TSA Discovers Record Number of Guns at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport Checkpoints

TSA is reminding air travelers that there is a proper way to pack, declare and travel with a firearm.

Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) have discovered 177 firearms at security checkpoints as of December 1, of this year. In 2020, TSA officers discovered 123 firearms at security checkpoints and in 2019 they found 130 firearms.

Nationwide, TSA officers detected 3,257 firearms on passengers or their carry-on bags at checkpoints last year, although the total number of passengers screened at airport checkpoints across the country fell by 500 million compared to 2019, due to the pandemic. The result was that twice as many firearms per million passengers screened were detected at checkpoints in 2020 compared to 2019. In 2020, TSA caught approximately 10 firearms per million passengers as compared to about five firearms per million passengers in 2019.

“Passengers are allowed to travel with their firearms and ammunition as long as they follow the proper procedures,” said Jerry Agnew, TSA’s Federal Security Director for Arizona. “Travelers should never bring a gun—loaded or unloaded—to a security checkpoint because they are not permitted to be carried into the cabin of a plane.”

“Passengers must remember they’re responsible for the contents of bags and our advice is they empty out their carry-on luggage before they start packing to make sure there are no illegal or prohibited items before coming to the airport.”

Bringing weapons to an airport checkpoint carries a federal civil penalty because TSA reserves the right to issue a civil penalty to travelers who have guns and knives with them at a checkpoint. Civil penalties for bringing a handgun into a checkpoint can stretch into thousands of dollars, depending on 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. Additionally, if a traveler with a gun is a member of TSA PreCheck®, that individual will lose their TSA PreCheck privileges for an allotted period of time.

Passengers are permitted to travel with firearms in checked baggage if they are properly packaged and declared at their airline ticket counter. Firearms must be unloaded, packed in a hard-sided locked case, and packed separately from ammunition. Then the locked case should be taken to the airline check-in counter to be declared. TSA has details on how to properly travel with a firearm posted on its website.

Firearm possession laws vary by state and locality and passengers should do their homework to make sure that they are not violating any local firearm laws. Travelers should also contact their airline as they may have additional requirements for traveling with firearms and ammunition.

TSA – Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport

YEAR 2018 2019 2020 2021
GUNS CAUGHT 129 130 123* 177**
*Significantly fewer passengers than previous year due to the pandemic.
**Number as of 12/06/2021

While firearms may be transported in checked baggage (provided they are declared to the airline, in a proper carrying case and unloaded), they are prohibited in carry-on bags.

Security is the first concern of the TSA, and having these items in bags that are traveling with you on the aircraft is dangerous to other travelers and can be easily mistaken as an intentional attempt to bring a prohibited item onto an aircraft.

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