TSA Confiscates Record Number of Guns at U.S. Airports in 2012

Travelers, despite their better judgment, have tried to bring over 1,500 guns onboard in 2012 according to the latest Transportation Security Administration report.

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Daniel Acker / Bloomberg / Getty Images

A Transportation Security Administration sign stands as travelers wait to pass through a security check point at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois on January 19, 2012.

Despite well-publicized airport security measures, U.S. travelers attempted to bring more than 1,500 guns on board planes in 2012 — resulting in the most annual confiscations on record, according to a Transportation Security Administration report.

The year’s final tally, made on Dec. 28 and released last week, put the total number of confiscated firearms for the year at 1,527, although the TSA still hasn’t released official figures on its blog for the final few days of 2012. It’s still a significant increase over 2011, when more than 1,300 guns were seized by the agency.

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More worryingly, approximately 85% of the guns seized by the TSA were loaded, according to NBC News. While it is illegal to carry a firearm onto a plane on your person, some federal and state regulations still allow passengers to carry unloaded weapons in their locked check-in bags, generally as long as they’re declared to the airlines in advance (although the process for declaring them isn’t always clear-cut).

So what happens if you get caught with an illegal  firearm in your hand luggage? David Casteleter, the transportation agency’s director, told TIME that what happens afterward is usually up to local authorities, and not the TSA.  The police are always immediately notified, and then after that the response is decided by state laws.

“There are states whose law allow you to carry around a weapon; and where that is the case… they just perceive that as negligence and will ask you to bring the gun back to your vehicle or turn it over to somebody not traveling and will just let you go through. But where it is illegal, you can be fined and/or arrested.”

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According to a report by the travel news website Skift, two states dominated the TSA’s tally of gun-toting passengers; four of the top ten airports for confiscated firearms were in Texas and two in Florida. Phoenix, Denver and Nashville also made the list. But the top airport for seized firearms was Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, where the first gun of 2013 was found as well.