Transportation Security Administration officers found more than 6,500 firearms in airline passengers’ bags at security checkpoints nationwide in 2022. The annual figures from last year were a steep increase from 2021 and even pre-COVID levels.
Federal regulations allow gun owners to bring their firearms with them when flying, but TSA officials say the number of incidents of unsecured and/or loaded guns being brought through security checkpoints is growing by the hundreds and even thousands each year.
Federal officials want air travelers to understand what’s allowed and what’s not regarding guns as airports nationwide, including a few in North Carolina, continue to see an uptick in the number of firearms discovered at airport security checkpoints.
What's happening nationwide?
TSA officers discovered 6,542 firearms in passengers’ bags at airports nationwide in 2022, according to a press release from TSA.
TSA saw nearly a 10% increase since 2021, and more than 100% increase compared to 2020, according to TSA.
Roughly 88% of the guns discovered in passengers’ bags in 2022 were loaded, according to TSA.
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport led the nation in firearms discoveries at TSA checkpoints in 2022, according to TSA. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport trailed just behind Atlanta last year.
What’s happening in North Carolina?
North Carolina’s major airports have also seen a rise in the number of firearm discoveries at security checkpoints. Firearms being found in passenger bags at North Carolina airports increased 38% in the past five years, from 180 in 2018 to 250 in 2022, according to TSA statistics.
Unlike some airports such as Charlotte, Raleigh and Asheville, Wilmington International Airport saw a slight decline in firearm discoveries (from seven in 2018 to five in 2022), according to TSA statistics. Charlotte Douglas International and Asheville Regional Airport both experienced all-time highs in firearm detections at security checkpoints in 2022.
TSA compiled statewide statistics from 10 airports across North Carolina including those in Charlotte, Raleigh, Asheville, Greensboro, Wilmington, Jacksonville, Fayetteville, Concord, New Bern and Greenville.
What happened in Wilmington?
While the TSA statistics indicate there were five incidents of firearm discoveries at ILM, the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office provided the StarNews with incident reports for seven different incidents.
Three-of-the-seven incidents last year at ILM involved stun guns, according to the incident reports.
The three other cases involved handguns, including one situation in May where a passenger attempted to bring two guns through TSA security, according to the incident reports.
One incident report from July didn’t provide any information on what firearm was discovered.
Passengers in four of the seven cases last year were arrested for a weapons law violation, according to the incident reports. The cases surrounding the three other incidents are inactive, according to the incident reports.
What are the rules with handguns?
Firearms can be brought onto flights, but TSA requires them to be unloaded, packed in a locked hard-sided case and placed in a checked bag. Travelers who have a concealed weapons permit are still required to follow these rules.
Before getting to security, passengers need to go to the ticket counter and declare the firearm, ammunition and any firearm parts when checking in, according to TSA. The federal agency recommends passengers even check gun laws and regulations at their destination and if the airline they’re using has any requirements before traveling.
Travelers who violate these firearm rules can face up to a $15,000 civil penalty from TSA in addition to criminal citations.
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This article originally appeared on Wilmington StarNews: TSA is finding more guns at airports nationwide. Is the same true at ILM?