TSA found more guns at Sea-Tac in 2022 than any other year

Jan 20, 2023, 4:18 PM | Updated: 6:16 pm
Airline passengers, some not wearing face masks following the end of Covid-19 public transportation rules, wait at a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoint to clear security before boarding to flights in the airport terminal in Denver, Colorado on April 19, 2022. (Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)
(Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)

Last year, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport hit a record it did not want to hit; TSA agents found 113 firearms in people’s carry-on luggage at security.

This was more than any other year on record, and it put SEA No. 14 in the nation in 2022 for number of guns found at security.

Nationally, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, and George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston took the top three spots for guns found at security, with 448, 385, and 298 firearms found, respectively.

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In order, the rest of the top 10 went to Nashville International Airport, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, Orlando International Airport, Denver International Airport, Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, and Tampa International Airport.

Statewide, more guns were found at Washington airports in 2022 than any year before, with 164 total. Spokane International Airport also had a record firearm year, with 34 guns found, as did Tri-Cities Airport in Pasco, with 11 guns.

While you are permitted to travel with a firearm in checked luggage, provided you follow certain rules, it is forbidden to bring a gun in your hand luggage onboard an aircraft. If you try to travel with a firearm in carry-on luggage, TSA agents will immediately spot it in the X-ray machine, pull you aside, and have airport police speak with you.

Attempting to take a firearm through security, even if done accidentally, carries stiff penalties — you can be fined up to nearly $15,000. Fines go up with each subsequent violation.

Additionally, any security privileges you might have, such as membership in TSA PreCheck or NEXUS, will be revoked. You may even be banned from certain airports if you try to get a gun through security more than once.

Don’t think you can talk your way out of those penalties, either, said TSA spokesperson Lorie Dankers. She said that TSA has heard every excuse in the book, and saying, “I forgot the gun was in my bag” is not going to fly.

“People do try that line all the time. I don’t consider that an acceptable excuse because, of course, a responsible gun owner knows where their firearm is at all times,” Dankers said. “If they’ve forgotten that they have a firearm with them, then they’re not being a responsible firearm owner.”

While there are rare instances where extenuating circumstances might let a person off the hook, Dankers said the vast majority of cases will have monetary consequences. You can even be criminally prosecuted if police deem it warranted.

“Don’t count on you not getting that civil penalty — count on you getting that civil penalty,” Dankers said. “And I can tell you, I don’t know a lot of people who have that kind of money lying around ready to pay the government for something that was completely avoidable. So heads up, a civil penalty is coming your way.”

This is a very serious violation, Dankers said, because a loaded gun in a bag could accidentally discharge and harm someone at the airport.

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“That is a concern for us, it’s a concern for our employees. Fortunately, there have not been incidents of that,” Dankers said. “But we know because the vast majority of these firearms are loaded, there is always that possibility.”

If you want to travel with your gun, you can do so, but you must put it in your checked luggage and sign a declaration form at check-in. The firearm must be secured in a hard-sided, locked container, and it must be unloaded.

Dankers says TSA agents find other dangerous and prohibited items every day, such as flashlight stun guns. Before you fly, review on the TSA’s website what items are allowed.

Follow Nicole Jennings on Twitter or email her here

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TSA found more guns at Sea-Tac in 2022 than any other year