On an upcoming episode of MEL: On Air, we’re focusing on the theme of Lost Loves Found. To that end, we’ll be talking to a professor who’s convinced she’s discovered the perfect formula for reconnecting with your high school sweetheart; a man who became so obese that he actually lost his penis; and a TSA spokesman who has to deal with the tens of thousands of items lost in airports every year, from the bizarre — why do people take their false teeth out when they go through security? — to the extremely dangerous. It was while discussing the latter that the spokesman, Nico Melendez, revealed a few fascinating details about the number of guns that Americans accidentally leave in their hand luggage.
The TSA Confiscates Around 3,000 Guns a Year Nationwide
“You can get anything from a bow and arrow to free weights to pocket knives and scissors,” Melendez says of the kinds of items the TSA is forced to confiscate. “Anything that you’re not allowed to bring on a plane, people try to bring on a plane!” The biggest no-no, of course, is any type of firearm, but the TSA still finds plenty of them. “Last year at airports across the country, we found probably close to 3,000 guns — loaded or unloaded.”
This breaks down to around eight or nine guns a day nationwide, which is a relatively low number, considering that about two million Americans fly domestically every day. But it does speak volumes about the casual relationship some people have with their guns. “Typically, when we look into it, it’s a matter of they forgot their gun was with them,” says Melendez. “They’re legal gun owners who maybe went to the range a day before and didn’t check their bag before they came to the airport. When they show up, there’s a gun in the bag.”
You Can Still Go to Prison, Even If You Didn’t Mean to Bring Your Gun
Unfortunately for some of the above gun owners, forgetfulness is no defense — depending where they live. “If it’s found in California, you’re more than likely going to get arrested,” says Melendez. “If it’s found in somewhere like Arizona or Texas, where the gun laws are different than they are in California, they’ll just tell you to go put your gun in your car, or give it to a loved one, then they’ll have you go on your way. It really depends on the jurisdiction as to what the outcome is — it’s totally up to the police.”
The TSA Aren’t Actually Searching You for Drugs
For anyone who’s ever “accidentally” left three joints in their back pocket and sweated their way through a TSA checkpoint, you can stop worrying. “As far as drugs go, it’s an interesting topic, because our job is to find items that threaten aviation security, that could potentially bring an aircraft out of the sky,” says Melendez. “Drugs don’t fall into that category, so we don’t actively look for illegal contraband like drugs. If we find it during the course of our inspection, we’ll notify the police and they can enforce the law, but it’s not something that we’re looking for.”
That doesn’t mean that customs have lost interest in narcotics, however, as Melendez is keen to point out. “Customs and the security checkpoint are two different things. If somebody comes through customs with drugs, they have to be aware of what the law is.” And so far, the law is much more favorable towards loaded guns than it is to recreational drugs.