Packing heat: TSA says number of weapons seized at Memphis airport steady even as travel declined

Investigations

Traffic cut in half at airport, but TSA says gun finds per passenger doubled

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A flash bang grenade, loaded firearms, a throwing star, axes, nun chucks, stun guns hidden in flashlights, knifes, brass knuckles and even a bowling pin.

Those are among the items seized this year from passengers at Memphis International Airport.

While air travel has drastically decreased due to the coronavirus this year, TSA officials say the number of weapons they’re finding at the airport has barely budged.

“Just knives alone, we collect over 50 pounds of knives every month,” said Kevin McCarthy, the assistant federal security director for the TSA at the Memphis airport.

You can’t bring weapons or firearms in your carry-on bag into the airport but, while the rule is clearly posted, it continues to happen.

So far this year the TSA confiscated 26 firearms at the Memphis airport, and 88% of those were loaded.

Compared to the same time last year, that number is slightly down. Keep in mind, due to the coronavirus this year, travel has decreased by more than 800,000 passengers at the Memphis airport.

“Our traffic is down 55%, but our gun finds are just down minimally. When you look at the rate per passenger, it’s double over the last year,” McCarthy said.

On July 27, for instance, a woman tried to carry-on a revolver with six rounds in the cylinder.
According to the police report, she was “Carrying the handgun due to an altercation with another person” and she “forgot” she had it.

She was handcuffed, taken to Jail East, and faces felony charges, because she’s a convicted felon.

Even besides the criminal charges, McCarthy said you can be subject to civil penalties from the TSA with a fine up to $13,000.

Annual checkpoint volume at Memphis airport through July 28

2019: 1,467,581
2020: 652,319

It’s not just guns that raise the red flag for TSA officers. Federal records show some unusual and unnerving items were seized in Memphis.

Last June someone tried to carry on a flash bang grenade. Then last August, a throwing star was found in a suitcase.

It’s unclear if those travelers faced any charges or why they tried to bring the items on to the plane.

The TSA says it typically screens about 50,000 to 60,000 people in the month of April at the Memphis airport. This year, just 13,000.

But travel is picking back up, and TSA agents are decked out in masks face shields and gloves and buried behind Plexiglass, remaining vigilant.

“Things are starting to come back. In fact two weeks ago, on Friday we had 3,400 passengers and employees come through the checkpoint,” McCarthy said.

If you are planning on getting on a plane anytime soon, you can check the TSA’s extensive list on what you can and can’t carry on. Some items, like a gun, can be brought on a plane, but must be checked.

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