Tri-Cities travelers had highest rate of guns found in carry-ons in WA

More guns were found in carry-on bags at the Tri-Cities Airport in 2022 than any time in the past five years.

One of every 37,200 passengers who checked in at the Tri-Cities airport had a gun in their bag last year, according to a new report from the Transportation Security Administration.

In total, 11 firearms were discovered in bags during 409,000 screenings of carry-on bags in 2022, up from 10 in 2011.

That rate puts Tri-Cities Airport tied with Yakima for the highest in the state for firearms discovered while screening passenger carry-on items.

  • Sea-Tac: 113 guns in 17 million bags screened, or 1:152,453

  • Spokane: 34 guns in 2 million bags screened, or 1:60,888

  • Tri-Cities: 11 guns in 409,000 bags screened, or 1:37,181

  • Everett: 4 guns in 271,300 bags screened, or 1:67,825

Bellingham and Yakima each had one gun discovered in carry-ons in 2022.

Airport director Buck Taft told the Herald that he’s unsure why travelers ignore the numerous signs instructing them to check firearms.

“I don’t know why people continue to bring guns to the airport. We have a large sign right at the entrance to the checkpoint, and signs throughout the check in process,” Taft said. “I wish I had a good explanation for why this continues to happen, but I don’t.”

The Tri-Cities Airport in Pasco will receive $16.7 million from the federal Infrastructure and Jobs Act for improvements. And more money will come to other area projects.

A 2022 analysis by travel website said that the spike in weapons found in carry-on bags seen as the nation began opening up after COVID shutdowns could be partially attributable to people who don’t travel as often simply not knowing the rules or forgetting they have the weapon in their bag.

In total, 164 firearms were found in carry-on bags at Washington airports in 2022, up from 148 in 2021, and 6,542 were found nationwide. Those numbers also both represent a five-year high.

According to the TSA, the airports with the most guns found were: Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport with 448; Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport with 385; and Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport with 298.

“These statistics should serve as a reminder to every gun owner that they need to be aware of the contents of their carry-on bag prior to coming to the security checkpoint. Firearms have never been allowed in the cabin of the aircraft and there is no acceptable excuse for bringing a gun in your carry-on,” said TSA Federal Security Director for Washington Gregory Hawko.

“Fortunately, we have a dedicated corps of TSA officers who remain vigilant while carrying out their security screening responsibilities,” he said. “We are grateful for their role in securing the transportation system.”

Firearms can be checked, but even with a concealed weapons permit, passengers cannot carry-on firearms. When a gun is discovered, local law enforcement is contacted.

This photo shows the proper packaging for a firearm being checked to take on a flight.

This photo shows the proper packaging for a firearm being checked to take on a flight.

Violators can face both criminal and civil penalties.

Factors the TSA considers when assessing penalties include whether the gun was loaded or ammunition was accessible. Passengers can also lose TSA Pre-check and Trusted Traveler status.

Fines can reach as high as $13,000, according to the Port of Pasco.

The Port of Seattle, which runs Sea-Tac, said the average fine for a first time offense is about $4,100.

Passengers can travel with firearms if they are unloaded, packed in a locked, hard-sided case and placed in checked baggage, according to the TSA. Replica firearms must also be checked.

Passengers checking a gun need to go to their airline’s ticket counter to declare the weapon, ammunition and any firearm part.

They should also check with their airline ahead of time to ensure they comply with airline specific requirements.

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