TSA catches record number of guns at Hartsfield-Jackson in first quarter

Signs at the main security checkpoint advise passengers against bringing weapons in carry-on luggage Wednesday, April 6, 2022 at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. (Daniel Varnado/For the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

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Signs at the main security checkpoint advise passengers against bringing weapons in carry-on luggage Wednesday, April 6, 2022 at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. (Daniel Varnado/For the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Travelers found with guns in carry-ons face potential penalties.

Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport has had the most guns caught at security checkpoints among any U.S. airport in each of the past six years. So far, 2022 has started off with a bang.

Transportation Security Administration officers caught 94 guns at Atlanta airport security checkpoints in the first three months of this year, setting a record for the first quarter. That compares to 89 guns detected in carry-on bags in the same period last year.

And Atlanta hasn’t even reached its peak travel seasons.

Last year, Hartsfield-Jackson shattered previous annual records with 507 firearms detected.

Travelers face federal civil penalties of up to $13,900 if they bring firearms in carry-on luggage to airport security checkpoints and risk being charged with a crime.

Out of all of the guns detected at airport security checkpoints nationwide, one out of 11 is caught at the Atlanta airport, according to TSA spokesman Mark Howell.

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Signs at the main security checkpoint advise passengers against bringing weapons in carry-on luggage Wednesday, April 6, 2022 at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. (Daniel Varnado/For the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Daniel Varnado

Signs at the main security checkpoint advise passengers against bringing weapons in carry-on luggage Wednesday, April 6, 2022 at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. (Daniel Varnado/For the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Daniel Varnado

caption arrowCaption
Signs at the main security checkpoint advise passengers against bringing weapons in carry-on luggage Wednesday, April 6, 2022 at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. (Daniel Varnado/For the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Daniel Varnado

Credit: Daniel Varnado

Hartsfield-Jackson is among the world’s busiest airports when connecting passengers are counted. But several U.S. airports in large cities with heavier local traffic typically have more departing passengers who pass through security checkpoints than Atlanta.

In addition to the large volume of passengers passing through the Atlanta airport, “you also have a lot of gun owners here in the state,” Howell said, including people who carry as part of their daily routine. He said that’s more common in states with more permissive gun laws.

Airline passenger counts nationally are up so far in the first three months of this year compared to the same period in 2021, but they remain lower than in 2019, the year before the pandemic hobbled air travel.

Gov. Brian Kemp is expected to soon sign legislation allowing Georgians to carry concealed handguns without first getting a license in the state.

When a similar “constitutional carry” law went into effect last year in Tennessee, gun discoveries at security checkpoints at Nashville’s airport soared more than 68% compared to 2019 and 2020.

A gun caught last year at Hartsfield-Jackson generated national attention when the firearm discharged at the main security checkpoint, causing frightened passengers to run from the terminal and disrupting flights. The man, Kenny Wells Jr., faces multiple charges, including possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, police said.

Howell said nearly every gun discovery at security checkpoints results in a fine, which varies depending on whether the firearm was loaded, if ammunition is accessible, if there was an attempt to hide it or multiple offenses. He said the average penalty is $2,000 for an unloaded firearm and $4,000 for a loaded firearm.

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A holographic image advising passengers against bringing weapons into the security checkpoint area is seen Wednesday, April 6, 2022 at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. (Daniel Varnado/For the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Daniel Varnado

A holographic image advising passengers against bringing weapons into the security checkpoint area is seen Wednesday, April 6, 2022 at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. (Daniel Varnado/For the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Daniel Varnado

caption arrowCaption
A holographic image advising passengers against bringing weapons into the security checkpoint area is seen Wednesday, April 6, 2022 at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. (Daniel Varnado/For the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Daniel Varnado

Credit: Daniel Varnado


How to properly transport guns as checked baggage

Firearms are prohibited in carry-on bags, but can be legally packed as checked luggage. TSA recommends passengers who want to travel with a gun check airline restrictions for traveling with a firearm and review firearm restrictions for their destination.

To pack firearms in checked luggage, they must be unloaded, packed in a locked hard-sided case and declared to the airline.

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A hard-sided case, locks, handguns, and firearms declaration cards are seen Wednesday, April 6, 2022 at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. These items are needed to properly transport firearms on flights. (Daniel Varnado/For the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Daniel Varnado

A hard-sided case, locks, handguns, and firearms declaration cards are seen Wednesday, April 6, 2022 at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. These items are needed to properly transport firearms on flights.  (Daniel Varnado/For the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Daniel Varnado

caption arrowCaption
A hard-sided case, locks, handguns, and firearms declaration cards are seen Wednesday, April 6, 2022 at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. These items are needed to properly transport firearms on flights. (Daniel Varnado/For the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Daniel Varnado

Credit: Daniel Varnado

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