Last year, the agency responsible for airport security in the United States, the Transportation Security Administration, took away 6,542 guns from passengers.
That was the most such incidents ever. In fact, the number of guns taken by TSA agents at U.S. airports has gone up every year since 2010, except for in 2020. That year the COVID-19 pandemic sharply reduced air travel.
Some of those gun owners forgot they had a gun with them when they went through airport security. The TSA says travelers forget although there are lots of warnings in airports.
Robert Spinden is the TSA’s top official in Atlanta, Georgia. The city has one of the largest airports in the world. He said there are signs, televisions with messages and other warnings asking travelers to remove their guns from their bags. There is even a special hologram warning travelers against carrying guns.
“There’s quite a bit of information that is sort of flashing before your eyes to just try to remind you as a last ditch effort,” Spinden said, that you need to secure your gun.
Atlanta’s airport security found 448 guns in 2022, the most of any U.S. airport, but fewer than the year before.
Travelers can be required to pay a fine of almost $15,000 for bringing a gun to security checkpoints.
One 2021 incident in Atlanta worried Spinden and other officials. A passenger was stopped after bringing a gun to security. When the agent opened the man’s bag, he reached for the gun and it fired. As a result, many people ran away and the airport was closed for over two hours.
Other airports that often find guns include those in the major Texas cities: Dallas, Houston, and Austin; three airports in Florida; Nashville, Tennessee and Denver, Colorado.
One of TSA’s top leaders is David Pekoske. He said the agency is finding more guns at its security checkpoints because there are more guns.
“What we see in our checkpoints really reflects what we’re seeing in society,” he said.
He said he is not sure “I forgot,” is always the truth, but it is what people say most often when they are stopped. Whatever the case is, he said, people need to stop bringing guns into the airport.
Whenever a gun is found, it stops the movement of passengers through security and causes delays, said Keith Jeffries, who used to work for TSA.
“It’s disruptive no matter what,” Jeffries said. “It’s a dangerous, prohibited item and, let’s face it, you should know where your gun is.”
A group that follows gun sales in the U.S. is the National Shooting Sports Foundation. The group said there has been a huge increase background checks for guns since 2000. That year, there were about 7 million checks. Last year, there were over 16 million.
With more guns around, the number taken by security workers will increase. But TSA says people must stop bringing guns to airports. Some say more signs are needed, others say the fines for gun owners who bring their guns to secure areas need to be increased.
Aidan Johnston is with the group Gun Owners of America, which supports gun ownership. He said he thinks gun owners need better education about the rules for traveling with a gun, and he said the fines should be decreased.
“These are not bad people that are in…need of punishment,” he said. “These are people who made a mistake.” He also said he does not believe bringing a gun to the airport is a horrible crime.
The TSA, however, is still concerned that a gun might be carried onto an airplane and be used in a crime, such as a hijacking attempt.
And even if the TSA is really good at catching guns, sometimes they get through. With so many guns, the chance of one getting onto a plane increases.
That happened recently to Cliff Waddell, a musician. He was going from Nashville to a city in North Carolina and got stopped for having a gun. He said it was not possible since he had taken the same bag on a flight the day before and was not stopped.
But he did have a gun during the earlier trip.
Pekoske said he and the TSA are investigating the incident.
Waddell said he was surprised to find the gun and it was only later that he remembered taking it out of a secured container in his car. He said he is worried about why TSA missed it.
“That was a shock to me,” he said.
I’m Dan Friedell. And I'm Jill Robbins.
Dan Friedell adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on a report by the Associated Press.
Words in This Story
hologram –n. a picture produced by a laser that appears to have height, width and length.
last ditch –idiom a final try at something
bag –n. (informal) a container for carrying clothes or other things while traveling
disruptive –adj. interfering with or stopping an activity or the expected development of something
prohibited –adj. not permitted
item –n. an object
background check –n. an investigation into the past of a person to find out if they can have a position or the ability to do something
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