Among the factors TSA considers when determining penalties include whether the gun was loaded and whether there was accessible ammunition.

Gun possession laws vary from state to state. Utah earlier this year passed a so-called “constitutional carry” law. It removed the state’s requirement for Utahns over the age of 21 to have a permit to legally carry a concealed firearm. Gun owners already may openly carry a firearm under state law.

But even if an air traveler has a concealed weapons permit, firearms are not allowed in carry-on luggage.

Passengers may travel with a gun if it is unloaded, packed in a locked, hard-sided case and placed in checked baggage. They must bring the case to the airline check-in counter and inform the airline representative of their intention to travel with a gun. Any type of replica firearm is prohibited in carry-on baggage and must be carried in checked luggage.

The TSA data represents the number of guns caught on passengers or in their carry-on bags at airport security checkpoints. Improperly packed firearms at checked baggage stations, toys, replicas and BB guns are not included in the report.

TSA provides traveler information specifically related to the transportation of firearms and ammunition. A summary of TSA’s civil penalties for prohibited items is also available.