Airport gun confiscations soared 20% in 2013

By SB Anderson

The number of guns confiscated from passengers trying to board planes in the U.S. jumped 20% in 2013 to 1,828, with the Atlanta airport leading the way at 110 confiscations. Five guns were seized on the average day across the nation’s airports.

The vast majority of guns — 84% — were loaded when Transportation Security Administration agents discovered them during security screenings, and of those loaded, one in three had a bullet in the chamber, ready to fire.

The increase over 2012 is the third annual jump since 2010 — and the largest.

Data used in this story was gathered and analyzed by Medill National Security Journalism Initiative from weekly data releases the TSA makes on its blog.

Final numbers that were released by the TSA after we published our tally showed 15 fewer confiscation incidents for the year, or 1,813. While the TSA all along has said final numbers would vary from its weekly blog post data (higher, probably, it had been saying) it is unclear why 15 incidents that had been reported did not make the final list this time or at what airports. TSA has not responded to requests to explain the discrepancy, but has changed its blog disclaimer to say final numbers “will vary slightly,” instead of “will vary slightly (increase).”

Two dozen media outlets have done stories based on our 2013 TSA database. See which ones.

Of the 207 airports at which at least one gun was found, Atlanta had the most with 110, followed by Dallas-Fort Worth (98) and Houston Bush (67). One in four airports had 10 or more confiscations. (See Top 10 list below).

Two types of guns — .380 and 9mm — were the most frequently found. Together, they made up nearly half of the guns confiscated. (See table below).

2013 Top Airports TSA Gun Confiscations       Type of Gun 2013

It is illegal to carry a handgun aboard a commercial airliner; guns must be part of checked baggage and meet certain guidelines. The TSA notifies local authorities when a gun is found at security checkpoints; the local authorities determine whether to make an arrest, issue a ticket or taken other action.

Visit this spreadsheet to view details for each incident, as well as weekly breakdown and charts. The data is also downloadable and you are free to use it, as long as you give credit to Medill National Security Journalism Initiative and include a link to our front page.


In the interactive graphic below, data for each airport plotted on a map. Large red markers are the Top 10 airports. Yellow had the fewest confiscations (under 10) while blue had between 10 and 39. Click on markers to see information for that airport.


Below is a heat map that illuminates location of airports where the most guns were found. Intensity in this heat map runs from lowest (light green) to highest (dark red) based on the number of guns confiscated.

'Heat map' of TSA gun confiscations 2013

Thanks to NSJI’s Natalie Jones for ongoing data entry support!

(Posted Jan. 6, 2014)