200 guns caught at Hartsfield-Jackson so far this year, most in nation

Passengers head through security at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport Friday, July 1, 2022. (Steve Schaefer / steve.schaefer@ajc.com)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

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Passengers head through security at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport Friday, July 1, 2022. (Steve Schaefer / steve.schaefer@ajc.com)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

U.S. Attorney warns travelers not to bring guns to airport checkpoints

So far in 2022, 200 guns have been caught at security checkpoints at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport — the most of any airport in the nation.

But that’s down from the pace last year, when 507 firearms were caught over all of 2021 — which was more than double the national rate of guns caught for the volume of passengers.

Amid loosened Georgia gun restrictions, federal officials in Atlanta have ramped up a public awareness push on the prohibition on guns at airport checkpoints — and they say that may be helping.

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Passengers head through the security check at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport Friday, July 1, 2022. (Steve Schaefer / steve.schaefer@ajc.com)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Passengers head through the security check at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport Friday, July 1, 2022. (Steve Schaefer / steve.schaefer@ajc.com)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Combined ShapeCaption
Passengers head through the security check at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport Friday, July 1, 2022. (Steve Schaefer / steve.schaefer@ajc.com)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Of the 200 guns caught at the Atlanta airport in the first half of the year, 175 were loaded, according to Robert Spinden, federal security director for the Transportation Security Administration in Atlanta.

“This is a criminal act,” said Atlanta Police interim chief Darin Schierbaum. “This is not a Second Amendment issue. This is a safety issue.”

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It is possible to legally travel with a gun — if it is unloaded, properly packed in a locked case in checked luggage and declared to the airline.

But, “If it is brought in carry-on baggage, it is a violation of federal law,” said Ryan Buchanan, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, who stepped into the role in May.

Buchanan joined with other federal and local officials on Friday, the busiest day of the Fourth of July travel period, to remind travelers not to bring their guns to airport checkpoints.

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U.S. Attorney Ryan Buchanan talks at a Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport press conference Friday, July 1, 2022. (Steve Schaefer / steve.schaefer@ajc.com)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

U.S. Attorney Ryan Buchanan talks at a Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport press conference Friday, July 1, 2022. (Steve Schaefer / steve.schaefer@ajc.com)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Combined ShapeCaption
U.S. Attorney Ryan Buchanan talks at a Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport press conference Friday, July 1, 2022. (Steve Schaefer / steve.schaefer@ajc.com)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

The effort comes as the state instituted a new law in April allows Georgians to carry concealed handguns without getting a license.

Some have worried that the new law could increase the number of people carrying firearms and bringing them to the airport.

Federal officials say it is remains illegal to bring a gun to a federally-controlled airport security checkpoint, and they still have the authority to charge violators and levy a civil TSA penalty of up to $13,900.

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Atlanta Police airport commander Major Kelley Collier said passengers who are caught with a gun at the checkpoint are still taken to the police precinct at the airport for an investigation with federal authorities.

Spinden said just this week, there were two firearms caught Wednesday at Hartsfield-Jackson checkpoints, two more Thursday and another on Friday morning.

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“If you know you’re going to walk through a metal detector, why would you bring a firearm?” said Teddie Traylor, a traveler at Hartsfield-Jackson on Friday. “I think that’s negligence. ... I don’t know how you really mess that up.”