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Increased gun confiscations at Dulles Airport concern TSA

The TSA is seeing a drastic increase in the number of firearms passengers are trying to bring onto airplanes. Photo Courtesy/TSA
At Washington Dulles International Airport, a trend that TSA officials describe as “disturbing” continues to take off, despite multiple educational efforts to curb it.

The number of firearms TSA officers are catching from airline passengers who attempt to board airplanes with the weapons either on their person or in carry-on luggage jumped from eight to 20, a 150 percent increase, between 2013 and 2015, according to latest statistics for Dulles Airport.

The trend is expected to continue upward, according to Lisa Farbstein, spokeswoman for the TSA. As of August, there have been 18 firearms caught on from passengers or in their carry-on luggage. In one instance this month, TSA officers discovered two loaded weapons, including rounds in the chambers, in one day.

The numbers mirror what's happening on a national level.

Since 2005, the number of firearms detected by TSA officers that could have made it onto airplanes jumped from 660 in 2005 to 2,653 in 2015, a 302 percent increase.

Each year, the number increases, with the exception of 2007, when 18 fewer firearms were detected.

Travelers who bring firearms to airport security checkpoint are subject to criminal charges from law enforcement and civil penalties from TSA. However, travelers with proper firearm permits can travel legally with their firearms if they follow a few simple guidelines, such as packing the firearm in checked luggage and informing the airline that their flying with a weapon.

“The transport of firearms by commercial air in carry-on bags represents a threat to the safety and security of air travelers. Through increased training in detection methods, our officers are becoming more adept at intercepting these prohibited items,” said TSA Administrator Peter V. Neffenger in a prepared statement. “I am proud of the men and women who serve in the TSA and grateful for their hard work in the past year.”

Farbstein and aviation experts say there's no hard and fast data that points to the reason for the increase in attempts to board planes with firearms, especially in a post 9-11 era.

But, they have their theories – or, in some cases, a list of excuses given by passengers over the years.

“Why do people bring their guns to the checkpoint? Well, they typically give us two reasons. The most common excuse is that the individual forgot that he or she had the gun in their handbag, knapsack, briefcase, backpack or suitcase. The second most common excuse is that 'My husband packed my bag' or 'My wife packed my bag.' Neither of those excuses fly,” Farbstein said.

Richard Bensinger, a Loudoun County aviation expert, echoed Farbstein's comments.

“It’s hard to imagine that people aren’t aware that they can’t carry weapons onto aircraft. I think it’s just a matter of forgetting they have one in their briefcase, backpack, etc. I have a concealed carry permit, and I’m always very mindful to check my things before heading into an airport,” Bensinger said. “I think some forget. I also think there may be a correlation with the increased number of weapons sales and personal carry permitting too. I’ve seen a number of reports that those numbers are soaring, and this is just a byproduct of increased numbers of weapons in the population.”

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