Rate of gun seizures at airports doubled in 2020, jumped even more in N.C.

Passengers are screened at security checkpoints at Denver International Airport. It had the fifth most weapons seizures in the nation last year. [Wikimedia Commons)

Coinciding with the dramatic decline in air travel, fewer firearms were detected at airport security checkpoints last year, but the rate at which guns were found during routine screenings doubled in 2020.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) reported last week that it discovered the most firearms per million passengers since the agency was formed 19 years ago in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Locally, three firearms were discovered at Wilmington International Airport in 2020, compared with nine in 2019 and seven in 2018. Statewide, 105 guns were detected, with Charlotte Douglas leading the list at 55 followed by Raleigh-Durham with 33. In 2019 those numbers were 74 and 70, respectively. A TSA news release said the detection rate in North Carolina increased but did not specify by how much. It did report that the state’s 2020 rate was 18% higher than the national average.


In 2019, the TSA discovered 4,424 guns (five per million screenings) being carried by passengers or in carry-on bags. Last year, despite 500 million fewer screenings, 3,257 guns (10 per million screenings) were detected. About 83% of the firearms detected in 2020 were loaded, the report said.

Overall, the most guns were detected at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International (220) and Dallas/Fort Worth International (176).

A person caught attempting to bring a firearm on an airline can face federal civil penalties as well as possible state or local criminal charges.

According to the TSA website, federal law allows firearms and ammunition in checked baggage. Guns must be unloaded and in a locked, hard-sided case. Ammunition must be in its original box. Passengers must present the case with the firearm at the check-in counter and inform the airline of their intention to travel with the gun. Specific regulations can vary by airlines, states and localities.


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