Travel News

Are 3X More People Really Trying to Fly with Guns? Or is the TSA Just Doing Better Checking?

Written by Charlie

With recent reports that 3x more guns per million travelers are being found at TSA checkpoints, is it more guns or is the TSA just checking more thoroughly?

This week, two big numbers came out about air travel in the US – one was that over 800,000 people went through TSA checkpoints, the highest number since March 17. The other number was that the TSA detected 15.3 guns per million people in July, up from 5.1 guns per million back in July, 2019. What is going on?

3X More Guns? Or Better Checking by the TSA?

Read: If you do need to travel with a gun, make sure read how to do it.

This is the tweet that set a lot of things off yesterday, including news stories and blog posts about the rate of guns at TSA checkpoints tripling. But, are travelers really carrying that many more guns to TSA checkpoints or is the slowdown in travelers making it easier for the TSA to screen passengers better?

The TSA Has Failed in Many Tests

Over the years, the TSA has failed many tests by Homeland Security to test their ability to detect threats. A couple of years ago, the TSA failed in 95% of the tests that were done – that is 67 out of 70 attempts. Things have not been better since then that much either.

Screening Equipment Never Checked/Calibrated After Installation?

Part of this may have to do with the fact that the security screening equipment is never checked after it is installed. The US Government Accountability Office said in a report last December that “TSA does not ensure that screening technologies continue to meet detection requirements after deployment to airport.”

Training of TSA?

Not only that, but since there is only 40 hours of classroom training and 60 hours of on-the-job training for TSA agents, they may not all be adequately skilled to detect dangerous objects in bags the way that law enforcement officers are trained with this equipment.

Law enforcement, on the other hand, have much greater training when it comes to the metal detector areas in how to spot threats, how to deal with threats, interacting with people, etc.

TSA Trading Speed for Security?

Finally, there was a whistleblower from the TSA last year that said that the TSA has prioritized speed over security, going so far as to say that the TSA has reduced the sensitivity of metal detectors and even disabled the tech on some X-ray machines in order to keep travelers moving.

As travelers, we have seen the changes that had come to TSA checkpoints, with rules like even having to take food out of the bags before putting them through the metal detectors. It was no wonder that the Trusted Traveler Program TSA PreCheck was pushed and advertised so heavily to travelers. Why not encourage people to get background checked to some extent so as to make the job of the TSA even easier when it came to screening?

So, with all of that said, are there really 3x more people carrying firearms up to TSA checkpoints as before? Carrying a firearm, especially a loaded one, to a TSA checkpoint is not a joke for sure. Even a first time offender will receive a $4,100 fine for this (here is where you find out the list of fines)!

But, maybe it is just that with the huge drop in travelers, the TSA is actually screening more carefully and spotting firearms that may have slipped through in the past. Could that be what is going on?

A Look at the Numbers

Here is a list of the airports where the guns were found – Atlanta tops the list with 27.

So, let’s break down the numbers to see what all of this means in real-world numbers.

  • July, 2019 – TSA screened 79 million passengers
  • July, 2020 – TSA screened 20 million passengers

That is a 75% drop from last July to this July. The TSA said that the number of guns found went from 5.1 guns per million in July of 2019 to 15.3 guns per million in July of 2020.

That translates to 375 guns being found by TSA in July of 2019 and 300 guns being found by TSA in July of 2020. So, could it be that the TSA is being more watchful and vigilant that in previous years, given the drop in passengers? Or is it that there are still just a few hundred incredibly ignorant people that approach a TSA checkpoint with a gun on them?

One more number? 80% (or 240) of those guns are loaded when found at the TSA checkpoints.

What do you think? Are more people traveling with guns than before or is the TSA being more careful in their screening?

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About the author


Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.