USA

Rate of firearms found in flight carry-ons has tripled amid pandemic

Far fewer people are flying during the COVID-19 pandemic, but those who are seem more likely to try to bring firearms on the plane: The rate of passengers carrying guns through U.S. airport security tripled in July compared with the same month last year.

Airport screeners for the Transportation Security Administration announced Monday that the rate of weapons uncovered at U.S. airports jumped to 15.3 weapons per million passengers screened in July from 5.1 firearms per million in July 2019.

About 80% of the firearms uncovered last month were loaded, representing “an accident waiting to happen,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske said in a statement. (In the same month last year, a similar rate of the firearms were loaded.)

The total number of firearms uncovered by the TSA dropped to 304 last month from 401 in July 2019, according to the agency.

During the same period, the pandemic has reduced the number of passengers being screened by TSA officers by nearly three-quarters, to 20.7 million last month from 79.5 million passengers in July 2019.

“Travelers must understand that firearms are prohibited items at airports and in the passenger cabins of aircraft,” Pekoske said. “As hard as we are working to mitigate other risks at this time, no one should be introducing new ones.”

The coronavirus has infected more than 1,580 TSA employees, according to the American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO, the union representing them.

The TSA did not offer an explanation for the rise in the rate of firearms discovered per passenger, but it noted that gun sales have jumped since the pandemic took hold in the U.S. and protests began across the country over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.

FBI statistics show that firearm background checks, a proxy for sales numbers, have climbed about 80% in the past year, from 2 million in July 2019 to 3.6 million this July.

The civil penalty for trying to carry a firearm onto the cabin of a commercial plane starts at $2,050 for an unloaded weapon and $4,100 for a loaded one. The penalty can go up to the statutory maximum of more than $10,250 per violation, depending on the circumstances, according to the TSA.

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