Guns seized by TSA officers continue to rise at Sky Harbor, nationwide

More and more fliers are bringing guns to security checkpoints like this one at Phoenix Sky Harbor, according to the Transportation Security Administration. Officers found 101 at Sky Harbor last year, some of the 3,391 seized nationwide in 2016. (Photo by Chloe Nordquist/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – Transportation Security Administration officers at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport have confiscated at least 13 guns since the first of the year, most of them loaded, at security checkpoints.

That puts Sky Harbor on pace to match or surpass the 101 seizures last year, when the airport ranked fourth in the nation for confiscated firearms. The increase is part of a larger trend that has seen the number of guns found at TSA checkpoints nationwide more than double in the past five years.

TSA data show the number of guns seized at security checkpoints went from 1,556 in 2012 to 3,391 last year. Those guns – about nine a day – were uncovered at 238 U.S. airports last year.

“We are seeing a trend that we’d like to see go in the opposite direction and that is that we are seeing more and more people bringing firearms to checkpoints,” said Lisa Farbstein, a TSA spokeswoman.

The national numbers were up from 2,653 in 2015, a 27.8 percent increase in one year. In Phoenix, confiscations rose 38.4 percent in the same period, rising from 73 in 2015 to 101 last year.

Atlanta topped the list in 2016, with 198 firearms seized, followed by Dallas, Houston, Sky Harbor and Denver.

Farbstein said the increase is not because of any change in policy on the TSA’s part – people just seem to be bringing more weapons to the airport.

“Our TSA officers are very well trained in being able to detect prohibited items of all sorts,” she said. “In this case we really believe that what we’re seeing is an increase in the number of firearms people are bringing to checkpoints.”

An official with the union representing TSA workers at Sky Harbor agreed, and said his members are just as dedicated as ever.

“We can’t afford to miss a single genuine threat because it only takes the bad guys one time,” said Bryan Bentley, vice president of American Federation of Government Employees TSA Local 1250.

But while more weapons are being stopped, an official with the National Association of Airline Passengers said he worries that there are still gaps in security.

“The TSA has a job to do, but unfortunately the way they’re doing their job does not protect anyone,” said Douglas Kidd, executive director of the passengers’ association.

-Cronkite News video by Tyler Fingert

Data from the TSA show that 83 percent of the guns found by officers last year were loaded. At Sky Harbor so far this year, 10 of the 13 guns recovered had been loaded.

Farbstein said that while they are finding more firearms, officers are still hearing the same old excuses from travelers stopped at a checkpoint with a gun in their bag.

“The first excuse is that they forgot they had it with them and their second excuse is that their husband packed their bag or their wife packed the bag,” she said, “but I can tell you neither of those excuses fly.”