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More travelers packing guns at Jacksonville's airport

TSA agents stopped this loaded handgun in the first half of this year at Jacksonville International Airport.
Transportation Security Administration
TSA agents stopped this loaded handgun in the first half of this year at Jacksonville International Airport.

Jacksonville is one of nine airports in Florida where security agents have intercepted more guns so far this year.

Jacksonville International Airport had the state's fourth-highest number of guns confiscated in the first six months — 36 compared with 34 in the first half of 2022.

The increase comes six months after the Transportation Security Administration announced that Jacksonville's airport had the state's highest rate of confiscated guns last year, during a record year for weapon seizures nationwide, according to new federal data.

Statewide, TSA officers at Florida's 21 largest airports discovered 395 firearms in travelers’ carry-on luggage in the first half of this year, two less than during the same period last year.

Agents nationwide seized 3,251 guns in the first half of the year, 198 more than the same period in 2022, TSA said.

List of gun discoveries at Florida's major airports in the first half of 2023, compared to the same period in 2022.
List of gun discoveries at Florida's major airports in the first half of 2023, compared to the same period in 2022.

Other Florida airports

Eight Florida airports showed decreases in gun detections, while four remained unchanged. Three of the state's major airports led the numbers, far higher than smaller facilities like Jacksonville or Palm Beach International, TSA statistics show.

  • Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International: 70 guns this year versus 72 in the same period in 2022.
  • Orlando International: 69 guns, down from 76.
  • Tampa International, 67 guns, an increase from 54.
  • Miami International: 30 guns versus 44 in the first half of 2022.

Gun seizures increased at a number of smaller airports: Daytona Beach International (from three last year to eight), Southwest Florida International (19 to 22) and Sarasota-Bradenton International (nine to 14), TSA said.

More people flying

The increased guns came as more people traveled by air.

From May 2022 to April of this year, 779 million people flew, up 11.8% over the same period the year before, according to U.S. Department of Transportation data. In 2022, TSA screened about 761 million passengers and crew at airports nationwide. Its officers found 6,542 firearms at airport checkpoints in 2022, or one firearm for every 116,394 travelers screened.

Federal figures show 3,346 people flew out of Jacksonville from May 2022 to April of this year, while 3,306 arrived here. That compared with 2,844 departures and 2,805 arrivals at JIA in the same period the year before. Jacksonville gained two new air carriers in that period, for a total of 20.

Possible penalties

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

Packing a pistol in carry-on luggage could net the traveler civil penalties, up to almost $15,000 per violation. Although TSA evaluates each firearm incident on a case-by-case basis, it considers whether the firearm was loaded and whether there was accessible ammunition.

People who violate the rules on firearms also lose Trusted Traveler status and TSA PreCheck expedited screening benefits for a period of time. Local police departments also can and do charge travelers with
potential criminal citations, TSA said.

TSA also has a new system at Jacksonville's airport to scan and spot dangerous objects concealed in carry-on luggage. The first of nine planned screening systems was installed almost a year ago at the security check-in, designed to keep passenger and luggage separate in case something like a weapon or explosive is found, TSA said.

The technology uses computed tomography to generate a three-dimensional image of scanned luggage and its contents so TSA officers can look inside without opening them. Two units are used in Jacksonville now, with three more coming in August and four more by Thanksgiving, TSA said.

Dan Scanlan is a veteran journalist with almost 40 years as a radio, television and print reporter in the Jacksonville area, as well as years of broadcast work in the Northeast. You can reach Dan at, (904) 607-2770 or on Twitter at @scanlan_dan.