Sunscreen, check. Floppy hat and flip flops, check. Glock pistol, double check.
This year, the Transportation Security Adminstration (TSA) has added something new to its list of tips designed to help spring break travelers get through airport security quickly and without drama.
In previous years, this advice has typically included general packing hacks on how to pack liquids, how to remove laptops and electronic devices for inspection and what not to pack in checked luggage. “Some travelers pack the craziest items,” chirped the 2018 blog post.
Two years ago, the TSA reminded travelers to pack any item that could possibly be used as a weapon in their checked luggage. “Anything with a blade, including all knives, cigar cutters and corkscrews with blades,” the agency’s 2019 post advised.
What a difference a pandemic year makes. For 2021, the TSA’s spring break advice features two new tips that reflect these uncertain times in America. The first is a Covid-19 reminder to wear a face mask in the airport. The second is a lesson on how to legally pack a firearm for a flight.
“No guns at checkpoints,” reads tip number 4. “Airline passengers can fly with firearms only in checked baggage. All firearms must be properly packed and declared at check-in. Contact your airline for additional guidance.”
Guns sales in the U.S. surged last year, driven by a variety of factors that include fears about the Covid-19 pandemic, political unrest, and the 2020 election. Nearly 23 million firearms were sold in the United States in 2020, estimates the consultancy Small Arms Analytics and Forecasting (SAAF). It was the busiest year on record for the gun industry, with sales up 60% over 2019.
With more guns in the U.S., it may make sense that the TSA is seeing more people traveling with guns — a lot more.
Half a billion fewer travelers flew out of U.S. airports in 2020 compared to 2019, which translated to a massive 61% drop in passengers screened. But during the same period when fewer Americans were flying, the gun seizure rate at TSA checkpoints doubled.
Last year, the agency seized 10.2 guns per million passengers screened, twice the five firearms per million travelers screened in 2019. It was the highest gun seizure rate since the TSA’s inception 19 years ago.
Airport security screeners routinely find guns in carry-on suitcases, purses, backpacks, shopping totes and laptop bags — all of which are illegal.
In recent months, TSA has ramped up its education campaign with PSAs on social media. “Travelers should never bring a firearm to a checkpoint, even if you have a concealed carry permit,” the agency tweeted in August 2020. “Doing so will be an inconvenient & expensive mistake. Civil financial penalty for bringing an unloaded gun to a checkpoint is $2,050 & starts at $4,100 if the gun is loaded.”
Those last four words apply to the vast majority of incidents. Of the 3,257 firearms seized at airport security checkpoints in 2020, about 83% were loaded, according to TSA records.
Spring break travelers should also know that the fine for illegally packing a firearm can go up to the current statutory maximum of $13,669 per violation, depending on the circumstances, according to the TSA’s complete list of penalties.
That would be one very expensive souvenir.