Aug. 10 (UPI) -- Amid decreased air travel in the United States due to the COVID-19 pandemic, screeners have found more handguns in carry-on bags at airports nationwide this summer, federal officials said Monday.
The Transportation Security Administration said officers confiscated three times as many guns during checks last month -- 15.3 guns per million travelers screened -- compared to July 2019 (5.1).
The number of summer travelers at U.S. airports this year has been a fraction of normal seasonal traffic.
The agency said the rate is "particularly alarming, given that TSA screened about 75% fewer passengers in July 2020, over the previous year's volume."
"[W]e are noticing a significant increase in loaded firearms coming into checkpoints," TSA Administrator David Pekoske said in a statement. "Travelers must understand that firearms are prohibited items at airports and in the passenger cabins of aircraft. As hard as we are working to mitigate other risks at this time, no one should be introducing new ones."
About 80 percent of the guns screeners are finding in carry-on bags are loaded, Pekoske said.
"It's just an accident waiting to happen."
Most firearms (27) were seized at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Other airports in Denver, Dallas and Nashville saw at least a dozen seized handguns last month.
Passengers are permitted to fly with firearms in checked baggage, as long as they meet strict requirements, but guns are never permitted in carry-on luggage.
Carrying a firearm through an airport checkpoint can result in a federal fine, even if the handgun is a replica.
"If [travelers] bring a gun to the security checkpoint, regardless of whether it is in a handbag, knapsack, roller-bag or strapped to their belt, it will be an inconvenient and expensive mistake on their part," Pekoske said.