aviation security

TSA: 2018 was record-breaking year for guns found at airports

TSA’s Year in Review came out today with the (still somewhat unofficial) final stats on the number of guns TSA officers found in carry-on bags at airport checkpoints last year.

The total for 2018 is a record-setting 4,239 firearms found in carry-on bags at 249 of the more than 400 TSA-controlled airport checkpoints around the country.

That’s up more than 7 percent from the 3,957 firearms TSA officers found in carry-on bags in 2017.

And that averages out to 81.6 firearms a week and 11.6 firearms a day.

The break-down gets more alarming when we look at the stats on the number of guns found to be loaded.

Of the 4,239 firearms found last year, more than 86% (3,656) were loaded (another record) and almost 34% (1,432) of the firearms found had a round chambered.

Why do so many passengers show up at airports with guns?

“I think the biggest reason is that people go buy these things and then completely forget they have them, which is dangerous in its own right,” said aviation security expert Jeff Price, the owner of Leading Edge Strategies, “I imagine when they get the gun, at first they are always aware of it because they feel safer. Then, after a period of time, it works its way to the bottom of the bag and next thing that happens is its discovered at a screening checkpoint.”

Price also suspects that because more people are carrying guns these days and carry those guns in purses and laptops, they are aware they have the guns, “But in the hustle and confusion of preparing for a trip, they forget to take the gun out. “

TSA’s Year in Review also lists the top 10 airports for firearm discoveries in 2018.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) the Top 10 list with 298 firearms found. (253 loaded.) That’s an increase of 53 compared to 2017.

ATL also set the record for the airport with the most firearms discovered in one month: In August 2018, 32 firearms were found at ATL checkpoints.

Here’s the rest of TSA’s Top 10 list of airports for firearms discoveries in 2018:

Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW): 219 (193 loaded)

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX): 129 (120 loaded)

Denver International Airport (DEN): 126 (95 loaded)

Orlando International Airport (MCO): 123 (112 loaded)

George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH): 117 (115 loaded). Some good news here: this is a decrease of 25 compared to 2017.

Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL): 96 (80 loaded)

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS): 93 (76 loaded)

Dallas Love Field Airport (DAL): 89 (83 loaded)    

Nashville International Airport (BNA): 86 (80 loaded)

In a year when TSA also screened a record number of travelers (813.8 million; a 5.5 percent increase over 2017), the agency’s officers also found a wide variety of prohibited items and ‘artfully concealed’ objects other than firearms in carry-on bags, including inert grenades, a bottle of lighter fluid, fireworks and knife combs.

TSA’s week in review also notes the loss in 2018 of Curtis “Blogger Bob” Burns, the charmingly corny TSA employee who chronicled the agency’s odd finds on the TSA blog, on Twitter and on Instagram. Burns is featured in quirky videos highlighting TSA Top 10 Most Unusual Finds in 2016 and in 2017.

TSA’s Year in Review promises that a video highlighting 2018’s most unusual finds will be released soon.

Why did the TSA give up on knives on planes?


Politics and arrogance likely scuttled the plan by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to allow small knives back on planes, but it’s not clear that fliers are any safer for it.

Last week, the TSA announced that while the agency’s “top priority continues to be expansion of efforts to implement a layered, risk-based security approach to passenger screening while maximizing resources,” it was putting aside a proposed plan to allow passengers to take small knives, toy bats, billiard cues, ski poles, hockey sticks and other currently prohibited sports equipment on board as carry-on items.

The revised list of allowable carry-on items was supposed to go into effect at the end of April, but the plan received strong opposition from flight attendants, pilots, law enforcement, airlines and bi-partisan group of legislators concerned that knives, especially, could be used in attacks on flight crews and other passengers.

“On its merits, the original decision to remove the items from the list was probably based on sound examination of threats risks and vulnerabilities, but given the public reaction, and that of stakeholders and congress, politically, it became too big of fight and not one TSA felt was worth having,” Christian Beckner, deputy director of the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University told NBC News.

While TSA administrator John Pistole may have lost this battle, “He has the right instincts,” Richard Bloom, director of Terrorism, Intelligence, and Security Studies at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Prescott Arizona Campus told NBC News.

“Unfortunately because of the political climate at the federal level in Washington and the political aspects of TSA, his hands are tied more than he’d like to them to be.”

That doesn’t mean the discussion is over.

“The TSA can probably revisit the discussion about hockey sticks, golf clubs and other items in the coming months,” said Beckner, “But because of the history of how the attacks of September 11 were carried out, there will be always be a visceral reaction to removing even the small knives from the list.”

Going forward, the discussion will likely take a different form.

“You can’t make an acceptable risk decision unless you talk to those affected by it,” said Henry Willis, director the Rand Corporation’s Homeland Security and Defense Center. “I expect TSA to continue making decisions informed by risk, but to more actively engage those affected by those decisions when making them.”

Even so, there are likely to be roadblocks.

An amendment attached to the homeland security bill coming out of the House of Representatives contains language that restrict the TSA from using funds to implement a program that allows knives back on planes, said Eben Burnham-Snyder, spokesman for congressman Ed Markey (D-Mass), who introduced the bi-partisan amendment with Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.). “It’s basically an insurance policy on the reversal of the decision.”

And then there’s gridlock.

“I wish I was wrong about this, but I expect more of the same,” said Bloom. “Even if folks come up with good ideas in term of counter-terrorism and research on this topic, I think politics will continue to get in the way.”

(My story: Why did the TSA give up on knives on pkanes? first appeared on NBC News)

TSA will delay allowing knives & more back on planes

Thursday, April 25, was the TSA’s target date for allowing knives and some sports equipment, such as hockey sticks, back on airplanes as carry-on items.

But today the TSA announced that it will hold off on that decision for an undetermined amount of time.

Here’s their statement:

“In order to accommodate further input from the Aviation Security Advisory Committee (ASAC), which includes representatives from the aviation community, passenger advocates, law enforcement experts, and other stakeholders, TSA will temporarily delay implementation of changes to the Prohibited Items List, originally scheduled to go into effect April 25. This timing will enable TSA to incorporate the ASAC’s feedback about the changes to the Prohibited Items List and continue workforce training.”