KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The return of widespread air travel in 2021 brought a sharp rise in firearm discoveries at airport security checkpoints across the nation, with discoveries at Tennessee’s five commercial airports up nearly 75% compared to 2020.
TSA screened approximately 585 million passengers and crew at airports nationwide in 2021, an 81% increase over the approximately 324 million screened in 2020. Roughly 10.7 million were screened at the five commercial Tennessee airports, an 88% increase over 2020 screenings.
A total of 283 firearms were discovered at Tennessee commercial airports in 2021, up from 162 recorded in 2020. Nashville International Airport made up the majority share of firearms with 163, the fifth-most of any airport in the nation.
Memphis International Airport accounted for 67 firearms in 2021 followed by 24 at Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport and 21 at McGhee-Tyson Airport in Knoxville. The eight remaining firearms were discovered at Tri-Cities Regional Airport.
Despite the drop in total passengers in 2020, the 162 firearms discovered by security agents in Tennessee equaled the total number found in 2018 and only 19 fewer than in 2019.
The TSA reported that one firearm was discovered for every 37,799 passengers screened in Tennessee, more than 2.5 times the national average of one firearm discovered for every 97,999 passengers screened.
The frequency of discovery in Tennessee was slightly less than the 2020 rate, when one firearm was discovered per every 35,104 passengers screened.
In addition to potential criminal citations, travelers face civil penalties for bringing firearms to the security checkpoint and TSA evaluates each firearm incident on a case-by-case basis. The civil penalty can go up to a maximum of $13,900 per violation.
Even if a traveler has a concealed weapons permit, firearms are not permitted in carry-on luggage.
Those who violate rules regarding traveling with firearms will have Trusted Traveler status and TSA PreCheck expedited screening benefits revoked for a period of time.
“Firearms can be transported on a commercial aircraft only if they are unloaded, packed in a locked, hard-sided case and placed in checked baggage,” a TSA release states. “Any type of replica firearm is prohibited in carry-on baggage and must be transported in checked luggage.”
Passengers can declare firearms at the airline ticket counter.