Gun toters at Atlanta airport security checkpoints face federal charges

As the number of guns caught by security screeners at the world's busiest airport continues to rise, federal law enforcement is unleashing another tool in its arsenal to deter travelers from taking their firearms to airport checkpoints.

Atlanta police sergeants were trained Tuesday to begin levying federal charges against travelers who attempt to take guns through Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport security checkpoints.

It's against federal law to take a gun beyond security checkpoints, but in 2014 Georgia law changed and reinforced the right to carry guns in all airport terminals in the state. That change also meant that since then, those who are properly licensed have been released with their guns returned to them.

"This new policy fills that gap," said FBI spokesman Stephen Emmett.

With the new policy to take effect in coming weeks, the passenger would be federally cited, the weapon impounded and the passenger would be summoned to appear in federal magistrate court.

The issue of gun rights has made the world's busiest airport a nexus of differing airport, state and federal interests for years, against a backdrop of shifting state law.

Last year 144 guns were found at Atlanta airport security checkpoints, a record for Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Officials say many instances involve travelers who forget they have a firearm in their bag.

When a gun is found at a security checkpoint at the Atlanta airport, a Transportation Security Administration agent sounds an alarm and shuts down the checkpoint lane.

Atlanta police are called to retrieve the gun from the X-ray machine or wherever it is found. Police take the passenger and gun to the airport precinct, and those without a valid license can be arrested. TSA typically imposes a fine as high as $7,500.