SALT LAKE CITY — A travel security agency said there was an increase in the number of guns detected at security checkpoints at Salt Lake City International Airport, even as air travel declined during the coronavirus pandemic.

Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman Lorie Dankers said agency officers have discovered 50 firearms in carry-on luggage this year, as of Monday, The Deseret News reported.

The agency is now asking Utah residents to keep their firearms out of their carry-on luggage.

“(It’s a situation where) people have the gun thrown in the bottom of their bag, which oftentimes is loaded and there’s often one in the chamber. We don’t want to see that at the security checkpoint,” Dankers said.

She added: “You’re going to probably lose your gun, and all these things that really could be avoided if you just go ahead and take your firearm, unload it, put it in a hard-sided case, lock it up and stick it in your checked baggage, then pick it up at your destination.”

TSA workers at Salt Lake City International Airport have found 50 guns in carry-ons as of May, compared to 33 firearms this time last year, and 29 firearms the previous year. (Photo: Rick Bowmer, AP, Rick Bowmer, AP)

Agency officers flagged 33 firearms this time last year, and 29 firearms the previous year, she said. The guns were discovered during routine screening at airport security checkpoints.

About 71 firearms were found in 2020, even with the number of screenings down by 61% compared with the previous year, officials said. The Salt Lake City International Airport ranked 10th nationally for the number of firearm discoveries last year.

“Guns have never been allowed in carry-on luggage. They’re not allowed in the cabin of the aircraft, and everybody understands why,” Dankers said, noting that passengers with concealed weapons permits are also prohibited from storing firearms in carry-on luggage.

► ‘Accident waiting to happen:’  TSA finding more loaded guns in luggage 

To increase security measures, TSA is hiring new officers to work at Salt Lake City International Airport and other airports around the state.

“We’re hiring now, because of the consistent travel and the uptick that we’re seeing in the passenger volumes that’s going on right now,” said Matt Davis, TSA federal security director for Utah. “We want to be as prepared as possible, and we want to make sure that we have adequate staffing down on all the checkpoints so we can run as effectively and efficiently as possible.”

The TSA employs about 450 officers across Utah, he said. About 375 work at Salt Lake City International Airport.

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