TSA agents in 2020 seized guns at a rate double that of previous year at Salt Lake City International Airport

71 firearms discovered, ranking No. 10 among airports nationally.

(Lee Davidson | Tribune file photo) A table full of prohibited items seized during 2017 at Salt Lake City International Airport includes inert or fake grenades, guns, knives, clubs and tools. Last year, 71 guns were seized by TSA agents at the Salt Lake airport — fewer than in 2019, but with only half the passengers because of the pandemic.

While half as many passengers flew out of Salt Lake City International Airport last year amid the pandemic, the rate of finding firearms at security check points more than doubled per traveler. And the number of guns surrendered there ranked No. 10 nationally.

The Transportation Security Administration reported Tuesday that its officers seized 71 firearms at the Salt Lake airport during 2020, compared to 85 in 2019.

While the raw numbers dropped, the rate spiked because the airport had 48% fewer passengers in 2020, TSA said.

So, it figures that travelers flying out of Salt Lake City brought firearms in their carry-on luggage at a rate of 16.8 guns per million travelers screened in 2020, compared to 8 per million in 2019.

That was 68% higher than the national rate.

Nationally, TSA detected about 10 firearms per million passengers screened in 2020, compared to 5 guns per million passengers screened in 2019.

Both nationally and locally, TSA said its officers discovered firearms at a rate that was twice as high as 2019 — and the highest rate since the agency’s inception in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“TSA continues to ask travelers to carefully pack their carry-on bags to ensure that firearms are not brought to the security checkpoint,” said TSA Acting Federal Security Director for Utah Grant Goodlett. “TSA officers continue to be focused during their screening duties to ensure that firearms — and other security threats — do not make it into the cabin of an aircraft.”

Nationally, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport had the most firearms seized last year, 220, followed by 176 at Dallas-Fort Worth International; 126 at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental; 124 at Phoenix Sky Harbor International; 104 at Denver International; 94 at Nashville, Tenn.; 87 at Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; 79 at Orlando, Fla.; and 72 at Las Vegas.

Passengers with firearms at checkpoints were stopped at 234 airports nationwide. Nationally, 3,257 guns were discovered at security checkpoints, and 83% of them were loaded.

“I commend our officers for their commitment to TSA’s security mission by identifying and stopping these weapons at the TSA checkpoints. Firearms are strictly prohibited onboard planes in the passenger cabin,” said David LaJoye, senior official performing the duties of TSA administrator. “Bringing a firearm to a TSA security checkpoint poses a serious risk to TSA officer and passenger safety and doing so may result in significant fines or arrest.”

Data collected represents the number of firearms caught on passengers and in their carry-on bags at the nation’s TSA checkpoints. Excluded from the data are improperly packed guns at checked baggage stations, toys, replicas and BB guns.

In addition to potential criminal citations, travelers face civil penalties for bringing firearms to the security checkpoint and TSA evaluates each firearm incident on a case-by-case basis.

Among the factors TSA considers when determining the civil penalty amount include whether the firearm was loaded and whether there was accessible ammunition. Even if a traveler has a concealed weapons permit, firearms are not permitted in carry-on luggage.

Firearms can be transported on a commercial aircraft only if they are unloaded, packed in a locked, hard-sided case and placed in checked baggage. Any type of replica firearm is prohibited in carry-on baggage and must be transported in checked luggage.

Prior to traveling, passengers are encouraged to check gun laws and regulations at their destination to ensure they are in compliance with local and state laws. TSA also recommends travelers check with their airline prior to their flight to ensure they comply with any airline-specific requirements.