LATEST: Firearms seized at PBIA this year jump dramatically, TSA says

There’s still a month left in 2017, but more firearms have already been found in carry-on luggage at Palm Beach International Airport than in all of 2016.

And it’s not close.

As of Nov. 20, the Transportation Security Administration reports that 24 guns have been discovered among travelers flying out of PBIA. Those numbers don’t include the days leading to and after the Thanksgiving holiday, traditionally the busiest time of the year for air travel by Americans.

In 2016, 14 firearms were found in suitcases at PBIA’s two TSA checkpoints. At this year’s current rate, the number of guns screened at the airport will nearly double those taken in 2016.

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Of the 24 cases this year at PBIA, 19 passengers received notices to appear in court and five were arrested and taken to the Palm Beach County Jail, sheriff’s spokeswoman Teri Barbera said Tuesday. One of the 24 cases involved as Taser and the rest were firearms, Barbera said.

Tampa International Airport leads the state in guns found with 86 through Monday. Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport ranked third statewide with 62 guns detected by airport security while Miami, the state’s largest airport, was fourth with 42.

Orlando International Airport, which ranked first in 2016 with 86 guns found during screening, is second behind Tampa this year with 81 guns discovered.

The 24 firearms uncovered at PBIA is the most going back to 2013, according to the TSA. The previous high was 17 guns taken by security in 2015, and the low were the nine guns found in 2014.

Statewide, the numbers of guns found during screening by TSA agents has surged to 440 this year compared to 411 in 2016. That’s nearly twice the 228 guns taken from carry-on bags in 2013.

The trend is also apparent nationally where the total rose to 3,733 in the first 11 months of 2017 from 3,391 guns found this past year. That’s more than a 500 percent increase over 2005 when 660 firearms were expropriated, according to the TSA.

“There’s no scientific answer to why more guns are being discovered,” TSA spokesman Mark Howell said Monday. “But there are more people traveling than ever, we’re screening more passengers than ever and there are more Americans owning guns. More travelers means more gun owners at airports.”

Howell said that 80 to 90 percent of guns detected in carry-on bags are loaded.

Firearms are allowed on commercial aircraft only if they are unloaded, secured in a locked, hard-case container as checked baggage and declared at the airline’s ticket counter. No firearms are permitted in carry-on bags.

Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood has ranked among the state’s top 3 in firearm discoveries since 2013, including in 2014 when it tied Tampa for first with 49 firearms found during screening. The 62 guns uncovered this year does not include the Walter 9 mm semi-automatic used by Esteban Santiago to kill five people and wound six at the airport on Jan. 6.

Santiago properly checked his firearm, claimed his bag after arriving on a Delta Air Lines flight then loaded the gun in a bathroom before going on his shooting rampage.

The TSA states on its website that most people found with guns at airports possess the firearms legally, but forget to take them out of bags before they go through security checkpoints.

Travelers bringing firearms to the checkpoint can be arrested — a second-degree misdemeanor that can land an offender in jail for 60 days — and fined up to $12,000.

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