Record-breaking number of guns confiscated by TSA in 2021

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Nearly 5,700 firearms have been confiscated at airport security checkpoints in 2021, the highest number recorded by the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) since its inception. 

A whopping 5,674 guns were stopped in 2021 alone, the agency told CBS News on Monday. The vast majority of weapons — 85% — were loaded with ammunition. Airports in Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston ranked highest in confiscated firearms. 

“It’s an all time high,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske told reporters during a Monday briefing. He said the previous high mark was 4,400 guns confiscated in 2019.

Pekoske told CBS News he believes the increase in firearm seizures reflects “what’s going on in the country.”

“The reason? I think there’s just more firearm carriage in the country,” Pekoske said. “That’s the best answer I can give you,” the administrator added. 

According to TSA policy, individuals toting either loaded firearms or unloaded firearms with accessible ammunition may face $3,000-$10,000 in fines, plus a criminal referral to law enforcement. For repeat offenders, that fee is even higher. Those with a history of carrying loaded weapons into security checkpoints may be forced to shell out as much as $13,910.

“It’s a pretty costly mistake to make,” Pekoske said, noting that TSA will grant civil penalty action only after completing an investigation. If passengers violate state laws, TSA refers cases to local authorities. 

Last week, a 48-year old man from Georgia appeared in federal court in Newark, New Jersey, on weapons charges after allegedly attempting to carry a firearm through security at Newark Liberty International Airport. Acting U.S. Attorney Rachael Honig announced that Desmond Herring was charged with one count of carrying a weapon on an aircraft and one count of possession of a firearm and ammunition by a convicted felon.  

Herring was released on a $100,000 bond, with home confinement and GPS monitoring. 

In November, chaos erupted at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport’s main security checkpoint when a firearm discharged during a TSA screening. A passenger, who had been told not to touch his bag that was being searched, “lunged into the bag and grabbed a firearm, at which point it discharged,” according to the agency. 

TSA also announced on Monday that it anticipates holiday travel will be in full swing this year, with peak traffic on December 23 and January 3. The administrator, joined by industry leaders, urged passengers to avoid traveling during “rush hour” — between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. — around the holidays.  

Officers screened just under 21 million travelers during the 10-day Thanksgiving holiday, matching pre-pandemic travel levels. 

The Top 10 airports for firearm stops, according to TSA, are: 

  1. Atlanta 

  2. Dallas Fort Worth 

  3. Housto.n (IAH) 

  4. Phoenix 

  5. Nashville 

  6. Denver 

  7. Fort Lauderdale 

  8. Orlando 

  9. New Orleans 

  10. Salt Lake City 

Kathryn Krupnik contributed to this report. 

© 2020 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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