Flying during Pandemic Sees Uptick in Gun Seizures by Airport Security

As Florida airports gear up for the holiday travel season, they’re seeing more people bringing guns to the airport. In 2020 thus far, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers have discovered 360 handguns at security checkpoints statewide. Including one day that had 4 firearms found at the checkpoints by agents here at the Tampa International Airport.

When guns are found by the TSA, many are loaded and pose potential threats to passengers, flight crews, and airport employees. You can see why they take these incidents very seriously.

How Often Does TSA Find Guns at Airport Security?

Even though flights have been limited due to Covid-19, and passenger levels have been less than half as compared to last year, TSA’s Federal Security Director, Kirk Skinner, says they’re finding just as many guns this year at all of Florida’s major airports.

Guns seized in 2020

Through the end of October 2020, federal TSA agents have recovered over 300 firearms at airports:

  • Tampa International Airport—57
  • St.Pete-Clearwater International Airport—9
  • Orlando International Airport—65
  • Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport—62
  • Miami International Airport—43
  • Jacksonville International Airport—30

Authorities are unsure of what’s causing the influx of more passengers to bring their weapons with them when they travel.

one of 360 guns found at Florida airports 2020
Watch Attorney Ben Stechschulte’s interview on ABC Action News

“It was an Accident” Say Many Passengers Caught with Guns at the Airport

Skinner reported that many passengers caught with guns at Tampa Bay airports often tell officers they accidentally brought them in their luggage. This includes Congressman Ross Spano who was stopped by security at Tampa International Airport in late September when a handgun was discovered in his carry-on bag.

Why does this happen? Many passengers like Spano have a permit to carry a concealed weapon and it is an honest mistake. In this case, once TSA Agents verified he had a valid concealed carry permit, the Congressman was allowed to store his gun and board a later flight.

However, not all are that lucky. In addition to possible (substantial) fines for being caught with a gun at the airport, any passenger without a valid concealed carry permit also faces felony gun charges. Bear in mind, that regardless of the permit, civil action investigations may result in a fine up to over $13,000.

Will I automatically be arrested?

Traveler arrests — which can include felony charges — are at the sole discretion of the airport police. While some state airports haven’t arrested anyone, the Tampa Airport Police have arrested 25 people.

This includes WWE wrestling superstar Terri Runnels. Who according to a police report was found carrying a loaded Glock 26 handgun in a carry-on bag. Runnels was charged with carrying a concealed weapon without a permit, only later having the charge dropped.

Another arrest was made by authorities of Algernod Lanier Washington, AKA “Plies,” was also charged with carrying a concealed weapon without a permit. The firearm was found by federal agents in his backpack at a security checkpoint. While the gun was unloaded at the time of the search, he was still charged. This was later dropped after he applied for and received a Florida concealed carry permit.

Gun owners can avoid arrests and fines

In my interview with the I-Team, I said, “you find out how the government can take your liberty interests really quickly. Just based on an accident,” said Tampa Defense Attorney Ben Stechshulte.

I’ve been successfully defending clients charged with bringing firearms to the airport in recent years. While most cases don’t result in felony convictions, defendants still have to pay thousands of dollars in fines and legal costs.

“They’re not intending to possess these firearms without a permit. They didn’t even realize they possessed it, most of the time.”

Attorney Ben Stechschulte

TSA Director Skinner says the holiday travel season tends to bring more weapons – and likely arrests. If you have to travel with a firearm, make preparations with your airline ahead of time to check it with your luggage. Otherwise, you could find yourself facing a big fine or even jail time, and you’ll need to call an experienced federal defense attorney.

Rules for Traveling with Guns & Ammo

Currently, these are the rules for transporting guns and ammunition on a commercial passenger flight:


  • When traveling, comply with the laws concerning possession of firearms. They vary by local, state, and international governments.
  • If you traveling internationally with a firearm in checked baggage, check the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website for requirements prior to travel.
  • Declare each firearm each time you present it for transport as checked baggage. Ask your airline about any limitations or fees that may apply.
  • Remember: Firearms must be unloaded and locked in a hard-sided container and transported as checked baggage only. As defined by 49 CFR 1540.5 a loaded firearm has a live round of ammunition, or any component thereof, in the chamber or cylinder or in a magazine inserted in the firearm. The passenger should retain the key or combination to the lock unless TSA personnel requests it to open the firearm container to ensure compliance with TSA regulations.
  • Firearm parts, including magazines, clips, bolts and firing pins, are strictly prohibited in carry-on baggage but may be transported in checked baggage.
  • Replica firearms, including firearm replicas or toys, may be carried in checked baggage only.
  • Rifle scopes are permitted in both carry-on and checked baggage.


  • Ammunition is prohibited in carry-on baggage but may be transported in checked baggage.
  • Firearm magazines and ammunition clips, whether loaded or empty, must be securely boxed or included within a hard-sided case containing an unloaded firearm. Read the requirements governing the transport of ammunition in checked baggage as defined by 49 CFR 175.10 (a)(8).
  • Small arms ammunition (up to .75 caliber and shotgun shells of any gauge) must be packaged in a fiber/cardboard, wood, plastic, or metal box specifically designed to carry ammunition and declared to your airline.
  • Ammunition may be transported in the same hard-sided, locked case as a firearm if it has been packed as described above. Firearm magazines or clips may not be used for packing ammunition unless they completely enclose the ammo. Firearm magazines and ammunition clips, whether loaded or empty, must be boxed or included within a hard-sided, locked case.
  • Please check with your airline for quantity limits.

If you find yourself or a loved one arrested by TSA at a Florida airport for traveling with a gun, call our seasoned defense attorney Ben Stechschulte.

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