TSA Closes out 2020 with the Most Guns Caught in a Single Year in Spite of Record Low Pax Volume

Transportation Security Administration officers at Richmond International Airport caught a woman with a loaded gun on the last day of 2020 to end the year with 22 guns caught at their airport checkpoints, the highest number of guns caught in a single year at that airport in spite of record low passenger volume due to the pandemic.

TSA officers stopped a Chesterfield County, Virginia, woman with a .40 caliber handgun loaded with four bullets on Thursday, Dec. 31, among the items in her carry-on bag as it went through the security checkpoint X-ray machine at the airport. TSA alerted airport police, who responded to the checkpoint, confiscated the handgun and cited the woman, a resident of Midlothian, Virginia.

“When you consider that the passenger volume at Richmond was significantly lower in 2020 due to the pandemic, it is an extremely disappointing trend,” said Chuck Burke, TSA’s Federal security director for Richmond International Airport. “The TSA team here at Richmond International is strong and they are good at their jobs and focused on the mission. With fewer travelers in 2020, the expectation was that fewer firearms would be brought to the airport. But that didn’t happen.

“Not carrying a gun on a plane is nothing new,” Burke said. “TSA has been in existence for 19 years but for decades preceding TSA there has been a regulation barring guns on a plane. Yet this year we saw an exorbitant amount of travelers attempting to do just that. The consequences are costly. TSA imposes stiff federal financial penalties when a gun is detected at the checkpoint. It’s a fine that goes into the thousands of dollars.”

Nationwide in the US in 2019, 4,432 firearms were discovered in carry-on bags at checkpoints across the country, averaging about 12.1 firearms per day, approximately a 5% increase nationally in firearm discoveries from the total of 4,239 detected in 2018. Eighty-seven percent of firearms detected at checkpoints in 2019 were loaded.

In July of 2020, TSA officers reported firearms in carry-on bags at a rate three times higher than the same month in 2019, though passenger volume was significantly lower. 

TSA officers detected 15.3 guns per million people that month compared to 5.1 guns per million people screened during July 2019. The rate is particularly alarming, given that TSA screened about 75% fewer passengers in July 2020, over the previous year’s volume.

“TSA is diligently working to ensure our employees and passengers are safe and secure while traveling during a pandemic, and yet we are noticing a significant increase in loaded firearms coming into checkpoints,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske said at that time. “Travelers must understand that firearms are prohibited items at airports and in the passenger cabins of aircraft. As hard as we are working to mitigate other risks at this time, no one should be introducing new ones.”

TSA reserves the right to issue a civil penalty to travelers who have guns with them at a checkpoint. A typical first offense for carrying a loaded handgun into a checkpoint is $4,100 and can go as high as $13,669 depending on any mitigating circumstances. This applies to travelers with or without concealed gun carry permits because even though an individual may have a concealed carry permit, it does not allow for a firearm to be carried onto an airplane. The complete list of civil penalties is posted online. If a traveler with a gun is a member of TSA PreCheck, that individual will lose their TSA PreCheck privileges.