Passengers dropped, but TSA says gun seizure rates spiked in 2020 at airports in Missouri, nationwide

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The rate of firearms seized at Kansas City International (KCI) and other airports across Missouri spiked in 2020, despite the number of passengers plummeting amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), its officers seized 85 guns during routine screenings of passengers and carry-on bags at airports security checkpoints across the state last year. 

At KCI, TSA officers confiscated 30 firearms from air travelers in 2020.

“Twenty-four of those guns were loaded,” TSA spokesman Mark Howell told FOX4.  

In 2019, TSA officers seized 67 guns during routine screenings at KCI. Across the state in St. Louis, TSA officers seized 57 guns from passengers in 2019 and 46 from air travelers in 2020. 

“While all airports in Missouri had fewer firearm totals overall (in 2020), the rate of firearms increased significantly due to the COVID-19 pandemic decreasing passenger throughputs across the state,” TSA said. 

In Missouri, the rate of firearms seized in 2020 was one gun for every 62,118 travelers. Nationwide, TSA agents found one firearm for every 99,583 passengers screened. 

Put another way – TSA seized approximately 10 firearms per million passengers screened in 2020 compared to about five firearms per million travelers screened in 2019. 

“TSA officers across the country discovered firearms in carry-on luggage at a rate twice what it was in 2019 and the highest rate since the agency’s inception,” the agency said.  

And that increase comes at a time when fewer people are flying. 

Consider: 

  • TSA officers nationwide screened approximately 324 million air travelers in 2020. That’s 500 million fewer travelers – or just 39% — of the 824 million passengers screened in 2019; 
  • In Missouri, TSA officers screened approximately 5.28 million air travelers in 2020. That’s down about 40% from 2019. 

KCI saw an even bigger decline in air travelers last year.

“Passenger boardings were down 61.9% for the year with 2,245,702 passengers enplaned in 2020,” KCI spokesman Joe McBride told FOX4. 

Asked why the rate of guns seized at security checkpoints increased last year, Howell said: “There was a whole different kind of passenger in 2020. Because of COVID-19, there were a lot fewer business travelers and a lot newer and inexperienced travelers taking advantage of the airfare savings. You had a lot of newer folks (flying) who maybe didn’t know the rules.” 

Nationwide, TSA officers confiscated 3,257 firearms at security checkpoints in 2020. 

KCI ranked 32nd in the country in the number of guns seized last year, Howell said. 

Here are the top 10 airports where TSA officers found firearms in 2020: 

1).   Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International (ATL): 220 guns 

2).   Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW): 176 guns 

3).   George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH): 126 guns 

4).   Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX): 124 guns 

5).   Denver International Airport (DEN): 104 guns 

6).   Nashville International Airport (BNA): 94 guns 

7).   Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL): 87 guns 

8).   Orlando International Airport (MCO): 79 guns 

9).   Las Vegas McCarran International Airport (LAS): 72 guns 

10). Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC): 71 guns 

“The airports that have the highest numbers (of firearms seized) are in open carry and conceal carry states,” Howell said.  

Air travelers face civil penalties up to $10,250 for bringing firearms through an airport security checkpoint, TSA said. The agency evaluates each incident on a case-by-case basis. One factor TSA considers when determining the civil penalty is whether the gun was loaded. 

“More than 80% of the guns seized at security checkpoints last year were loaded,” Howell told FOX4. “While TSA can issue civil penalties up to $10,250, the average is a little over $2,000 for an unloaded gun and a little over $4,000 for a loaded gun. And those figures are for first-time offenders.” 

TSA reminds travelers that firearms transported on commercial flights must be unloaded, packed in a locked, hard-sided case, and placed in a check bag. 

“Any type of replica firearm is prohibited in carry-on baggage and must be transported in checked luggage,” the agency said in a news release. “Even if a traveler has a concealed weapons permit, firearms are not permitted in carry-on luggage.” 

TSA said passengers must declare firearms, ammunition, and any gun parts during the check-in process. 

More information is available on TSA’s website.

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