The number of firearms detected in carry-on luggage by airport security screeners is on the rise.
Last week in separate incidents in California two men were arrested trying to bring loaded handguns onto a plane.
The arrests come on the heels of cases in Chicago (where an unloaded handgun was found in a businessman's briefcase), New York City (where a Tea Party activist was cited for checking into a flight with a Glock and ammunition), and Texas (where a Fort Bragg soldier was found to be carrying five pounds of C-4 explosives onto a plane).
Also last month, a loaded gun in a passenger's bag discharged as security personnel handled the luggage at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
The spate of recent incidents appears to confirm what Transportation Security Administration statistics suggest: The number of firearms being discovered by airport security has increased.
USA Today reports that in 2011 the TSA said it found 1,238 firearms - nearly four a day on average - at airport checkpoints across the nation. In the summer of 2010 a TSA blog post had reported that security personnel were finding an average of two weapons a day.
Most weapons are in carry-on bags being screened for fliers (who say they had forgotten the guns were inside), but in Detroit last month a 76-year-old passenger in a body scanner was found to have a loaded .38 pistol strapped to his ankle.
In addition to firearms, the TSA is also finding Taser-style stun guns, some camouflaged as other items, such as a smart phone (left) or a flashlight.
The TSA Blog reports that items discovered by airport screeners this past week include a speargun, a live tear gas grenade, and a knife concealed under the seat of a wheelchair.
Whether the increase in found contraband is because more passengers are trying to flout security restrictions on traveling with weapons, or because of increased screening capabilities is not known.
What screeners have recently found:
At Long Beach Airport last Thursday, an unidentified passenger set to board a Delta Airlines flight for Salt Lake City was taken into custody when a loaded .38-caliber handgun containing six rounds of ammunition and two additional magazines were found inside his bag at a security checkpoint.
The arrest came a day after Tim Donnelly, a California Assemblyman and an outspoken advocate for gun rights, was arrested for trying to bring a loaded handgun and magazine onto a flight at Ontario International Airport.
Donnelly, a self-proclaimed Tea Party Republican who lives in the Southern California mountain community of Twin Peaks, said he inadvertently left the gun in his briefcase.
On December 11 a gun was discovered during the X-ray screening process at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, the world's busiest airport. TSA officials said they notified Atlanta police of the gun, and a small-caliber round was discharged inside the carry-on bag while officers were handling it.
The passenger who brought the bag into security was taken into custody.
On December 15 the co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, Mark Meckler, was arrested at New York's LaGuardia Airport after he tried to check in for a Delta flight to Detroit with a locked gun box containing a Glock pistol and 19 cartridges of ammunition.
Mark Tarner, the owner of a northern Indiana chocolate factory embarking on a vacation in Mexico with his family, was arrested Tuesday night at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport after a security checkpoint X-ray machine detected an unloaded gun.
He was released Thursday from the Cook County Jail after posting a $3,000 bond.
Tarner told the South Bend Tribune he had put the gun in a hidden compartment in his briefcase two weeks ago and forgot it was there. Tarner calls it "just an innocent mistake."
In New York, Sihui "Hannah" Xie, a college student from China, was arrested trying to carry a combination stun gun and flashlight onto a plane at Kennedy International Airport.
The TSA said the device initially just appeared to be a flashlight, but the screener looked more closely and saw it also was a stun gun.
And in Midland, Texas, Trey Scott Atwater was placed in federal custody after five pounds of a powerful, military-grade explosive were found in his luggage at a West Texas airport.