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TSA caught 132 guns at Sky Harbor in 2019, among most at US airports

(Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport Photo)

PHOENIX – Travelers got caught with guns at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport at an alarming clip last year.

Transportation Security Administration officers found 132 firearms at Sky Harbor security checkpoints in 2019, the agency announced Wednesday, the fifth-highest total in the U.S.

Nationwide, 4,432 guns were discovered at security last year, 5% more than in 2018 and an all-time high. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International was No. 1 with 323.

“We believe that the numbers are going up because record numbers of people are traveling, and with more passengers you’ll find more incidents like that,” TSA spokeswoman Lorie Dankers told KTAR News 92.3 FM.

Dankers said 87% of the weapons found were loaded, “and the vast majority of those have one in the chamber.”

Despite that, Dankers said Sky Harbor visitors shouldn’t be fearful.

“They [guns] don’t pose a threat to public safety in terms of people traveling in and out of the airport, and they can have confidence that we’ll make sure that this does not create an incident,” she said.

The typical fine for a first offense of having a handgun at a checkpoint is $4,100, with penalties going up to $13,000 depending on the weapon.

While it’s always illegal to take guns through security checkpoints, even with a concealed carry permit, they can be transported in checked baggage if packed properly.

They must be unloaded and secured with the ammunition, placed in its original box, inside a hard-sided case with at least two locks. The case should be packed in a checked bag, and the firearm must be declared.

“They have a certain procedure that they’ll have you follow,” Dankers said. “They’ll have you sign a form. Place that in your checked baggage, and that firearm will travel in the belly of the aircraft and you’ll be able to claim it at your destination.”

Dankers said violators often say they forgot they were carrying their guns or had put them in their carry-on bags.

“That is not an acceptable excuse,” she said. “The first rule of firearm ownership is to know where your gun is at all times.”

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Peter Samore contributed to this report.

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