MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Fewer people are flying, but more guns are showing up at airports.

The Transportation Security Administration has confiscated 4,495 firearms found in carry-on bags as of Oct. 3, which is a new calendar-year record with still more than two months left to go. The previous record was 4,432 in 2019.

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In general, the number of firearms confiscated at TSA checkpoints has risen every year since 2009 except in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic began.

As travelers roll through TSA checkpoints at MSP Airport, an average of at least one per week this year has carried with them a prohibited item that puts passengers and staff at risk.

“We do not want them ever making it onto the plane,” said Jessica Mayle, public affairs specialist for TSA Great Lakes Region.

Forty-four guns have been confiscated by TSA at MSP in 2021 so far, higher than the number taken in each of the previous three years. There were 34 confiscated in 2020, 40 in 2019, and 37 in 2018.

(credit: TSA)

It’s in line with a troubling trend nationwide in which a record number of travelers are getting caught with firearms, sometimes loaded, in their carry-on baggage.

“I just think that’s stupidity and negligence,” said one traveler at MSP who has properly traveled with a gun before.

Gerald Armijo, who was also traveling at MSP, was surprised when he learned the troubling news.

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“They have the signage at all the ticket counters that you’re supposed to check your gun, but people ignore signage I guess,” Armijo said.

When a gun is found, MSP Airport Police will arrest the owner for what will likely begin as a misdemeanor charge — but the consequences go beyond that.

“You will face a federal civil penalty from the TSA. There’s an investigation, we write a report,” said Mayle, adding that it could lead to a fine up to $14,000. “It would be extremely dangerous for a gun to be in the cabin of an airplane.”

(credit: CBS)

The top excuse from those caught with a gun is that they simply forgot it was in the bag. Mayle also mentioned that with many people taking a break from traveling during the pandemic, it’s possible they didn’t remember the rules. Others might be new gun owners who haven’t traveled before with a gun.

It’s why the TSA is pushing an awareness campaign, asking gun owners to unpack their bags until they’re empty before packing them for a trip.

“Gun owners have a responsibility to know where their gun is at all times, and responsible gun owners do,” Mayle said.

If you travel with a firearm, it must be unloaded, in a hard case and put in a checked bag. You must also declare that you have a firearm in the bag when you are checking it. Ammunition must be packed separately in checked-bag, not in carry-on luggage. Firearm parts like magazines, clips and bolts must be in checked baggage.

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Click here to learn more about how to safely and legally travel with firearms.

Jeff Wagner