The list of potentially lethal weapons was certainly eye-opening: 47 guns (38 of them loaded, including six with rounds in their chambers), three inert hand grenades, supplies of black powder, hunting knives, timing fuses and a sword.
Then, consider that the list was compiled by the Transportation Security Administration, of weapons found in airline travelers’ carry-on bags in the seven days that ended on Sept. 20.
In fact, the T.S.A. says the number of guns found at airport security checkpoints has been steadily rising for the last couple of years. Through Friday, 1,105 guns have been found this year, a pace that is higher than last year’s. In 2011, the total was 1,320, up from 1,123 in 2010, the agency says.
Security experts attribute the increase to two factors: a rise in gun sales and the sharp growth of so-called right-to-carry laws across the country that significantly relax regulations on carrying guns in many areas of public life, from colleges to hospitals.
Invariably, according to the T.S.A., travelers at airports with guns in their carry-on bags say they simply forgot they had them. “It’s almost always inadvertent rather than intentional,” said David Castelveter, a spokesman for the agency.
Like other professionals in security, law enforcement and firearms safety, Mr. Castelveter was baffled by how anyone could forget that they were carrying a gun. “I’m a Vietnam vet, and when I went through training I was taught that my gun was my best friend — and God forbid you should ever lose sight of that fact. I would never, ever not know that I have a gun in my bag.”
Yet that was the exactly the excuse offered by a 27-year-old flight attendant who was stopped at a checkpoint at the Philadelphia airport on Sunday. The flight attendant, arriving for work on a US Airways flight, had a valid handgun permit — but of course, not a permit to carry it on an airplane. As it routinely does in such cases, the T.S.A. notified local law enforcement. A Philadelphia police officer who responded tried to unload the 38-caliber handgun weapon but instead accidentally fired it. No one was hurt, and the flight attendant was issued a summary citation for disorderly conduct.
It could have seemed like a Keystone Kops episode. Instead, it occurred as air travel has become increasingly tense. The potential for trouble posed by prohibited guns on crowded airplanes is obvious, even beyond any overt issues of terrorism or premeditated crime.
Except in rare instances where T.S.A. officials believe the Federal Bureau of Investigation needs to be notified, local law enforcement officials usually handle reports of guns at airport checkpoints.
“All we’re permitted to do is confiscate the weapon and call law enforcement agents, who then will take custody of it and determine whether or not you’re arrested,” said Mr. Castelveter, who is part of the security agency’s effort to notify local news media to aggressively publicize reports of guns and other prohibited weapons being found at checkpoints.
The growing number of guns being found at airports dovetails with the growth in firearms sales nationally. Last year, requests for background checks for firearms sales submitted under the National Instant Criminal Background Check System of the F.B.I. totaled 16.4 million, up from 14.4 million in 2010 and 8.9 million in 2001, according to F.B.I. data.
But firearms safety experts also suspect that some people new to firearms possession may not have basic weapons education, which used to be a stronger focus of gun advocacy groups like the National Rifle Association.
Guns at airport checkpoints reflect “the pervasiveness of concealed-carry weapons, which have gone up enormously in the last 10 years because concealed permits have got easier to get,” said Matt Bennett, a co-founder of Third Way, a Washington research group that promotes what it refers to as centrist views on “divisive social issues,” among them constitutional gun rights.