TSA Set a Record for Number of Guns Caught at Pennsylvania Airport Checkpoints in 2021

phl gunThis loaded handgun was detected by a TSA officer at Philadelphia International Airport in April 2021. (TSA photo)

PHILADELPHIA, PA — Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers set a record for the number of guns detected at Pennsylvania airport security checkpoints last year. TSA officers stopped 89 handguns at Pennsylvania airport security checkpoints in 2021, a sharp increase from the 57 guns detected in 2020 and a spike from the 71 caught in 2019 (pre-pandemic).  

The largest increase in guns brought to checkpoints took place at Philadelphia and Pittsburgh International Airports. Thirty-nine guns were caught at Philadelphia last year, which set a new record for the number caught at the airport. At Pittsburgh, TSA officers caught 32 firearms at security checkpoints. Increases in gun detections at security checkpoints also took place at Arnold Palmer Regional, Lehigh Valley International and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International airports.

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.

TSA firearms caught at TSA checkpoints in airports in Pennsylvania, 2017 to 2021

Airport 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021
Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) 35 25 20 26 39
Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) 32 34 35 21 32
Arnold Palmer Regional Airport (LBE) 2 2 3 1 6
Lehigh Valley International Airport (ABE) 4 7 1 3 6
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport (AVP) 1  1 4 1 3
Harrisburg International Airport (MDT) 6 6 7 4 2
Erie International Airport (ERI) 0 0 0 1 1
University Park Airport (UNV) 0 0 1 0 0
Totals 80  75 71 57 89
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
Rank Airport (Code) Total
1 Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)  507
2 Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) 317
3 Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH)  245
4 Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX)  196
5 Nashville International Airport (BNA)  163
6 Denver International Airport (DEN)  141
7 Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL)  128
8 Orlando International Airport (MCO) 124
9 Louis Armstrong New Orleans International (MSY)  119
10 Salt 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.

National statistics: Firearms caught

by TSA at checkpoints, 2008 to 2021

Year Nationwide
2021 5,972
2020 3,257
2019 4,432
2018 4,239
2017  3,957
2016 3,391
2015 2,653
2014 2,212
2013 1,813
2012 1,556
2011 1,320
2010 1,123
2009 976
2008 926
Travelers can use the “What Can I Bring?” feature on the TSA website or on the free downloadable myTSA app.

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