• Passengers caught with firearms at TSA security checkpoints can face penalties, including a five-year suspension of TSA PreCheck eligibility and additional screening, leading to longer wait times.
  • The airline employee was looking to travel from Washington to Chicago.
  • This year alone, the TSA has stopped 22 guns at the airport.

On Friday, August 11th, an airline employee at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) was stopped at security with a loaded handgun. The security officers with the Transport Security Administration (TSA) stopped the passenger after the X-ray unit alerted the team it was in his carry-on bag.

The individual planning to fly to Chicago had the gun confiscated and was cited on state charges. A penalty could still be in line for the airline employee, which can reach a maximum of $15,000. Passengers can travel with firearms, but these must be in their checked baggage and should be unloaded and packed in a hard-sided, locked travel case. The case and weapons must also be declared when checking in.

TSA PreCheck at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport
Photo: David Tran Photo | Shutterstock

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Not the first time at Reagan

In the last five years, multiple weapons have been stopped in the capital's airport. Between 2018 and 2022, 99 guns have been caught by TSA at Washington National; this year alone, the count is already at 22. Firearm possession law does vary from state to state, but the gun owner is responsible for ensuring they are not violating local laws and have checked respective airline rules and regulations to meet additional requirements.

When passengers bring a gun to an airport through its security checkpoint, the TSA can step in and charge a federal civil penalty, which can be in the thousands of dollars, regardless if the traveler holds or does not hold a gun permit. It's also worth noting that those with TSA PreCheck could lose their privileges if they look to bend the rules.

Tarmac of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA)
Photo: Kit Leong | Shutterstock

In the first six months of 2023, TSA has already detected more than 3,000 guns across the United States as a whole. Over the last year, the number of guns detected totaled 6,542 from 262 of the 430 airport security checkpoints nationwide.

TSA Administrator David Pekoske issued a statement warning of penalties for those who accidentally or deliberately try to get past a TSA security checkpoint with a firearm:

"Firearms at TSA security checkpoints present an unacceptable safety and security risk to other passengers, and I am deeply concerned that most of these firearms our TSOs catch are loaded...If you carry a firearm to the checkpoint, our TSOs will see it, and there will be significant penalties, including federal penalties and additional screening, which may prolong the security screening process."

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Potential consequences

Firearms are prohibited in carry-on bags, through TSA security checkpoints, and onboard aircraft. This is the case even if a passenger has a concealed carry permit. So what are the consequences of reaching a TSA security checkpoint with a firearm?

  • A five-year suspension of TSA PreCheck® eligibility is first on the list. If the violating passenger is an existing TSA PreCheck member, they will become ineligible.
  • The TSA may also conduct additional screening for these passengers to ensure no other threats are present. This ultimately results in longer screening times for all other passengers.
TSA carry-on check
Photo: TSA
  • A civil penalty for a firearms violation may be applied. The current maximum penalty stands at $14,950.
    • The TSA website notes that loaded or unloaded firearms (with accessible ammunition) discovered at a checkpoint or sterile area come with a $3,000 to $10,700 penalty plus a criminal referral. If this is a repeat violation, the penalty is $10,700 - $14,950 with a criminal referral.
    • For unloaded firearms, the penalty is $1,500 to $5,370, along with a criminal referral.
  • Finally, passengers with firearms found in a carry-on bag at a TSA checkpoint are also subject to applicable city or state laws at that airport that may include citation or arrest.

Sources: TSA

  • Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport
    IATA/ICAO Code:
    United States
    Passenger Count :
    23,961,442 - 2022
    Runways :
    01/19 - 7,169ft (2,185m) | 04/22 - 5,000ft (1,524m) | 15/33 - 5,204ft (1,586m)
    American Airlines
    Terminal 1 / Terminal 2