PHOENIX -- A spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration emphasized Tuesday the need for passengers to either check or leave behind prohibited items at home before they fly.
Nico Melendez spoke in a press conference at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport to discuss the trend of people who bring with them weapons and other banned items when they fly.
"It’s incumbent upon passengers to check their bags before they come to the airport to make sure they’re not carrying guns, loaded guns, or any other kind of prohibited or illegal item," Melendez said.
The rise in passengers bringing guns is a national issue, he said. The TSA found 1,800 guns in airports across the U.S. last year, he said, including 66 alone at Sky Harbor. Agents find an average of five guns per day, he added, compared with the average number from 2003 of two guns found per day. Four guns were found at Sky Harbor in January.
Melendez displayed one week’s worth of confiscated items from Sky Harbor, including guns, brass knuckles, power tools, knives, baseball bats, a bowling pin and a slingshot.
Even items that resemble weapons cannot make it past security, he said, as he showed a took kit and a lighter in the shape of a grenade. Melendez also picked up a piece of ceramic artwork resembling two antique pistols and a belt and explained how passengers could be confused by them.
"People in the back of the airplane don’t know whether or not you actually have a gun," he said.
Some items are not explicitly banned. A bowling pin does not appear on the list of banned items, Melendez said, but it can be used as a weapon.
"If you take the bowling pin, you could hit somebody over the head with it," he said. "And it could be used as what we call a dual-use item, something that could cause damage or pain or inflict injury on an aircraft."
The TSA gives passengers the option of taking a banned item to their cars, putting it in with their checked luggage, throwing it away or leaving it with the TSA, Melendez said. People typically choose to leave the items with the TSA, and the items are then given to the state’s surplus property management office.
However, TSA agents must call the police if they find an illegal item, such as a gun.
Anyone caught carrying a prohibited weapon faces a civil fine of up to $11,000. People can find the list of prohibited items online at TSA.gov or the My TSA app.