In this May 18, 2020, file photo, Transportation Security Administration officers wear protective masks at a security screening area at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in SeaTac, Wash. Credit: Elaine Thompson / AP

The Transportation Security Administration is sounding the alarm on the “huge problem” of a record high number of passengers bringing firearms to airports.

“We’ve had many more incidents where there are passenger disturbances both in checkpoints and onboard aircraft. That makes it more important that there are no guns involved,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske said.

TSA officials are already working harder than usual to avoid passenger confrontation as there has also been a sharp rise in the number of belligerent passengers on U.S. aircrafts.

In the first 10 months of the year, the TSA retrieved 4,650 firearms at security checks. The agency added that most of the recovered weapons were loaded, 3,900 of them or 80 percent, to be exact.

The staggering number broke the previous record of 4,432, set in 2019, CNN reported.

Pekoske attributed the record to an increase in the number of Americans who are armed.

“I think more people are carrying weapons, just generally across the country, and then whatever is happening across the country we see reflected in our checkpoints,” he said. “As a passenger, I don’t want another passenger flying with me with a gun in their possession.”

As part of its findings, the TSA said it is also recovering the weapons at a faster rate than ever before. When air travel was at a lull during the pandemic in 2020, officers confiscated a gun from nearly 10 passengers out of every million. In contrast, they’re now recovering weapons from 11 armed passengers out of every million.

“No checkpoint, no airport is immune from having passengers try to carry guns through the checkpoint,” Pekoske said. “It does occur more frequently in, again, the states where gun carriage is at a higher rate compared to other states.”

As the holiday travel season approaches and COVID-19 restrictions ease on both domestic and international travel, the increase in guns found at the checkpoints could signal more delays for passengers who are caught in longer security checkpoint lines as they wait for local police to respond.

Passengers who bring a weapon to the airport could be fined starting at $2,500 for an unloaded weapon and up to $10,000 for a loaded one. For repeat offenders, the penalties are typically higher. Local authorities may also opt to file criminal charges and some areas, including Pittsburgh, can revoke concealed carry permits for offenders who bring a gun to the airport.

Brandon Sapienza, New York Daily News