The TSA Found an Average of 11 Guns a Day in Carry-On Bags Last Year

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Americans broke a new record last year, but it’s nothing to write home about. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) found 4,239 firearms in carry-on luggage in 2018, breaking the previous record that was set in 2017. That’s an average of more than 11 guns per day.

The number of guns found by TSA in 2018 was up roughly 7 percent from 2017, when 3,957 were found at TSA checkpoints, as the agency notes in a press release. But the most disturbing statistic might be that 86 percent of the guns discovered last year by TSA were loaded. Even more shocking, according to the TSA, “nearly 34 percent had a bullet in the chamber.” Yikes.

From the TSA:

The top five airports where TSA officers detected guns at checkpoints in 2018 were: Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International with 298; Dallas/Fort Worth International with 219; Phoenix Sky Harbor International with 129; Denver International with 126 and Orlando International at 123.


Americans are able to legally fly with firearms, but they must be unloaded and locked away in checked luggage. Even replica guns and toy guns are required by federal law to be in checked luggage.

Trying to carry a gun on a plane is considered a civil rather than criminal matter under federal regulations, and if you’re caught you face fines of up to $13,000. But TSA agents don’t actually seize the guns that they find. That’s the job of local police.


“I like to call it firearm detections,” TSA regional spokesperson Mark J. Howell told Gizmodo over the phone. “When we find those firearms we shut that lane down until law enforcement comes over. They remove the firearm from the machine and remove the person from the checkpoint.”

Whether local law enforcement simply cite the person with the gun or arrest them is up to the state law. But either way, the gun owner is going to get slapped with a federal fine.


“We collect the information from [the gun owner] and we issue the civil penalty to them in the mail afterwards,” Howell says, adding that it takes about a month for those citations to go out. “Any confiscation is a determination made by law enforcement.”

“Some of them you have to go to court to get [the gun] back, others get them back right there, but that determination is made by local law enforcement.”


The TSA’s latest release also includes a breakdown of the past decade, which is fairly depressing. Back in 2008, just 928 guns were found by TSA agents nationwide. And the numbers have gotten worse every year.

  • 2018—4,239
  • 2017—3,957
  • 2016—3,391
  • 2015—2,653
  • 2014—2,212
  • 2013—1,813
  • 2012—1,556
  • 2011—1,320
  • 2010—1,123
  • 2009—976
  • 2008—926

Americans love guns in a way that’s incredibly uncommon in the developed world. And as long as they’re legal—remember when President Obama was supposed to take everyone’s guns away?—they’re going to be something that air travelers will live with for some time to come.


The best you can hope for is that guns don’t make it through security, like they did recently in Atlanta. A woman got through TSA with a gun at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on January 3 of this year and made it all the way to Japan’s Narita International Airport in Tokyo with the weapon, according to The Washington Post.

At first, some people speculated that it might have to do with the government shutdown, but the TSA pushed back on that suggestion, stating that “the national call out rate was higher a year ago than this year on that date.” It’s just really hard to catch every gun that’s going through America’s airports. There’s at least 11 every day, and if the past decade is any guide, that number is only going to be higher in 2019.