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'I Forgot,' 'I Didn't Know': Guns, Excuses Piling Up At Newark Airport Checkpoints

Guns, guns and more guns displayed at Newark Liberty International Airport by TSA, Port Authority.
Guns, guns and more guns displayed at Newark Liberty International Airport by TSA, Port Authority. Photo Credit: TSA

It doesn’t rank with airports in Atlanta, Houston or Dallas in terms of numbers, but Newark Liberty has had what the TSA and Port Authority say are an alarming amount of guns seized from passengers trying to board planes with them.

And most of those things are loaded.

It's become an epidemic, said Thomas Carter, the Transportation Security Administration’s director for New Jersey, during a Wednesday news conference at the airport.

“Guns and ammunition are never allowed to pass through a security checkpoint to be carried onto a flight, even if a traveler has a concealed carry permit,” Carter told the media.

Yet more people are showing up with them, he said.

Despite a 25% drop in air travel last year, the TSA nationwide intercepted 5,972 guns at airport security checkpoints, including a dozen at Newark in 2021. That’s the highest number since the agency began tracking it 20 years ago.

This year, TSA officers at Newark have detected nine guns.

Some point to increased gun sales since the COVID pandemic hit the United States more than two years ago as the reason.

In January and February of 2020, the average number of daily gun sales in the U.S. reportedly was about 92,000. That jumped to more than 120,000 a day, peaking at 176,000 on March 16.

The overall total bought between March and July that year reportedly was nearly three million more than usual.

A great many travelers have been in standstill lines that were triggered (no pun intended) by the discovery of an illegal weapon in someone’s carry-on. It’s no fun.

It’s not good for the person who's packin’, either.

“The most common excuses we hear from travelers is that ‘I didn’t know it was in my bag’ or ‘I forgot it was in there’,” Carter said.

That’s not a legitimate excuse, he said.

“Responsible gun owners know where their guns are at all times,” the director said.

It’s not just guns, either. A banquet-table display at the news conference included several prohibited weapons -- brass knuckles and butterfly knives among them -- and lots of ammunition.

Civil fines exceed $13,000 per violation.

This applies to travelers with or without concealed gun carry permits.

If a traveler with a gun is a member of TSA PreCheck®, that individual will lose the privilege.

SEE: Civil Penalties For Trying To Carry A Gun Aboard A Plane

Then there are the criminal ramifications.

“Make no mistake,” Port Authority Chief Security Officer John Bilich said. “Those who break the law will be held accountable.”

Passengers can travel with firearms in checked bags if they are properly packaged and declared at the airline ticket counter.

Guns must be unloaded, placed in a hard-sided locked case and packed separately from ammunition. Then the locked case must be taken to the airline check-in counter to be declared.

SEE: TSA Guidelines For Properly Traveling With A Firearm

Small arms ammunition (up to .75 caliber and shotgun shells of any gauge) must be packaged in a fiber (such as cardboard), wood, plastic, or metal box specifically designed to carry ammunition and declared to your airline.

Ammunition may be transported in the same hard-sided, locked case as a firearm if it has been packed as described above.

Travelers cannot use firearm magazines or clips for packing ammunition unless they completely enclose the ammunition. Travelers should check with their airline for ammo quantity limits.

FOOTNOTE: The U.S. airports with the largest number of guns seized at TSA checkpoints last year, the agency says, are Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston.

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