Monday, April 15, 2024

TSA Continued to Detect Firearms at Virginia Airport Checkpoints in 2021

This loaded handgun was detected by TSA officers at Ronald Reagan National Airport in July 2021. (TSA photo)

NATIONWIDE — Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers stopped 98 handguns at Virginia airport security checkpoints in 2021, a new record and a huge jump from the 55 guns caught in 2020. All of the firearms were discovered by TSA officers during the routine screening of carry-on property at airport security checkpoints.

TSA officers at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport detected 30 guns in 2021, three times as many handguns compared to 2020 when 10 were caught. The TSA team at Washington Dulles International Airport also saw a huge spike in the number of guns caught in 2021 when 19 were detected compared to only seven in 2020.

Norfolk International Airport also saw nearly double the number of guns detected in 2021 when 23 were caught compared to 12 that were stopped at checkpoints in 2020.

Nationwide, TSA officers detected 5,972 firearms at airport security checkpoints in 2021. It was a significant increase from the 3,257 detected last year and a spike from the 4,432 detected in 2019 (pre pandemic). The rate of guns caught at checkpoints nationwide came to of 10.2 firearms per million passengers in 2021. Of the guns caught in 2021, approximately 86 percent were loaded. Firearms were caught at 268 airport checkpoints nationwide.

Firearms caught by TSA officers at airport checkpoints in Virginia, 2016 to 2021

Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA)191316141030
Norfolk International Airport (ORF)141021151223
Richmond International Airport (RIC)101814142220
Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD)24191719719
Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport (ROA)636515
Lynchburg Regional Airport (LYH)322311
Charlottesville-Albemarle Regional Airport (CHO)044220
Newport News-Williamsburg Regional Airport (PHF)322200

Travelers who bring firearms to the checkpoint are subject to criminal charges from law enforcement and civil penalties from TSA. Even if a traveler has a concealed weapon permit, firearms are not permitted to be carried onto an airplane. However, travelers with proper firearm permits can travel legally with their firearms in their checked bags if they follow a few simple guidelines.

Top 10 airports with guns caught by TSA at checkpoints in 2021

RankAirport (Code)Total
1Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)507
2Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)317
3Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) 245
4Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) 196
5Nashville International Airport (BNA)163
6Denver International Airport (DEN)141
7Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL)128
8Orlando International Airport (MCO)124
9Louis Armstrong New Orleans International (MSY)119
10Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC) 115

Firearm possession laws vary by state and locality. TSA advises travelers to familiarize themselves with state and local firearm laws for each point of travel prior to departure to ensure that they have the proper gun permits for the states that they are traveling to and from. Airlines may have additional requirements for traveling with firearms and ammunition so travelers should also contact the airline regarding firearm and ammunition carriage policies prior to arriving at the airport.

Passengers are permitted to travel with firearms in checked baggage if they are unloaded, packed in a hard-side case, locked, and packed separately from ammunition. Ammunition must be in its original box and can be packed inside the hard-side case, next to the firearm. Even if the box of ammunition is not full, the bullets must be in their original case. Then the case with the firearm should be brought to the airline check-in counter and the airline representative informed that the passenger wants to travel with the gun. Firearms are transported inside checked baggage and are placed in the belly of the aircraft so that nobody has access to them during the flight. TSA has details on how to properly travel with a firearm posted on its web site.

Individuals who bring weapons to a checkpoint are subject to federal civil penalties of up to $13,900. The complete list of penalties is posted online. In addition to civil penalties, individuals who violate rules regarding traveling with firearms will have Trusted Traveler status and TSA PreCheck® expedited screening benefits revoked for a period of time.   

National statistics: Firearms caught by TSA at checkpoints, 2008 to 2021


TSA officers continued their overall vigilance in protecting our nation’s transportation systems in 2021, in spite of the pandemic, including catching other prohibited items at the checkpoints. TSA recently posted a video of the top 10 prohibited items of 2021.

Travelers can use the “What Can I Bring?” feature on the TSA website or on the free downloadable myTSA app. Travelers can also tweet or message “@AskTSA” if they have a travel question or are unsure if an item is allowed through security in a carry-on bag. Just snap a picture or send a question and get real-time assistance.

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