Minneapolis — Minnesota hunters who travel by air are encouraged to brush up on the proper means to transport their firearms, federal officials say.
The Transportation Security Administration says it confiscated 6,301 illegally-transported firearms in 2022 and has increased its maximum fine by more than $1,000 for this year for illegal transport.
The number of firearms found at TSA checkpoints steadily has increased during the past 13 years, and as the number has increased, so has the penalty for the violation.
At the end of 2022, TSA officials say the agency increased the maximum fine to $14,950 to raise awareness of the serious nature of bringing a weapon through security at an airport.
“Overwhelmingly, when people are stopped at the checkpoint, when we find a gun in their carry-on bag, they say, ‘Oh my gosh, I forgot I had that,’” said Jessica Mayle, TSA Great Lakes regional spokesperson. “We always (tell them that) responsible firearms owners always know where their guns are and that’s not an excuse. It’s still extremely dangerous, (and) the consequences are the same. What we found was that this is generally not people who are trying to do something malicious.”
Mayle added that the problem is nationwide, as more than 240 airports have confiscated at least one weapon at a TSA security checkpoint. She said the biggest reason why the confiscation number has been increasing is due to increasing gun ownership each year and less education on transporting a gun during air travel.
Mayle also said that conceal and carry handguns have been the main issue as people forget to pack their firearm properly or to leave it at home.
Along with more than 6,000 guns being seized in 2022, 88% have been loaded when discovered by TSA agents. That’s the highest percentage during the past seven years.
“I want people to not only think about what the consequences to you regarding your time and financial penalty … but (finding a firearm at a security checkpoint) slows down everyone behind you,” Mayle said. “There’s a huge delay for people who are also trying to get to the airport that day, too.”
There were 1,124 firearms confiscated at security checkpoints in 2010, and the number has steadily increased each year. The maximum fine and percentage of weapons loaded when found have increased as well. Here is a breakdown of the violations in recent years:
• 2021: 5,972 firearms, $13,910 maximum penalty, 86% loaded.
• 2020: 3,257 firearms, $13,669 maximum penalty, 83% loaded (numbers are lower due to the pandemic that year).
• 2019: 4,432 firearms, $13,333 maximum penalty, 87.16% loaded.
• 2018: 4,244 firearms, $13,000 maximum penalty, 86.15% loaded.
• 2017: 3,952 firearms, $12,000 maximum penalty, 84% loaded.
• 2016: 3,391 firearms, $12,000 maximum penalty, 83% loaded.
• 2015: 2,653 firearms.
• 2014: 2,212 firearms.
• 2013: 1,913 firearms.
• 2012: 1,549 firearms.
• 2011: 1,320 firearms.
The Minneapolis-St. Paul airport has seen the trend in increased firearms being found each year, but MSP hasn’t been in the top 10 airports for confiscated weapons. In 2022, there were 58 firearms found at MSP airport, an average of about one firearm each week.
There are other airports, such as Atlanta and Dallas-Fort Worth, that are consistently in the top 10, with 200 to 300 guns confiscated each year.
In 2021, 56 firearms were found at MSP airport with the number lower in 2020 (34), 2019 (40), and 2018 (37).
“I’m very glad the number did not rise even more dramatically, and obviously, I wish it had been going down,” Mayle said. “We are working on that, but it’s not a problem that seems to have grown a lot.”
Mayle added that when a firearm is found at an airport security checkpoint, it stops the entire process. Police are called to handle the weapon and talk to the individual who possessed it.
After talking to the passenger, police will decide if there are any criminal charges for the incident and TSA will issue a civil penalty based on offenses.
Mayle said depending on the circumstances, TSA can also take away the person’s TSA precheck option as well as add extra screening of the individual during future trips in airports.
Firearm airport tips
Mayle and Kevin Vick, president at Stock & Barrel Gun Clubs, agreed the best starting point is to check out TSA’s website (www.tsa.gov) with the steps and rules for bringing a firearm onto an airplane.
The firearm must be placed in checked baggage, and the person must declare there’s a firearm in the baggage to the check-in agent. Mayle said if you don’t notify the check-in agent, you may receive a fine.
“I think a lot of it can be attributed to the fact that we have a lot of new, first-time gun owners over the past two to four years who may or may not be familiar with what the regulations are on how to safely and legally transport firearms,” Vick said.
Vick said the firearm must be unloaded and placed in a TSA-approved gun case that is fully locked.
Ammo can be in the same gun case as the firearm, but the firearm must not be loaded. Mayle said TSA suggests arriving at an airport two hours before the flight, and add 15 to 20 minutes extra when checking in firearms.