Rate of gun seizures at airport checkpoints jumped in 2020

A TSA agent works with a traveler at a security checkpoint.
A TSA agent works with a traveler at a security checkpoint at Dallas’ Love Field in November.
(Tony Gutierrez / Associated Press)

Security screeners confiscated guns at airport checkpoints at a record pace last year, although the total number of guns dropped along with the pandemic-induced plunge in travelers.

The Transportation Security Administration said Tuesday that screeners found 3,257 firearms on passengers or in their carry-on bags in 2020, or about 10 for every 1 million travelers. About 83% of the guns were loaded.

The rate was double that in 2019, when screeners found five guns for every 1 million passengers. However, with 500 million more travelers screened in 2019, TSA officers found a record 4,432 guns that year.


Screeners found 220 guns at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, followed by 176 at Dallas/Fort Worth International, 126 at George Bush Intercontinental in Houston, 126 at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International and 104 at Denver International.

They found 43 at Los Angeles International Airport.

At airports in the greater Los Angeles area — LAX as well as Hollywood Burbank Airport, Long Beach Airport, Ontario International Airport and John Wayne Airport in Orange County — they found a combined total of 81. That was up from 77 the year before but down from 91 in 2018 and still “well below the national average” rate, a TSA spokesperson said.

Federal law prohibits passengers other than certain law enforcement officers from bringing guns or ammunition into the cabin. Federal law allows passengers to put guns in checked bags that go into the cargo hold if the firearms are unloaded and in a locked case.

Airlines don’t have to permit guns, even in checked bags. All leading U.S. airlines temporarily banned guns in checked bags on flights to Washington, D.C.-area airports for a week after the Jan. 6 riot by supporters of then-President Trump at the U.S. Capitol. Those bans ended last weekend, three days after the inauguration of President Biden.

The COVID-19 death of an airline passenger, and pilots’ and flight attendants’ complaints about other incidents, illustrate deficiencies in the systems meant to stop people from bringing the coronavirus on flights.

Jan. 1, 2021

Times staff writer Lauren Raab contributed to this report.