FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — On any given day, up to 50,000 passengers pass through Transportation Security Administration checkpoints at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
"I think people would be surprised at the amount of items that we intercept from passengers," Jason Martin, TSA security director at the airport, told Contact 5. "There are a lot of dangerous items on this table that could cause harm to someone within an aircraft."
Martin gave Contact 5 an exclusive look at the surprising seizures.
"This represents about a week's worth of prohibited items that have been intercepted and seized by TSA," Martin said of the confiscated items.
TSA officers are finding more than just bullets, blades and replica grenades.
"Eighty-seven% of the firearms that are seized by TSA are loaded and many of them have a round in the chamber," Martin said.
Contact 5 asked Martin if people are bringing guns by mistake or if something else could be going on that could be of concern.
"I think we always have to consider whether someone is doing it on purpose to test the system," he said. "So the real worry that we have for passengers and TSA officers alike is that we would have an inadvertent discharge of a firearm."
So far this year, TSA officers at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport have discovered 73 guns at airport checkpoints, 33 at Miami International Airport and 10 at Palm Beach International Airport, all of which have exceeded last year's count, according to year-to-date numbers provided by the TSA.
Despite the pandemic and screenings falling nationwide by 500 million in 2020, the TSA reports its firearms catch rate doubled last year to a record 10 firearms per million passengers screened.
Contact 5 asked Martin why he thinks there are so many more guns at checkpoints during the pandemic.
"I don't know that I can explain it," he said. "I definitely would say that it exacerbates why we should be concerned about it, because even when the numbers dropped for passengers, we still saw quite an increase."
Contact 5 shared the TSA's data with security expert Timothy Miller, a former Homeland Security special agent and Secret Service agent.
"Anytime there's any inkling that weapons are trying to be smuggled on to airplanes, all of us should go, 'OK, what's happening?'" Miller said.
Contact 5 asked Miller if he believes all the weapons were brought accidentally or if he thinks something else could be at play.
"I think it's a little of all of it," he said. "The majority of seizures are people that don't know, but I think there could be an element where people are doing dark things."
Through the first six months of the year, TSA officers discovered nearly 3,000 firearms. That's concerning to Miller.
"I'm not screaming that the sky is falling," he said. "What I am screaming is we ought to look at this. When you see larger numbers of firearms and weapons being seized at a checkpoint at an airport, security officials and government needs to ask the big question, why?"
Officials at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport are hoping to educate travelers that it is illegal to transport a weapon and firearms through TSA checkpoints. The airport launched a public outreach campaign in December 2019 reminding passengers to "Pack the Fun. Not the Gun."
"We would like to see a reduction, because ultimately, you know, we're trying to protect everyone," Martin said.
Passengers found to have a gun in their carry-on luggage at a security checkpoint could face criminal charges and up to nearly $14,000 in fines and penalties.
For more information on transporting firearms and ammunition, click here.