Five hundred twenty-nine guns were confiscated by federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents at Florida’s 19 largest airports last year —double the 228 firearms agents found in 2013. Nationally, TSA agents found 4,239 guns at airport checkpoints in 2018, compared with just over 900 in 2008.

It’s shocking that nearly two decades after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, passengers are still trying to bring firearms aboard flights. Far more troubling, airport security officials say this trend shows little sign of abating.

Five hundred twenty-nine guns were confiscated by federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents at Florida’s 19 largest airports last year —double the 228 firearms agents found in 2013. Nationally, TSA agents found 4,239 guns at airport checkpoints in 2018, compared with just over 900 in 2008.

Just as troubling is that the guns are usually loaded and stored in passengers’ carry-on luggage, according to the TSA.

“I have no doubt another record — the kind you don’t want to break — will be set again this year,” Sari Koshetz, a TSA spokeswoman, told the Post.

The specter of how much damage can be done by a loaded handgun in the hands of an ill-intentioned passenger is horrifying.

This is one area where we can’t afford anything less than a “zero tolerance” policy. As air travel continues to grow, TSA is one agency that should not be in the crosshairs for budget cuts nor having its personnel diverted to the U.S.-Mexico border to fulfill a dubious political pledge.

The federal law is clear and simple: bringing guns and ammunition to airports in carry-on baggage is prohibited. Travelers must store unloaded firearms in a locked, hard-sided container and declare it as checked baggage with the airline during check-in.

Even that is no guarantee against disaster. Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport was the site of a mass shooting in January 2017 that left five people dead and six injured after a 26-year-old Alaska man opened fire with a semi-automatic pistol inside Terminal 2. Esteban Santiago, an Iraq War veteran, observed the law by traveling with a box containing his weapon and ammunition as part of his checked luggage on a flight into Fort Lauderdale from Anchorage. But once he landed, he pulled out the weapon, loaded it and opened fire.

TSA is to be commended for taking a hard line with stiff penalties and the threat of jail time to make travelers take the law seriously.

There’s also a TSA civil penalty — $3,900 for first offenders, and up to $13,066 per violation and even higher for repeat offenders. In 2017, TSA filed more than $1.4 million in civil penalties against airline passengers caught with firearms in their carry-ons, according to data made available to The Washington Post.

Unsecured firearms aren’t the only challenge facing the TSA, which screens more than 660 million passengers and nearly 2 billion carry-on and checked bags per year. But their proliferation has become the most critical.

The agency has made strides in improving passenger screening, as with advanced imaging and facial recognition. But all it takes is one incident to change many lives forever. Passengers must do their part by properly securing firearms and ammunition before heading to the airport.

Or else prepare to be grounded.

This editorial originally appeared in the Palm Beach Post.