TSA finds more guns at airport checkpoints than ever

LEE COUNTY, Fla. – At TSA checkpoints inside Southwest Florida International Airport, training and technology have come a long way since the agency was first established 20 years ago.

“It’s all about safety and security, first and foremost,” Robert McLaughlin, RSW’s TSA Director of Federal Security, told NBC2.

Their goal, of course, is to keep everyone safe – largely by detecting items that are not allowed on planes.

But a disturbing trend is emerging in 2021: The TSA is detecting more guns at checkpoints than ever before.

“It’s trending up, that’s a concern,” McLaughlin said. “It just doesn’t slow down.”

Excluding 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out air travel and the TSA found more firearms on travelers or in their luggage with each passing year. In fact, only in first nine months of 2021, the TSA discovered more firearms than all of 2019 – a new record with three months remaining.

“Here at Fort Myers, our record is 28 guns discovered, identified, in 2017. This year we are 31 years old,” McLaughlin explained.

Nationally, the rate at which TSA finds firearms has more than doubled this year compared to 2019. And although most people get caught with them with no ill intentions, it’s still a concern. Simply forgetting you carry a gun is not a good reason, says McLaughlin.

“When they do this, they are putting all the travelers at risk and they are putting all my employees at risk,” he explains. “A minor affair with that bag and possibly just a tragic incident.”

And it’s not just guns that are a concern. McLaughlin and his team have tracked down a number of dangerous objects they’ve discovered in just the past week at RSW.

“This is actually a plastic credit card knife,” McLaughlin said, picking up a small black rectangle. “Here’s a blade right here.”

They found everything from brass knobs to power tools.

“In the wrong hands, this will do some serious damage,” McLaughlin said, holding out a key with a small knife hidden inside.

McLaughlin says most people actually have a good reason to own such items, no matter how unusual they may be. But just because the person has no malice, doesn’t mean these items are allowed on the plane.

The more prepared you are when traveling, the safer your trip will be – and the faster it will be.

“We will have a lot of numbers – but we are expecting numbers. And we’re prepared for that,” McLaughlin said of the upcoming holiday season. “I’m hoping everyone has a great event… a nice, positive event.”

Bringing a gun to a checkpoint can lead to expensive fines and, depending on the case, even arrest. You’re allowed to bring a gun if they’re inside checked baggage, but there are specific regulations.

Wondering what you’re allowed to bring on the plane? This is a useful tool. TSA finds more guns at airport checkpoints than ever

Tom Vazquez

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