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North Carolina's airports saw a record number of gun confiscations in 2021, TSA says

empty Charlotte airport
Steve Harrison
A person walks through Charlotte Douglas International Airport in a 2020 file photo.

The Transportation Security Administration found a record-breaking number of guns in carry-on bags at North Carolina airports in 2021.

According to a TSA news release, 254 guns were found in carry-on luggage, up from the previous high of 194 guns in 2019. The top three airports with the highest number of confiscated guns are Charlotte Douglas with 106 guns, Raleigh-Durham with 100 and Asheville with 15.

A record 5,972 guns were found in carry-on bags at airports across the country, with the most, 507, found at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. TSA spokesperson Mark Howell said 80-90% of found guns were loaded.

Most of the guns were found in states like North Carolina with concealed and open carry laws, Howell said. He said the growing number of people getting permits in those states is likely driving up numbers at airport security.

“They get used to grabbing their wallet, their keys and their firearm before heading out to do whatever they are doing for the day,” Howell said. “But you really have to flip that mindset while you’re traveling.”

Howell said passengers can travel with firearms, but they have to follow TSA guidelines, which include making sure guns are not loaded, putting them in checked luggage and letting the airline know about the guns at the ticket counter.

Passengers caught with an unloaded gun face a $2,000-$3,000 penalty. That penalty increases to $4,000-$5,000 for a loaded gun, with the maximum penalty of $13,900 if the passenger had previously been caught with a gun in their carry-on bag.

Howell said the TSA is working with airports and airlines to raise awareness about what not to pack in carry-on luggage.

“Those things like knives, and it’s weird to say it, but explosives. We just got done with New Year’s, and we saw fireworks coming to checkpoints across the U.S.,” Howell said.

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Catherine Welch is Assistant News Director at WFAE. She has led newsrooms at KUNC in Greely, CO, Rhode Island Public Radio in Providence, RI and WHQR in Wilmington, NC.