A total of 3,391 guns were seized at nearly 240 different airports across the country.
When packing up to get on the plane, you might want to leave that loaded gun at home.
That might sound obvious, but 2016 actually saw the highest number of guns seized at airport security checkpoints — almost 3,400 firearms and 83 percent of them loaded — since the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was founded in 2001, the government agency announced on Thursday.
A total of 3,391 guns were seized at nearly 240 different airports across the country. Last year, TSA agents uncovered over 2,650 guns at security checkpoints. That marks a 28 percent jump from 2015 to 2016, although the agency notes there was also 43 million more passengers in 2016 than the year before.
Every year since 2007, more and more guns were found in carry-on luggage just steps away from the plane. In 2007, just 803 guns were seized. That’s less than a quarter of the guns seized last year.
Most of the guns were seized at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport — with 198 firearms found — followed by Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport with 192. The third highest amount of guns was found at another big Texan airport — Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport with 128 guns uncovered.
Believe it or not, most people say they just happened to have guns in their bags and failed to check. “The most common excuse we get is that they just forgot,” Mike England, a TSA spokesman, told Mashable.
But if you’re someone who believes in the right to bear arms while you fly, there are certain steps you have to take — like not bringing a gun onto an airplane in hand luggage. “It comes down to just being a responsible gun owner,” England said.
And the repercussions for carrying along that old handgun or rifle are sometimes steep. TSA could issue you a fine of up to $11,000, England told Mashable. Meanwhile, sometimes you could face criminal charges depending on the state you live in. Law enforcement is involved right from the start.
These are photographs of the gun discovered by TSA agents last year.
“The first thing we do is call the police,” England said. The police take it from there, and you can expect a TSA fine in the email.
The penalties could range from an additional fine to jail time, England said, but it looks like authorities are cracking down on gun-carrying flyers.
The problem at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta got so bad that passengers caught with a gun there can now face a fine of up to $100,000. Georgia’s so-called “guns everywhere” law, passed in 2014, meanwhile allows people with guns found in their carry-on to just bring the gun out to their car or to someone else at the airport.
That discrepancy nationwide has led to some not-so-comfortable situations. A man named Jim Cooley carried around a fully loaded AR-15 in public areas around Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta. He was questioned but not arrested. And later he said police harassed him as he carried around the rifle strapped to his chest.
Incredibly, guns aren’t the only questionable or even life-threatening items the TSA has uncovered in passengers’ bags. Knives and other pointy objects are some other big ones. TSA agents uncovered thousands of sharp objects in carry-on bags in 2016.
There are all knives that people were trying to bring on board in 2016.
You can bring a gun if you really want, just not in your carry-on luggage. Those traveling in the U.S. have the option of loading up their guns if they’re securely packed in checked luggage.
“You may transport unloaded firearms in a locked hard-sided container as checked baggage only,” the TSA website reads. “Declare the firearm and/or ammunition to the airline when checking your bag at the ticket counter.”
Even allowing guns in checked baggage has not always ensured the safety of flyers, a dark reality shown by the tragic shooting at Orlando International Airport that left five people dead. In the wake of the violence, the airport was said to be tightening security.
The TSA advises passengers use the “Can I bring my… “ tool on its website check what you can, and can’t, bring on that next flight.