Over 1500 Americans attempted to board a plane with handguns in 2012. Facing total anti-terror surveillance in the US and en masse TSA scanning of passengers in airports, some US citizens still hope to fly the friendly skies while packing heat.
Long gone are the days when a law-abiding American could get onto
a plane with a loaded revolver securely holstered inside their
waistband. US government regulations currently ban any kind of
guns, replicas, ammunition or handgun from being carried on
domestic and international routes.
Following the September 11 attacks, all pointed and potentially dangerous objects, from scissors to billiard cues, were also banned from commercial flights.
So, the message today is
simple and clear: no guns aboard passenger aircraft. Exceptions
are few. A hunter can have their arms declared unloaded after
being inspected by the Transportation Security Administration
(TSA) and securely locked in a special container.
But some guns just don’t get separated from their owners, the
TSA, with its pervasive verification screeners, has revealed.
The agency’s stats suggest that the number of passengers carrying guns in hand baggage or on their persons is steadily growing year by year, AP reports.
Firearms are being forfeited at US airports on a daily basis. In
the first half of 2013, TSA screeners detected 894 undeclared
guns on passengers or in their baggage, a 30 percent increase
over the previous year.
Some 1,549 handguns were detected in 2012, a 17 percent increase
over 2011. The most popular caliber of guns intercepted in 2012
were .38 caliber, and 85 percent of the confiscated guns were
Statistics before 2011 are unavailable, but this year’s findings thus far most indicate that a new arms confiscation record will be set in 2013 in light of the upward trend in recent years.
Among ten airports leading in gun confiscation incidents are those in the South and the West of the US, where American gun culture is strongest, AP reports.
According to TSA data, the absolute leader is Dallas-Fort Worth International, where 80 guns were detected last year.
In sharp contrast to it stands John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, where TSA screened nearly 27 million passengers in 2012, and just one person was detected with a gun.
The latest record was renewed in May, when the TSA seized 65 guns in one week, 45 of them loaded, of which 15 were action-ready – with a bullet in the chamber.
People carry their firearms everywhere, sometimes in locations where they are begging to get caught, like armpit holsters and handbags, while others make more conscious efforts at stashing them away.
Some survivalists passing through airport security come packing more than one handgun.
Some of the firearms have been designed to look like objects other than guns – like pens for example.
"We do assume that the vast majority of weapons that come through are [from] people who didn't know they couldn't carry them on or were not aware they were in the bag," TSA spokesman David Castelveter said.
Some air passengers busted carrying arms are taken into custody, but not all, certainly, as it all depends on local gun laws. As a result, the handguns detected by the TSA are not always confiscated.
“They can be permitted to take the weapon back to their car and come back,” Castelveter explained. “If it is illegal [to carry a weapon in this region], then it is confiscated by law enforcement.”
The TSA official maintains that his agency does not regard all passengers carrying arms as terrorists, but could not explain why so many people keep doing it.
"I forgot it was there” is the most common excuse offered, Castelveter said.
“We don't analyze the behavioral traits of people who carry weapons. We're looking for terrorists," the TSA spokesperson said. "But sometimes you have to scratch your head and say, 'Why?’”
Some Americans are so accustomed to carrying loaded guns for protection that for them, it’s the equivalent of “carrying keys or a wallet”, Jimmy Taylor, the author of several books on American gun culture and a sociology professor at Ohio University-Zanesville, told AP. But even to him an idea of bringing a gun to an airport sounds a bit wild.
“It's a little difficult to imagine that you aren't checking the policies about your loaded firearm before you get to the airport,” Taylor said.
Sometimes people caught with firearms in airports actually work for law enforcement agencies and are in the regular habit of carrying handguns, but such cases are more an exception than the rule.
"There are some Americans who believe that there are no limits, that they not only have a constitutional but a God-given right to have a gun and 'By gosh, if I want to bring a gun on a plane I'm going to do it,” says Robert Spitzer, an expert on gun policy and gun rights and a professor at the State University of New York-Cortland.
As technological progress begets new gizmos like fully operable 3D printed plastic guns, the TSA is likely to have their work cut out for them, as one does not necessarily need to print a 3D print a weapon that looks like one.