U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak speaks at a press conference at Hartsfield-Jackson International on the problem of guns brought to airport security checkpoints.
Photo: Kelly Yamanouchi/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: Kelly Yamanouchi/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Guns seized at Hartsfield-Jackson checkpoints set national record

More guns have been seized at Hartsfield-Jackson International’s security checkpoints in 2018 than at any other airport in the nation, setting a record even before the year is out.

The Atlanta airport has held the No. 1 spot in the nation for guns uncovered at checkpoints for the last two years.

A total of 293 firearms have been found in carry-on bags and as improperly packed or undeclared guns in checked luggage so far this year. On average, 80 to 90 percent of them are loaded, according to the Transportation Security Administration.

“I know you can’t imagine this, but the passenger will say, ‘I forgot it was in the bag,’” said TSA’s Atlanta federal security director Mary Leftridge Byrd at an airport press conference Wednesday.

Last year, a record 245 guns were discovered at security checkpoints at the Atlanta airport.

Of the 293 guns found most recently, 248 of them were seized from carry-ons at security checkpoints. Another 45 improperly packed or undeclared guns have been found in checked baggage.

Of course, there’s still time for other airports to catch up before the end of 2018.

“Check your bags, check your purses,” said U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak. “Double and triple check before you come to the airport to make sure you do not have a firearm, if you intend to fly.”

Pak said he’s looking at ideas for more ways to get the message out, such as reminders to travelers when they check in online with Delta Air Lines and more signs at airport parking notifying passengers that guns are not allowed at security checkpoints.

Travelers lined up in security lines at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Guns caught at checkpoints increase security wait times and result in penalties for offenders, including a civil TSA penalty of up to $13,333, according to officials.

“If you are caught with a weapon in your bag, even a first-time offender will pay a fine. You will be issued a citation. You’ll have to appear in court to resolve the citation. You’ll lose your gun. You won’t make your flight,” said Jim Hurley, FBI assistant special agent in charge in Atlanta.

Repeat offenders could be charged with a federal misdemeanor, punishable with up to a $100,000 fine and a year in jail, Pak said.

While Hartsfield-Jackson is the airport that handles the most passengers in the world, it does not have the most passengers going through security checkpoints. That’s because the majority of passengers at the Atlanta airport are just passing through and connecting, and they go through security at other airports.

Hartsfield-Jackson officials also said Wednesday they expect more than 96,000 passengers at security checkpoints on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, which would be a record for Atlanta.

The most recent record was set over the Memorial Day travel period this year, when more than 93,000 passengers were screened in a single day at the Atlanta airport.

While the Sunday after Thanksgiving will be the busiest day for travel for the upcoming holiday period, Thanksgiving Day itself will be the lightest, according to the airline industry group.

Over the travel period from Nov. 16 through Nov. 26, a total of more than 3 million passengers are expected to pass through Hartsfield-Jackson.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said the airport’s busy period will run from the Thanksgiving period all the way through the Super Bowl in Atlanta next February.

Nationally, the Transportation Security Administration also expects a record-breaking Thanksgiving travel season. At a press conference at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, TSA Administrator David Pekoske said the agency expects to see a 5 to 6 percent increase in the number of passengers at checkpoints over the holiday season compared with last year.

The U.S. airline industry expects to fly a record 30.6 million people over the Thanksgiving travel period, up from 29 million last year, according to industry group Airlines for America.

The total daily passenger count on all U.S. airlines will reach as high as 3 million during the peak period.

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