Aug. 28—Not even a full eight months into 2023, Pittsburgh International Airport has reached a dubious distinction — by already surpassing the number of guns confiscated at the security checkpoint last year.
The vexing milestone occurred Friday, when an Arkansas man was caught at the checkpoint by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration with a loaded .380 caliber handgun.
TSA officers didn't have to do much sleuthing to nab this one. The gun fell to the floor when the man unzipped his laptop bag, the agency reported.
Officers grabbed it before turning it over to Allegheny County police, who identified the man as 37-year-old Gregory Houghton of Green Forest, Ark. He was charged with carrying a firearm without a license, according to police.
With the apprehension, the agency has now seized 27 guns at the Findlay airport, climbing above the 26 confiscated last year. With four full months to go, Pittsburgh International is well on its way to surpassing the record 35 weapons commandeered in pre-pandemic 2019.
The steady surge of gun confiscations at Pittsburgh International and other airports nationwide, has frustrated TSA officials, who have tried just about everything short of shouting warnings from airport rooftops to curb the onslaught.
"It's very discouraging," TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said Monday. "We would like to see the numbers go in the opposite direction."
Nationwide, the trend has been just as grim. So far this year, more than 4,000 guns have been confiscated, with over 90% of them loaded. Last year, the TSA seized 6,542 firearms, 88% of them loaded.
If it's any solace to Pittsburgh, it's far from the worst airport in terms of gun confiscations. Ms. Farbstein said different parts of the country have different gun laws and cultures, making for disparities.
At Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the busiest in the U.S. last year in terms of travelers, it's not unusual to confiscate 500 firearms in a year, Ms. Farbstein noted.
"At airports in Florida, Arizona, and Tennessee, you see many more guns because the cultures there are different," she said.
Travelers who are caught with weapons at checkpoints can face civil penalties as high as $15,000, with fines starting at $3,000. They also could face criminal charges, depending on the circumstances.
In addition, travelers who are enrolled in the TSA's PreCheck program that allows them to avoid standard checkpoint lines will lose those privileges if caught with a gun.
"It is the responsibility of the owner to know you can't bring a firearm onto an airplane," Ms. Farbstein said. "This has been in effect for decades, long before the TSA existed."
Karen Keys-Turner, the TSA's federal security director at the Pittsburgh airport, last month described the number of guns showing up at the checkpoint as "the makings of an epidemic."
In a statement Monday, she said there was "absolutely no excuse" for bringing a gun to the airport. "Firearms should never be brought to the security checkpoint in carry-on luggage. Responsible gun owners know this," she said.
Travelers who want to take a firearm with them on a trip can do so by carrying it in their checked baggage. The gun must be unloaded and packed in a hard-sided locked case. It also must be declared at the airline ticket counter.
In announcing the latest gun confiscation Monday, the TSA didn't say why the traveler was carrying it in his laptop bag. The most common reason given for those who are caught with a firearm is that they forgot they had it with them.
It's not the kind of excuse that engenders much sympathy.
"If you own a firearm, you need to know where it is at all times," Ms. Farbstein said.
Mark Belko: email@example.com
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