Atlanta airport again leads nation for guns caught by security

TSA caught 448 firearms at Hartsfield-Jackson checkpoints in 2022
Passengers head through the security check at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport Friday, July 1, 2022. (Steve Schaefer /

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Passengers head through the security check at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport Friday, July 1, 2022. (Steve Schaefer /

The Transportation Security Administration caught 448 firearms at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport checkpoints last year, as Atlanta once again had the dubious honor have having the most guns detected of any airport in the country for the seventh year in a row.

But there weren’t as many guns caught at the Atlanta airport as in 2021, when a record 507 guns were detected at Hartsfield-Jackson checkpoints.

Nationally, TSA caught a record 6,542 firearms. Of the total, 88% were loaded.

Overall, TSA detected one firearm for every 116,394 passengers it screened at airports across the country. The rate of firearms found at airport checkpoints in Georgia was more than double the national rate, at one firearm discovered for every 40,570 passengers screened.

While Hartsfield-Jackson is the world’s busiest airport in terms of total passenger counts, some other U.S airports have more people passing through security checkpoints.

That’s because the majority of passengers at the Atlanta airport are connecting between flights, meaning they don’t go through security at Hartsfield-Jackson.

Other airports in larger cities with more local traffic typically have more travelers passing through security, including Los Angeles International, Chicago O’Hare and New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, among others.

While TSA stops thousands of guns from getting onto planes every year, the agency has also come under fire for not catching some weapons that are brought through security checkpoints.

Last year, a Frontier Airlines flight that left Cincinnati bound for Tampa made an emergency landing at Hartsfield-Jackson after a disturbance involving a passenger with box cutters.

TSA officers at a Cincinnati airport checkpoint found a box cutter in the passenger’s possession, “but mistakenly believed that they had rendered it in operable by removing its blade,” according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia. Once the flight had taken off, the passenger “inserted a spare blade that was stored in the handle of the box cutter.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office also said that after the emergency landing, as the last passengers were getting off the plane, the passenger “charged toward a flight attendant at the front of the plane while holding his box cutter.”

The passenger, William Allen Liebisch, was charged Dec. 6 in federal court in Georgia with interfering with a flight crew and concealing a dangerous weapon on an aircraft. The federal indictment alleged that Liebisch had a second box cutter in his carry-on and a passenger reported to flight attendants that Liebisch said he was going to stab someone.

And last June, TSA investigated a possible missed firearm at the South security checkpoint. A secondary review of images of bags that had passed through the checkpoint showed a possible missed firearm in a passenger’s carry-on bag, but the agency was unable to find the passenger.

Mark Howell, regional spokesperson for TSA, shows reporters items confiscated by the TSA in the Hartsfield-Jackson international airport on Monday, December 12, 2022. AAA predicts a busy travel season during the holidays. CHRISTINA MATACOTTA FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Christina Matacotta

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Credit: Christina Matacotta

When a gun is detected at an airport checkpoint, TSA notifies Atlanta police to respond to the checkpoint.

Those caught with guns at airport checkpoints risk being charged and could face civil fines of up to $14,950. TSA also says those caught can lose their eligibility for the TSA PreCheck trusted traveler program for up to five years.

Passengers can travel with guns if they are unloaded, declared to the airline and properly packed in a locked, hard-sided case in checked baggage.

Mark Howell, TSA Regional Spokesman, demonstrates the proper way to travel with firearms during a TSA event at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport Friday, July 31, 2015. KENT D. JOHNSON / AJC

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Top 10 airports for firearm discoveries

1. Hartsfield-Jackson, 448 firearms caught

2. Dallas Fort Worth, 385

3. Houston/George Bush Intercontinental, 298

4. Nashville, 213

5. Phoenix, 196

6. Orlando International, 162

7. Denver, 156

8. Austin, 150

9. Fort Lauderdale, 134

10. Tampa, 131

Source: TSA