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Record numbers of people are trying to bring loaded guns on planes

Last week, the Transportation Security Administration found a record number of firearms, most of them loaded, in air travelers' carry-ons. Of the 68 firearms they discovered, 61 were loaded and 25 had a round in the chamber. Last week's haul surpasses the previous record of 67 guns, set just a few weeks ago.

It's all part-and-parcel of a much longer-term trend in airport firearm confiscations, according to TSA's data. Since 2005, the rate of gun confiscations per 1 million air passengers has more than tripled, according to the latest numbers from the TSA and the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

In 2005, TSA officers found less than one gun per every 1 million air passengers. But through July of this year, agents are finding more than three firearms per every 1 million air passengers. The overall rate has increased steadily over that time period. In raw terms, the number of firearms confiscated by TSA agents year-to-date (2,060) has nearly surpassed the total for all of 2014 (2,212).

One big factor driving this trend? An explosion in the popularity of concealed-carry handgun permits. Data maintained by independent researcher and gun rights advocate John Lott suggests that the number of concealed-carry-permit holders jumped from around 3 million in the early 2000s to over 11 million by 2014. And more concealed-carry-permit holders means that more people are simply forgetting they have their guns on them when they go to the airport.

"Just because we find a prohibited item on an individual does not mean they had bad intentions; that's for the law enforcement officer to decide," the TSA writes on its blog. "In many cases, people simply forgot they had these items."

Still, the TSA notes that getting caught with a gun at a security checkpoint is a big hassle both for the gun carrier, who faces a fine of up to $11,000, and for the people who get stuck behind them while security officers deal with the situation. If you do need to travel with guns, the TSA has guidelines for how to safely transport them — in your checked baggage.

These numbers of confiscated guns are a floor, not a ceiling: It's possible that a number of firearms are slipping through the cracks and ending up in the skies on a daily basis. Earlier this year, for instance, undercover investigators were able to smuggle mock explosives or weapons through airport security checkpoints in 67 out of 70 attempts. The massive failure led to the reassignment of the acting administrator of the TSA at that time.

The increase in firearm seizures at airports is a natural consequence of efforts, over the past decade, to increase the presence of guns in nearly every aspect in public life. In some states, these efforts have been extended even to airports. Georgia is one example, where earlier this year a man caused a stir by openly carrying his loaded AR-15 assault rifle through the terminal of Atlanta International Airport, the world's busiest. Doing so is perfectly legal under Georgia law.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the rate of firearms confiscations. The confiscation rate is per 1 million passengers, not per 1,000.

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