Though air travel numbers were down dramatically in 2020 because of a global pandemic, the Transportation Security Administration said its agents stopped guns at their checkpoints across the United States at double the rate they did the previous year.
Firearm confiscations at Florida airports remained in the top 10 across the country, as they have for years.
In 2020, there were about 10 firearms per one million passengers screened as compared to about five firearms per one million passengers in 2019, according to the TSA’s annual report released in January.
A total of 3,257 firearms were found in carry-on bags at checkpoints, and 83% of those weapons — about 2,700 — were loaded. In Florida alone, 456 firearms were found at the 22 airports where the TSA has operations.
While Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport had the most guns found across the nation with 220; Fort Lauderdale’s airport came in seventh place with 87, closely followed by Orlando’s International Airport with 79, records show.
Tampa and Miami’s International Airports just missed the Top 10, coming in at 11th with 70 firearms and 13th with 60 guns, respectively.
“Most of the guns brought to our checkpoints have been loaded, many with ammunition chambered. An accidental discharge could result in tragedy,” TSA spokesperson Sari Koshetz said.
While unloaded guns can be transported through checked luggage once they are declared with the airline, passengers cannot transport any weapons in their carry-on luggage.
Passengers caught with a firearm at security checkpoints may pay a civil penalty of up to $13,669, according to the TSA. Additionally, they also could face criminal charges.
Palm Beach International Airport — where former President Donald Trump would land Air Force One when visiting Mar-a-Lago, his winter White House — had 10 guns confiscated last year. In 2019, 21 guns were taken.
In Southwest Florida, 20 firearms were found at the international airport near Fort Myers and the Punta Gorda airport.
In the Florida Panhandle, 46 guns were seized by security at four airports in Pensacola, Panama City, Tallahassee and Destin/Fort Walton.
In Jacksonville, 36 firearms were recovered after an all-time high of 50 in 2019, the TSA said.
Federal officials said the number of firearms persisted even as the number of passengers going through security checkpoints dropped by 500 million in 2020 because of the pandemic.
Travel was at a standstill for much of the spring in 2020 as cities and countries across the world were under a lockdown or stay-at-home orders in an effort to mitigate the spread of the virus.
In a recent survey by AAA, 42% of Floridians canceled travel plans or didn’t go anywhere in 2020 because of pandemic fears, according to spokesperson Mark Jenkins. He said more than 40% of Floridians surveyed said they’ll feel more comfortable traveling once they receive a vaccine.
“There’s a prevailing hope among many Americans that things will return to normal later this year,” he said.
When it comes to those who did travel, Koshetz said, the numbers of people bringing firearms to the TSA checkpoints always are escalated during the holidays.
“This year holiday travel stress combined with an overwhelming dose of pandemic stress meant even more passengers failed to scrutinize what was in their carry-ons,” Koshetz said
Even so, some of the most traveled holidays of the year saw significant dips in airline travel for 2020 across the United States.
Between the day before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after it, traditionally one of the busiest travel periods of the year, about 4.5 million people flew this year, according to the TSA. In 2019, that number was more than 12 million.
This compares to another busy time period — between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day. In 2020, 10.3 million traveled, compared to almost twice that (21.3 million) in 2019.
Firearms confiscated at Florida airports, 2020
- Fort Lauderdale International – 87
- Orlando International – 79
- Tampa International – 70
- Miami International – 60
- Jacksonville International – 36
- Southwest International Airport Fort Myers – 14
- Palm Beach International – 10
- Sarasota-Bradenton International – 8
- Gainesville Regional – 6
- Tallahassee International – 6
- Daytona Beach International – 3
- Key West International – 3