A record number of gun-carrying passengers at airports and belligerent travelers have created a "huge problem," a Transportation Security Administration official said.
Security and law enforcement officials say systems designed to keep air travel safe are being strained due to the current environment, CNN reported Wednesday.
"We've had many more incidences where there are passenger disturbances both in checkpoints and onboard aircraft. That makes it more important that there are no guns involved," TSA Administrator David Pekoske told CNN.
Already this year, TSA has caught 4,650 firearms — a majority of which were loaded — at checkpoints. That number surpasses the full-year record of 4,432 in 2019.
Pekoske told CNN he thought the number of confiscated weapons reflected a society that has become increasingly armed.
"I think more people are carrying weapons, just generally across the country, and then whatever is happening across the country we see reflected in our checkpoints," he said. "As a passenger, I don't want another passenger flying with me with a gun in their possession."
With air travel increasing this year following a pandemic-riddled 2020, TSA is finding 11 armed passengers in every 1 million — and more than 80% (more than 3,900) were loaded.
"No checkpoint, no airport is immune from having passengers try to carry guns through the checkpoint," Pekoske told CNN. "It does occur more frequently in again the states where gun carriage is at a higher rate compared to other states."
Besides being concerned about weapons as the busy holiday season approaches, airline officials have asked airport security to be proactive in spotting intoxicated or otherwise unruly passengers who could create an in-flight disturbance.
The Federal Aviation Administration told CNN on Tuesday that airline crews this year had reported 4,724 incidents and opened more than 880 investigations. Normally, the FAA conducts about 180 investigations annually.
Penalties for attempting to bring a firearm through a checkpoint start at about $2,500 for an unloaded weapon, and range up to $10,000 for a loaded weapon. Subsequent offenses result in higher penalties, though Pekoske said repeat offenders are rare.
TSA also can revoke an offender's PreCheck membership, and local authorities might criminally prosecute. A sheriff's department in the Pittsburgh area has agreed to revoke concealed carry permits for individuals who try to bring a gun through a checkpoint, TSA said.
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