Transportation Security Administration officers found a record 164 firearms in carry-on luggage at Washington airports last year, according to the TSA.
Officers found the majority of firearms at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, with a record 113 firearms found during routine X-ray screening.
TSA officers screened 17.2 million departing passengers and crew at Sea-Tac Airport in 2022 — meaning officers found one firearm for every 156,610 travelers, or about one every two and a half days, said Lorie Dankers, a TSA spokesperson.
Spokane International Airport and Tri-Cities Airport also saw record numbers of firearms found in carry-on luggage in 2022, with 34 and 11 firearms found respectively, according to the TSA.
Nationally, a record-breaking 6,542 firearms were found in carry-on luggage at 262 airports across the country, which is nearly a 10% increase from 2021, the TSA said.
Officers found the most firearms at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (448, which is more than one a day, Dankers said), followed by Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (385), Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport (298), Nashville International Airport (213) and Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (196).
Sea-Tac Airport, with 113 firearms found, ranks No. 14, according to the TSA.
Firearms are primarily discovered at airports in the South and through the Sun Belt region, "and a lot has to do with local firearm laws because people are used to carrying their firearm," Dankers explained.
In contrast, only 74 firearms were found at Los Angeles International Airport, TSA's busiest security checkpoint operation, Dankers said. More than 31 million people were screened at LAX in 2022.
"Nationwide, 88% of these firearms that come in carry-on luggage are loaded, and the vast majority of those have one in the chamber ready to go," she added.
Only one month into 2023, TSA has already noticed a troubling trend in the number of firearms found in Washington.
By the morning of Jan. 20, TSA officers had found nine firearms in carry-on luggage, "with the most recent one coming to the [Sea-Tac] checkpoint yesterday. We had one in Spokane this morning," Dankers said Friday.
Firearms have never been allowed in carry-on luggage, even if passengers have a concealed-weapons permit.
When TSA officers discover a firearm, "We confirm that the image is a weapon, and then we'll close the lane and immediately contact the Port of Seattle Police," said Victor Virgen, a TSA officer at Sea-Tac.
"It really is a patchwork in terms of the law enforcement responses," but at any airport across the country, "TSA will always levy a civil penalty against a traveler who brings a firearm in carry-on luggage," Dankers said.
Those penalties can range from $2,000 to $15,000, depending on the circumstances of the incident, like whether a firearm is loaded or if a passenger is a repeat offender.
"There's a lot of different things that can change that value, but I can tell you that it's an expensive mistake if you choose to bring that firearm to the security checkpoint," she said.
Firearms are only allowed on commercial flights if they are unloaded, packed in a locked, hard-sided case and placed in checked baggage, according to TSA.
Travelers can find information about the transportation of firearms and ammunition on the TSA website. A full summary of TSA's civil penalties for prohibited items can be found at tsa.gov/travel/civil-enforcement.
Travelers can also use the "Can I Bring" feature on tsa.gov or on the TSA mobile app, myTSA. Travelers can also Tweet or message "@AskTSA" for real-time assistance 5 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily if they have a travel question or are unsure if an item is allowed through security in a carry-on bag.