These US airports confiscate the most guns every year

TSA reports that in the first half of this year, it's already intercepted more than 3,000 firearms.

Erika Mailman
Written by
Erika Mailman
San Francisco and USA contributor
X-ray projection of a gun at the airport
Photograph: Shutterstock

A new study from USAFacts reports that in the first six months of this year, TSA officers stopped more than 3,000 guns from going on US planes (an average of 17 a day). In 2021 in its entirety, 5,972 guns were intercepted, a number that exceeds 2019’s number by more than 35 percent – a significant figure considering we are not back to pre-pandemic passenger levels. Disturbingly, 86 percent of the guns confiscated in 2021 were loaded. According to TSA rules, you can only travel with an unloaded firearm in a locked hardsided luggage as checked baggage only, not carry-on.

Knowing all this, the natural question arises, which airports have the most issues with people trying to bring firearms on board with them? We have data to share from 2021 and 2020, thanks to this TSA press release.

In first place (though we hardly think this deserved a medal) is Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, with the largest number of guns caught in 2021 (507) and in 2020 (220). In 2018, before the pandemic, 300 guns were captured.

Coming in second for confiscated firearms was Dallas/Fort Worth International, with 317 guns caught in 2021. Houston George Bush Intercontinental came in third with 245, and Phoenix Sky Harbor International with 196. Those top four airports were ranked in that same order in 2020 as well. Here are the next airports in order:

5. Nashville International (163)

6. Denver International (141)

7. Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International (128)

8. Orlando International Airport (124)

9. Louis Armstrong New Orleans International (119)

10. Salt Lake City International (115)

The New Orleans airport was not on the top 10 list in 2020; its arrival on the list in 2021 took the spot away from Las Vegas McCarren International.

You’re all wondering – you have to be – what happens if a loaded gun (in checked or carry-on) baggage doesn’t get intercepted and fires accidentally on the plane? The Points Guy explains that it could puncture the cabin’s pressure hull or window, or could start a fire. It could also create dangerous panic among passengers and crew and could, obviously, kill someone.

And what are the repercussions for the person whose gun gets confiscated at the airport? They can be arrested and fined up to $13,910, although TSA’s website says it is usually $1,500-$2,475 plus criminal referral. And no, they don’t get the gun back.

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