Federal aviation officials say more airline passengers than ever are showing up at airports with guns. Combined with the general uptick in belligerent behavior by passengers, this is an issue with the potential for real mayhem. Those who get weapons confiscated at security already face penalties, but it’s time to talk about making them steeper.
Transportation Security Administration officers stopped 4,495 passengers trying to carry guns through security at 248 different airports around the country during the first nine months of this year, the TSA reported recently. That’s the highest number in at least 20 years. More than 80% of the guns were loaded.
Fewer than 5,000 confiscations over nine months may not sound like a lot, given that millions of Americans fly every week, but in context, the number is concerning. It represents an average of 11 firearms discovered per 1 million passengers, a rate that’s more than twice that of 2019, the next-highest year of overall firearms confiscation.
The spike may be another indication that Americans are simply carrying guns more often in general these days — the same factor that many believe helped drive last year’s historic spike in homicides nationally — in the absence of even the most basic federal gun restrictions like universal background checks. For that, America can thank the National Rifle Association and its Republican enablers.
And it’s happening as problems with unruly passengers are escalating at airports, including verbal and physical attacks on flight attendants and fellow passengers. The Federal Aviation Administration says more than 70% of those incidents are fueled by anger at the perfectly reasonable requirement that passengers wear masks during flights — just one of the many ways in which irrational right-wing fury about masks has needlessly roiled society.
Loaded guns and infuriated, unreasonable passengers are obviously a bad mix. Just as the airline industry is seeking to impose stricter penalties on passengers who create havoc with their behavior on planes, the penalties for attempting to bring a gun on board should be reviewed.
Currently, that infraction can merit as little as a $2,500 fine for a first-time offender with an unloaded gun. Mistakes do happen — it’s not impossible to forget that a weapon is in a carry-on bag — but responsible gun owners should be aware of where their firearm is at all times. Infractions with loaded guns especially should trigger far harsher fines, potential for prosecution and bans from future flying.
If penalties are stiff enough and publicized enough, passengers will think twice about crossing this particular boundary, inadvertently or otherwise. It’s bad enough that the toxicity of America’s politics today is slipping into these pressurized cabins, where it can be far more dangerous than it is on the ground. Anyone who tries to introduce firearms to the mix should face a zero-tolerance response.
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