Gunpowder, firearms, stun guns and replica grenades were among the most common prohibited items found by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials when they screened travelers and their bags in 2013.
The TSA’s approximately 50,000 officers screened nearly 639 million passengers at more than 450 U.S. airports, an increase of more than 1 million over 2012, according to the federal agency.
Officers searching carry-on bags at security checkpoints discovered 1,813 firearms, more than 80% of which were loaded. Firearms were found at 205 airports across the country in 2013. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport led the nation with 111 firearms found, followed by Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport with 96 and airports in Houston (68), Phoenix (66) and Denver (51).
Not all of the firearms were found in carry-on bags. For example, TSA officers in Detroit discovered a shotgun hidden in a checked golf bag. A traveler in Houston attempted to avoid declaring his firearms by wrapping them in newspaper and placing them in a box of laundry detergent that was with his checked luggage.
Some passengers even attempted to get through security checkpoints carrying firearms. A passenger in Connecticut tried to clear the Advanced Imaging Technology scanner with a .380-caliber pistol – loaded with eight rounds – strapped to his lower left leg. In Pittsburgh, a passenger opted out of the scanner and instead was patted down by a TSA officer who found a loaded .45-caliber pistol.
Replicas or inert items that look real, such as bombs, grenades or mines, are prohibited on aircraft even though they are not live. TSA officials must call on experts to determine whether such items are real, which can result in closed terminals and checkpoints, as well as flight cancellations or delays.
Nearly 140 inert or replica grenades were found at TSA checkpoints or in checked baggage in 2013, the agency reported on its website. A World War II-era bazooka was discovered in a checked bag at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. Seven inert blasting caps were found in checked baggage at Greenbrier Valley Airport in West Virginia, while an inert vest modeled on one that might be used by a suicide bomber was found in checked baggage in Indianapolis. The vest belonged to an explosives instructor who was using it as a training aid.
Nearly 600 stun guns were found during security checks in 2013, including one concealed in a walking cane and one disguised to look like lipstick, according to TSA. Other bizarre finds included a wood-and-metal mace that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the hands of a medieval knight, and human skull fragments discovered inside clay pots.
The owners of the pots told TSA officials they had just purchased the items and didn’t know the fragments were inside.