NEWARK, N.J. (WPIX) – TSA officials are alarmed about a concerning trend at security checkpoints at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey.

TSA and Port Authority police officials in Newark held a briefing Wednesday to highlight their concerns about the frequency that travelers are being caught at security checkpoints carrying handguns and ammunition.  

“There appears to be an epidemic of ammunition that is cropping up at our security checkpoints — one that is easily preventable,” said Thomas Carter, TSA’s Federal Security Director for New Jersey. “Guns, ammunition and security checkpoints don’t mix. Guns and ammunition are never allowed to pass through a security checkpoint to be carried onto a flight, even if a traveler has a concealed carry permit.”

A press release issued in conjunction with the briefing noted that TSA and Port Authority police were both “alarmed” and “highly concerned” by the number of guns found at Newark Liberty since the beginning of the year.

In 2022, TSA officers at Newark Liberty International Airport discovered nine firearms at security checkpoints, which is on pace to surpass the 12 firearms found in all of 2021. Most of the guns found with travelers were loaded, officials said.

A photo released by the TSA shows a properly packed firearm in a hard-sided case. (TSA)

“The most common excuses we hear from travelers is that ‘I didn’t know it was in my bag’ or ‘I forgot it was in there.’ But there is no excuse for trying to bring a handgun on a flight,” Carter said. “Responsible gun owners know where their guns are at all times.”   

TSA officers found 5,972 guns at airport security checkpoints nationwide in 2021. Eighty-six percent of those guns were loaded, officials said.

Carrying a loaded gun to an airport checkpoint is punishable by a federal civil penalty that can result in fines as high as $10,000, or $13,910 for repeat offenders. Violators may also incur criminal charges.

Passengers are allowed to travel with firearms in checked baggage as long as the guns are properly stored and declared at their airline ticket counter. Firearms must be unloaded, stored in a hard-sided locked case, and packed separately from ammunition. The locked case must be taken to the airline check-in counter to be declared. Ammunition cannot be brought in carry-on baggage, but it can be transported in checked baggage.

The TSA’s website provides more information on how to properly travel with a firearm.