With two months left in 2022, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has caught a record-breaking 700 guns at security checkpoints in Florida airports this year. The country’s most popular tourism destination accounts for 14% — or about one in seven — of all firearms found at U.S. airports this year.
Records have already been set at 12 airports in the Sunshine State. Orlando International Airport (MCO), the gateway to the Disney World and Universal Orlando theme parks, tops the list with 129 intercepted guns to date this year. Last year, TSA found 124 guns at Orlando airport in the entire year, as Disney World also saw a spike in concealed firearms.
Among other major airports in the state, so far this year the TSA stopped 120 guns at Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL), 102 guns at Tampa International (TPA), 83 guns at Miami International (MIA), 58 guns at Jacksonville International Airport (JAX), 37 guns at Southwest Florida International (RSW), 28 at Palm Beach International (PBI), and 24 at Pensacola International (PNS).
According to the TSA, “nearly every gun” stopped at Florida airport checkpoints was loaded and most had ammunition chambered.
Anytime a TSA officer spots a handgun on the x-ray machine, the screening line comes to a halt while local law enforcement is notified. Local police then takes control of the firearm and removes the traveler and the weapon from the checkpoint.
Many passengers caught with firearms were either arrested or issued notices to appear in court. “Don’t let bringing a gun to a federal checkpoint be the reason you cannot answer ‘no’ to the question often asked on job applications: have you ever been arrested,” said TSA spokesperson Sari Koshetz.
Regardless of whether the police bring a criminal charge, getting caught with a firearm at an airport checkpoint carries a civil fine of $1,500, according to TSA guidance. If the gun is loaded, then the fine jumps to $3,000. Civil penalties can be much more onerous for repeat offenders, climbing to a potential maximum of nearly $14,000.
What is happening in Florida is part of a national trend. With the busy holiday travel season still ahead, the TSA has already caught roughly 5,000 guns in 2022, which puts the agency on track to break last year’s record of 5,972 firearms detected at airport checkpoints across the U.S..
Over the past three years, the TSA has levied more than $52 million in civil penalties against travelers caught with guns at security checkpoints, according to a TSA official. With two months still left in 2022, that figure has already topped $20 million just this year.
“As we enter the busiest holiday travel period, remember if you are going to travel with your gun it must be in your checked bag, but be sure you know what the gun laws are on each side of your trip or you may be heading to jail instead of to your family gathering,” Koshetz said. “Guns may not be legal to transport even in checked baggage in some jurisdictions.”