Just five years ago, when airline passenger traffic was slightly higher than its current level, TSA agents reportedly discovered about 500 handguns in carry-on bags at checkpoints over a 12-month period. According to a recent posting on the TSA Blog, in 2011 the number of firearms discovered at TSA airport checkpoints across the country increased nearly two-and-a-half times its 2007 level, to 1,200.
This year, through Friday, May 31, TSA agents have already found 535 guns in carry-on bags, according to the updated count posted each week on the blog, which identifies the guns by caliber, the airport where discovered, and whether or not they were loaded. Most are found loaded.
Of the 25 handguns discovered during the week beginning May 18 and ending May 24, 21 were loaded.
"Every time we (find a handgun), the local law enforcement authority for that airport is notified," according to TSA spokesman David Castelveter. "At that point they determine what action they are going to take. Sometimes it may be just detaining and questioning. Other times it may be an arrest, depending on the circumstances."
Citing the data provided by the TSA, The New York Times travel reporter Joe Sharkey speculated in a May 28 article that the increase of incidents involving handguns in airline carry-ons is due in part to an overall increase in the number of Americans who own and carry handguns for personal protection.
TSA blogger Bob Burns reminds those traveling with firearms that they must be declared by passengers and must be contained in checked baggage only.
"Unfortunately these sorts of occurrences are all too frequent, which is why we talk about these finds," Burns wrote in his blog this week. "Just because we find a prohibited item on an individual does not mean they had bad intentions, that's for the law enforcement officer to decide. In many cases, people simply forgot they had these items."