Airport overseer flags “alarming” firearms trend

Massachusetts

TSA officers detected this handgun in the carry-on bag of a traveler ticketed to fly out of Boston Logan International Airport on Feb. 7. (TSA photo)

BOSTON (SHNS) – Security workers have caught firearms at Logan Airport checkpoints this year at more than twice the rate they did in 2019, part of what Massachusetts Port Authority CEO Lisa Wieland called a “pretty alarming trend” across the country.

Wieland told Massport’s board that the rate of firearms seized at airport security checkpoints is on the rise nationally, and while Logan did not report the same volume of incidents as other locations, Boston’s international airport has also seen a substantial increase.

Firearms stored in carry-on luggage that security personnel inspect tend to be loaded, Wieland said, which she said is “of particular concern.”

“Most of the individuals that are stopped do have a license to carry, and most say that they just forgot about it,” she said. “No evidence exists that there was any ill intent planned, but we do believe this is a very serious safety issue.”

The Transportation Security Administration caught 18 firearms at Logan from the 42.5 million passengers who traveled through the airport in 2019 and 11 firearms from the 12.6 million total passengers in 2020, according to figures Wieland presented on Thursday.

So far in 2021, authorities have seized 15 firearms with a passenger volume of 15.2 million, a rate more than double that from two years ago.

“These numbers are disturbing, no question about it,” said Massport board member John Nucci. “At a time like this, it’s very concerning to see numbers going in the wrong direction.”

From Jan. 1 to Oct. 3, TSA stopped 4,495 passengers from carrying firearms onto a flight, surpassing the 4,432 firearms seized at checkpoints in all of 2019 and setting a 20-year record.

Nationally, TSA officers have found 11 firearms in carry-on bags per 1 million passengers this year, compared to 5 firearms per 1 million passengers in 2019.

“The number of firearms that our TSA officers are stopping at airport checkpoints is alarming,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske said in a statement on Oct. 13. “Firearms, particularly loaded firearms, introduce an unnecessary risk at checkpoints, have no place in the passenger cabin of an airplane, and represent a very costly mistake for the passengers who attempt to board a flight with them.”

Logan fell outside the top 10 airports for firearm discoveries in 2021, according to TSA officials. The most incidents occurred in Atlanta, where security personnel found 391 firearms at checkpoints between Jan. 1 and Oct. 3.

Massport and TSA officials together have been adding more signage at Logan to remind passengers that bringing a firearm, ammunition or weapon through a security checkpoint is prohibited.

“Hopefully we can turn the tide on the trend,” Wieland said.

The TSA allows passengers to transport unloaded firearms on planes, but they must be stored in a locked, hard container, checked rather than carried on, and declared at ticket counters.

TSA regulations call for a $3,000 to $10,000 fine and criminal referral for a first violation of bringing a loaded firearm or unloaded firearm with accessible ammunition to a checkpoint, sterile area or aboard an aircraft, according to the agency’s website. Unloaded firearms carry a $1,500 to $2,475 fine and criminal referral.

Wieland’s presentation also said that other prohibited items such as firearm ammunition, stun guns and tasers, knives and other weapons are “being detected on a daily basis” at Logan.

Massport Board Chair Lew Evangelidis, who also serves as Worcester County sheriff, said at Thursday’s meeting that officials are “looking to enforce and prosecute any potential violations that occur.” Evangelidis added that he and Wieland have discussed the issue on “virtually every call we’ve been on the last month.”

Massport refers all cases in which a firearm is discovered inside luggage to Massachusetts State Police, a spokesperson said. A State Police spokesperson could not be reached for immediate comment.

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