The Transportation Security Administration discovered nine handguns at Bradley International Airport checkpoints in 2018, up from five in 2017 and part of a regional and national trend of yearly increases in the number of firearms found at airports.
Data released Thursday by the TSA show 45 handguns were discovered in carry-on bags at the eight New England Airports in 2018 compared with 29 in 2017. Of those 45, 21 were found at Boston Logan International Airport.
TSA’s yearly report shows that now nearly 20 years after 9/11 and the enhanced airport security added in response to the terrorist attacks, setting new records for the number of guns found at checkpoints has become a yearly routine.
In 2008 there were 929 firearms found at security checkpoints, and the number has increased significantly every year to 4,239 found in 2018.
TSA New England Spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said that despite plenty of signage inside airports, at ticket counters and on booking websites, more than 4,000 people were apparently unaware that they couldn’t have a gun in their carry-on last year.
Farbstein said guns have long been banned from airplanes – clearly prohibited for decades before TSA was created in the months following 9/11 – but somehow the numbers are still climbing every year.
“We would love to see that number go in the other direction,” Farbstein said. “There’s no shortage of communication. The most common excuse we get is ‘I forgot I had my gun with me’ but if you own a gun you should know where it is at all times.”
Firearms can be transported inside checked baggage if they are unloaded, packed properly, locked and packed separately from ammunition. Guidelines for approved firearm transport on airplanes are available on the TSA website, www.tsa.gov. Travelers should also check with their airlines to arrange for proper transportation in the luggage compartment of the airplane.
“There’s a right way and a wrong way to fly with a gun,” Farbstein said. “Nobody should have access to a gun in the cabin of a plane.”
TSA officers found an average of 11.6 firearms per day in 2018, and discovered at least one gun in carry-on bags at 249 airports. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport had by far the highest total with 298, followed by Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport with 219, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport with 129, Denver International Airport with 126 and Orlando International Airport with 123.
Eighty-six percent of the guns found were loaded, and 33 percent had a round in the chamber, TSA said.
Farbstein said when a gun is discovered by security officers at the checkpoints, police are immediately called. Unlike with knives, liquids and other prohibited items – where screeners give travelers the option of surrendering the item, using an on-site mailing service, putting it in their car or giving it to a non-traveling companion – the decision on further action with a firearm is left to police.
“We don’t want the TSA officers handing firearms,” Farbstein said.
Connecticut State Police made at least one arrest in 2018 at Bradley. In April, 39-year-old Matthew English of Torrington was charged after screeners discovered a handgun in his carry-on. It was not clear Thursday whether English was prosecuted, but judicial records do not show a pending case or a conviction against him.