Officials have a word of advice for gun owners traveling from Charlotte Douglas International Airport: check your bags.
The airport has had 17 cases of firearms detected at security checkpoints so far this year, and three in the past six days. Capt. Gregg Collins, who leads the airport law enforcement division for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police, said the amount of guns brought to the airport has increased the past four years.
There were 26 guns brought to the airport in 2013 and 44 in 2014. The number dipped to 39 in 2015, before it jumped back up to 55 last year. Collins said this year’s numbers are on pace with last year’s, and the airport has averaged a gun detected each week.
“We’d like to see that number be zero, even though it’s not really reasonable,” he said. “...we certainly don’t want to average one gun a week at a checkpoint from now on.”
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He said the rise in incidents could be in part to an increase in gun sales and number of people receiving gun permits. In 12 cases this year, the person bringing their firearm to the airport had concealed weapons permits. Most, Collins said, just simply forget their guns are with them.
“These aren’t generally bad people that are trying to sneak guns through TSA to get on the plane,” he said. “These are doctors, lawyers, nurses.”
The consequences for bringing a gun to the airport are steep, even if on accident. Each person is slapped with a $3,000 fine, though it could reach up to $10,000. The passengers are also arrested.
Just Monday, a 38-year-old man was arrested when his pistol was discovered at airport security. Collins didn’t say if the man had a legal permit.
Mitch Hyatt, of Hyatt Gun Shop in west Charlotte, said he often hears of people who forget their guns in luggage they may have used for a recent road trip. In many cases, travelers who’ve purchased a weapon from his store have stored their firearms at his shop while traveling.
“It’s really unfortunate because on one hand, it’s almost comical, but it’s not,” Hyatt said. “It’s one of those very, very serious things that people can get in a lot of trouble for.”
Hyatt said he advises people to buy bags and containers made specifically for firearms to help them remember where the gun is located.
Collins wants gun owners to remain alert as well. “A gun comes with great responsibility and at any given point, you should know where all of your guns are,” he said.
Passengers are allowed to fly with firearms if they are in checked bags and unloaded. The guns must be packed separately from their ammunition.
LaVendrick Smith; 704-358-5101; @LaVendrickS