TSA Intercepts Record Number of Firearms at Airport Security Checkpoints in 2023

Officials say more passengers and more gun licenses account for the increase.
TSA Intercepts Record Number of Firearms at Airport Security Checkpoints in 2023
A Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent screens carry-on baggage at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in Los Angeles, California, on August 10, 2022. (Photo by Patrick T. FALLON / AFP) (Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)
Allan Stein

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said it intercepted 6,737 firearms at airport security checkpoints in 2023, exceeding all previous yearly records.

“Why more guns? More passengers combined with more people who own firearms,” said TSA spokesperson Lisa Farbstein in an email to The Epoch Times.

“It has increased every year except during the 2020 COVID year.”

The total number of firearms detections for 2023 surpasses the 6,542 firearms stopped at airport checkpoints in 2022. Of the daily numbers of firearms intercepted last year, 93 percent were loaded, according to a TSA statement.

“We are still seeing far too many firearms at TSA checkpoints, and what’s particularly concerning is the amount of them loaded, presenting an unnecessary risk to everyone at the TSA checkpoint,” wrote TSA Administrator David Pekoske.

“Firearms and ammunition are strictly prohibited in carry-on baggage. Passengers are only allowed to travel with an unloaded firearm, and only if they pack it properly in a locked, hard-sided case in their checked baggage and first declare it to the airline at the check-in counter.”

In 2023, TSA screened more than 858 million people and intercepted 7.8 firearms per million passengers. The agency said the number of firearms was down from 8.6 per million passengers in 2022.

TSA noted that in the fourth quarter of 2023, which ended Dec. 31, Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) stopped 1,665 firearms at checkpoints for an average of 18 firearms per day.

“When a firearm is detected at a security checkpoint, TSOs immediately contact local law enforcement, who remove the passenger and the firearm from the checkpoint area,” TSA said.

“Depending on local laws, the law enforcement officer may arrest or cite the passenger. TSA does not confiscate firearms.”

In addition to any action taken by law enforcement, TSA fines passengers who bring a firearm to a TSA checkpoint with a civil penalty up to approximately $15,000.

The agency also revokes TSA PreCheck® eligibility for at least five years and “may conduct enhanced screening to ensure there are no other threats present.”

“It is important to understand that TSA does not confiscate firearms,” Ms. Farbstein said. “The police do, and it is up to law enforcement as to how they handle the firearms after they are confiscated.”

In 2021, TSA stopped 5,972 firearms from getting past airport checkpoints and into boarding areas.

Ten-year data also shows that in 2020, during the pandemic when passenger volumes were lower, there were 3,257 interceptions; 4,432 in 2019; 4,239 in 2018; 3,957 in 2017; 3,391 in 2016; 2,653 in 2015; 2,212 in 2014, and 1,813 in 2013.

Ms. Farbstein said the steady yearly increase in firearms interceptions correlates with the rise in people obtaining firearms.

In fiscal year 2022, there were 136,563 active federal firearms licenses in the United States, of which 43,494 were new licenses granted, including renewals, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.

Ammo.com reported that approximately 393 million civilian-owned firearms exist in the United States as well as 82 million gun licenses.

Nearly 30 percent more people reported having firearms than there were 20 years ago, according to national data.

The TSA did not provide a breakdown of passengers who brought firearms inadvertently or on purpose. However, the agency said it is vital that people check their baggage contents before approaching security checkpoints to avoid problems.

“Planning and packing properly can facilitate the screening process and ease your travel experience at the airport. Know what you can pack before arriving at the airport by checking the prohibited items list,” TSA wrote on its website.

“Carrying prohibited items may cause delays for you and other travelers, but they may also lead to fines and sometimes even arrest.”