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Why are so many people bringing guns to the airport?

Jan. 02, 2022
4 min read
Why are so many people bringing guns to the airport?
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We get it. After so long off the road, a lot of air travelers are out of practice when it comes to remembering what is allowed or not allowed in carry-on bags.

So we recommend reviewing the Transportation Security Administration’s 3-1-1 liquids rule explainer and the agency’s What Can I Bring web tool before your next trip.

Baby food and bread? TSA says yes. Selfie sticks? Sewing machines? Yes, and Yes.

Snow globes? It depends.

And what about firearms and ammunition?

Frequent travelers will say that’s a trick question. The rule is — and has always been — no guns are allowed in carry-ons. (You knew that, right?) But for some reason, this year a surprising number of travelers have been overlooking that rule.

In mid-October, in a year when fewer overall passengers have been traveling due to the pandemic, TSA reported that its officers had found 4,495 firearms at airport security checkpoints. That, TSA said, not only exceeded the previous record of 4,432 firearms found at checkpoints in the full calendar year of 2019, but it also established a 20-year record.

And there were still three months left in the calendar year.

(Screenshot courtesy TSA)

Guess what happened next? You probably won’t be surprised to learn that the tally of firearms found at airport checkpoints nationwide has continued to ratchet up.

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On December 21, TSA shared that its officers had already found more than 5,700 firearms at airport checkpoints nationwide this year. “And about 85% of those [firearms] were loaded,” TSA spokesman R. Carter Langston told TPG.

Many passengers traveling during the Christmas holiday also brought their guns along. TSA said its officers stopped guns on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and the day after Christmas. So, when TSA releases its official end-of-year firearm count, sometime in January, it’s a sure bet that the tally will be quite a bit higher.

What’s fueling the flurry of firearms at airport checkpoints this year?

There are a variety of theories about what’s behind the uptick in passengers arriving at airport checkpoints with firearms in their carry-on bags. But “the general consensus seems to be that we have far more leisure passengers traveling who are not as familiar with the rules,” says aviation security expert Jeff Price. “They think they can either circumvent the rules or that the rules do not apply to them because they might have a concealed carry permit.”

Or, he says, it may be because they aren’t frequent flyers. “They aren’t in the habit of checking to make sure they don’t have a firearm on them when they go to the airport, as a much more experienced flyer does.”

Adding to the rise in guns at airports is the fact that more people in the United States have guns. There has been a spike in firearm sales since the start of the pandemic. And most (5.4 million) of the 7.5 million people who bought guns between January 2019 and April 2021 lived in homes that didn’t have guns before, according to a report in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Check what you’re packing

Firearms are allowed in checked baggage, but only if they’re unloaded, packed in a locked, hard case separate from any ammunition, and declared to the airline.

(Photo courtesy TSA)

Passengers who show up at a TSA checkpoint with a gun in a pocket, a purse, a bag, a shoe, a boot, or in any carry-on item may be cited and/or arrested by local police and fined up to $13,910 by TSA, which will also revoke a scofflaw’s PreCheck privileges.

Bottom line: “Bringing a firearm to a TSA checkpoint represents a costly mistake and an unnecessary risk to TSA employees and fellow travelers,” says TSA’s Langston.

Featured image by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
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10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
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Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023