Hartsfield-Jackson No. 1 in guns

Hartsfield-Jackson leads the nation’s airports in the number of guns — 92 — caught in carry-on bags this year.

It’s a challenge being the world’s busiest airport in one of the world’s gun-loving-est places. Firearms confiscated at Hartsfield-Jackson so far this year are closing on the total for all of last year, 109.

The most common guns found at checkpoints are 9mm pistols, said Mark Howell, spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration, and they’re often found nestled among clothing at the bottom of a bag. But now and then, “we actually find them on their person,” Howell said. “It’s pretty rare, but it does happen.”

Hartsfield-Jackson has been the top airport for confiscated guns in the past, but it was overtaken by Dallas-Fort Worth International last year. Now Atlanta is the No. 1 gunport again.

One factor that may be contributing to the increase is a new state law that expanded gun rights. Then there are such eyebrow-raising incidents as the Winder man who strolled through the Atlanta terminal in May with an AR-15 rifle slung across his chest. Armed celebrities aren’t immune to the scanners at Hartsfield-Jackson, either, as rapper Waka Flocka Flame learned last fall. Agents found a handgun in his carry-on bag and sent him to the Clayton County Jail.

As the number of firearms found at airports rises, the TSA has launched a campaign to educate travelers on how to legally take guns on commercial flights.

“TSA never wants to infringe on anyone’s right to take a firearm when they travel,” Howell said. “We just don’t want it accessible during the flight.”

The TSA does a weekly rundown of weapons found at airport checkpoints nationwide on its blog. On recent revealed discoveries of 38 loaded guns, plus stun guns, a hatchet, grenades and a jawbone tomahawk. Some weapons are “artfully concealed,” such as a sword hidden in a cane found at LaGuardia. One traveler in Baltimore had two smoke bombs, 12 bottle rockets, three paracord cutters, four knives, a hatchet, a folding saw and a credit card knife, all in his carry-on bag.

In Atlanta, passengers caught with guns at security checkpoints are taken to the Atlanta Police Department precinct at the airport. Police arrested about a third of the people found with guns at Hartsfield-Jackson checkpoints this year because the passenger lacked a valid permit, according to the airport. Even if the person has a permit and is released, in almost all cases TSA imposes civil penalties of up to $7,500.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.