Guns, cannons, swords: TSA has record-breaking haul in 2014

Rotation

Each Friday, before I close my office and head to Happy Hour, I check the TSA Blog for the Week in Review posting of the number of firearms (loaded and unloaded) and other prohibited items (inert explosives, big knives, anti-tank weapons, etc.) discovered at airport checkpoints.

You should too. The blog (and TSA’s Instagram account) offers an informal course on the wide variety of items TSA deems too dangerous to be allowed on airplanes, yet which travelers continue to bring to airports.

TSA find _ Keychain is actually a punching weapon prohibited on planes by TSA

TSA find – this keychain is actually a punching weapon prohibited on planes by TSA

The numbers don’t spike on particular holidays or on Mondays but the tally of firearms, especially, keeps going up.

On June 4, 2014, for example, TSA reported that 18 firearms were discovered in carry-on bags around the country, breaking the previous record of 13 found in one day, set in 2013.

In early November, another record was broken. With two months still to go in the year, the number of firearms discovered at checkpoints had reached 1,855.

That blew 2014’s tally past the overall 2013 total of 1,813. By the close of business on December 15, this year’s tally had grown to 2,097.

“I think the rate is increasing because more and more people are carrying [weapons] throughout the country. It can actually be difficult for people who carry all the time because the gun becomes an extension of them, just like their cell phone and wallet,” said Jeff Price, author of Practical Aviation Security.

“Oops, I forgot that was in there,” is the most common explanation given by passengers found with firearms in a carry-on bag. But there are people who certainly know what they’re toting. “Some of these people are just tools trying to get one over on TSA and the system, but there are also those who may be affiliated with terrorist groups that decide to test the system to see what they can get through,” said Price.

TSA_GiantScissors

Giant scissors and knives among many items discovered at TSA checkpoints

Thanks to ever-more-sophisticated technology, TSA is confident it is catching 100 percent of all the firearms coming through checkpoints. But Todd Curtis, founder of AirSafe.com, pegs the find rate at closer to 90 percent. “The technology TSA has isn’t perfect,” said Curtis, “But in most cases, if someone is dense enough to try to take a weapon through the checkpoint they’ll be caught.”Whenever TSA does spot a firearm in a carry-on bag at a checkpoint, the screening process stops until law enforcement responds and retrieves the weapon. And it’s local laws, not the TSA, that determine if any criminal charges are filed against a passenger.

Criminal charges or not, passengers found with firearms at airport checkpoints are subject to civil penalties, ranging from $1,500 up to $11,000. In 2013, TSA assessed nearly $1.7 million in civil penalties for firearms discovered in carry-on bags nationwide.

What happens to the firearms also depends on local laws. While local law enforcement allows TSA to photograph firearms (and other prohibited items) discovered at checkpoints, “TSA doesn’t take possession of any firearms,” said TSA spokesman Ross Feinstein, “Local law enforcement might confiscate the weapon as evidence or give it back the passenger to return it to their home or to put it in their vehicle.”

Beyond firearms, of course, TSA officers encounter an extremely wide variety of other prohibited items at airport checkpoints, including machetes, hatchets, swords, giant scissors, brass knuckles, cannonballs, bear repellant and, this past October, an unloaded cannon.

“Maybe someone has a lucky inert grenade they brought back from some war, or a nice cane was given to them and they forgot that the thing is actually a sword,” said Price, “It’s the people that are carrying stuff like chainsaws that make me wonder.”

TSA Cannon

Cannon as carry-on

21 Comments

  1. Rocco Giuliano

    How many of these items had anything whatsoever to do with terrorism? How does a “keychain punching weapon” endanger the aircraft? Why does TSA confiscate tiny pocket knives? Why are they screening for anything besides explosives? And why ** don’t** they screen catering/cleaning personnel who have access to every nook and cranny on the aircraft?

    • Moose

      Tiny knives and punching weapons endanger the plane because they can be used to take control of it. Remember, all it took to take over the planes on 9/11 was some razor blades and small utility knives.

      I’m more than happy to discuss whether the inconvenience is worth the decrease in risk, but to assert that these weapons can’t be used to endanger a plane is just wrong.

      • DamnGSXR

        Yea but up until that time, the only real outcome of an airplane hijacking was to head to Cuba or off to the Middle East. The hijackers got away with box cutters because the folks on board didn’t think they were in danger. A stupid ride to Cuba or Ireland on the way to the Middle East is just annoying as long as you don’t piss off the hijackers. But look at the Pennsylvania crash. Once the passengers knew what was going on, they attacked the hijackers regardless of the boxcutter weapons.

        I agree though. The likelyhood of a plane being taken over by someone wielding a boxcutter now is virtually nil. Same with any other device such as a set of knuckledusters. May as well take away everyone’s “yawara” (aka pencil/pen) as they get on board.

        • History Buff

          It was the official policy of the US Government (DoT) that skyjackers were to be allowed to fly the plane if they so demanded. Before 9/11 Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta made it clear that the only way Americans had been hurt in skyjackings was through resisting.

          In such a situation, with that formal government policy, an aircraft captain faced with a terrorist threatening to injure a flight crew member with a box cutter if not admitted to the cockpit looked like someone to let in. If the flight attendant had been injured on his watch it would have been a serious breech of protocol.

          It’s not a failure of imagination (unless nobody at DoT reads Tom Clancy), it was a policy of driving with the rear-view mirror. When the policy was proven ineffective, rather than admit blame the DoT claimed that all hazardous substances must be banned to prevent future threats. Then they put better locks on cockpit doors to solve the actual problem. Once the problem was solved, they couldn’t roll back the crazy rules without admitting they were crazy. Since nobody in government can take blame, we’re just stuck.

          • Dolt

            Anyone with any sort of intelligence and common sense would understand this. However, far too many people are hysterical reactionaries rather than rational thinkers.

            TSA is an unnecessary abuse of the public, but luckily for them the public wants to be abused.

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  4. Doug lynch

    I agree the TSA confiscates a lot of items “They” decided to prohibit. I suspect most are not associated with any intent So absent intent, what justification does TSA have for fining and confiscating all these items.

    Profiling, intelligence and other real preventative measures AE where TSA should be investing. Profiling doesn’t mean racial only. Yep, the ACLU won’t like that, but they don’t typically serve in the military or spend time in combat zones, just reap the benefits from those who do.

    The old adage that once the guns are eliminated, only the criminals will have guns holds true here too. Take everything that could be used for defense off the plane and only the bad guys will have weapons.

    Concentrate on intent and threat. Let the rest of us travel un inhibited.

    I really doubt by the cannon was a threat.

  5. Steveo

    Why is the cannon banned? It is different to a handgun which needs a half inch bullet, no one is going to get half a kilo of gun powder and a 2 kilo shot onto the plane. Surely? If they can then you have bigger problems.

    • M H

      Right? Maybe the TSA is afraid of Sky Pirates capturing the planes and going on plunder / raiding attacks against our improperly defended port cities.

  6. Kevin

    That cannon would probably explode on the first shot anyway. Look at that shot of the inner barrel. It’s an antique and not in any condition to be fired. The TSA just wanted an excuse to steal from someone. And people carry those sorts of knives everywhere all day long. They are tools. Not weapons.

    These guys are simply grasping at straws to have a reason to even exist and get megatons of funding. They are nothing but glorified mall cops we let Bush and Obama give too much power.

  7. M H

    “there are also those who may be affiliated with terrorist groups that decide to test the system to see what they can get through,”

    And some might be secret extra-terrestrials from IslamWorld, intent on imposing Intergalactic Sharia law on all us primitive earthlings. There is about as much actual evidence in that as there is “terrorists” carrying a 4oz bottle of liquid explosives (thus the 3 OZ limit?). I’m all for proper airport security, but most of the TSA employees can’t really think “outside” their established protocols and search procedures so at this point it would be relatively simple to get whatever past them. TSA will check for A, B, and C in specific X, Y, and Z ways and has been for years. It’s not real security…

    And a cannon? REALLY? was the TSA thinking some Barnaby pirates would ALSO have gun powder and ball shot? Afraid some “sky pirates” would steal the plane, set the cannon up out the window, and go sky raiding? What possible danger does a cannon barrel have? We don’t live in a Monty Python “pirate accountants” world where cannons are commonly used. And there’s NO WAY someone tried to take that in their carry-on HAHA.

  8. M H

    “TSA is confident it is catching 100 percent of all the firearms coming through checkpoints.”

    HAHAHAHAHA

    “thin, irregularly-shaped pancake taped to the abdomen would be invisible in images” http://www.propublica.org/article/just-how-good-are-the-tsas-body-scanners

    There are a wide variety of ways to get whatever around our security. It’s so bad the lawmakers doing the investigation (http://www.oig.dhs.gov/assets/Mgmt/OIG_SLR_12-06_Nov11.pdf) cou;dn’t actually say how bad except ” “If we could reveal the failure rate, the American public would be outraged.” -Florida Rep. John Mica , chairman of the House Transportation Committee.

    ” We find that the system provides weak protection against adaptive adversaries: It is possible to conceal knives, guns, and explosives from detection by exploiting properties of the
    device’s backscatter X-ray technology. ” https://radsec.org/secure1000-sec14.pdf

    I think I’ve proved my point. And with new “colorization”, you are pretty much naked inside a machine, pretty well detailed. And all those images are kept and leaked. http://www.tomsguide.com/us/US-Marshals-Federal-Courthouse-Xrays-Leaked-body-scan,news-8875.html

  9. Bob

    Well we all know its just theater anyway so sit back and enjoy the show!
    I have to admit I chuckled at the Cannon though.
    My partner who flys for work once took 5 lb weights with her to the east coast with no problem but coming back apparently they were a threat. When she pointed out that it was OK to fly west to east with them but now its not OK to fly east to west she was treated like a threat herself.

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  12. Daisiemae

    Just think of all the money TSA will bring in when it sells off this “record-breaking haul.” That antique cannon alone is probably worth a great deal of money.

    Of course, the total intake is minus all the items the screeners kept for themselves….iPads, jewelry, cameras, designer handbags and fragrances…the list goes on. The screeners rake in quite a “record-breaking haul” for their own private use. Their friends and relatives probably supply them with a wish list.

    It looks like the scavengers have outdone themselves this year! Isn’t it wonderful how our tax dollars have provided a giant shopping mall for TSA?