ATLANTA — If you’re flying this holiday season and packing heat in your carry-on, expect a change of plans — even if you hold a Georgia Weapons Carry License and even if it was an accident.

Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Internatinal Airport is the nation’s busiest. It also leads the country in the number of firearms detected at checkpoints, according to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

“As of Nov. 12, 2018, 293 weapons have been recovered at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, of which 248 were found in the TSA passenger security lines, while 45 firearms were discovered in checked baggage,” said U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak. “Most passengers simply forget they have a gun in their possession until they reach the airport checkpoint. Unfortunately, the oversight is still a violation of the law.”

According to Jerry Henry, executive director of the Second Amendment rights group, “There’s a proper way to do it. If you follow the rules you’ll be OK. There are procedures that the airline requires. If you follow those procedures, you’ll be OK. If you don’t, you’re going to be out of a lot of money and a little bit of time.”

The legal definition of “firearm” under federal law (U.S. Code Title 18, Part 1, Chapter 44) includes:

• any weapon (including a starter gun) which will, or is designed to, or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive;

• the frame or receiver of any such weapon;

• any firearm muffler or firearm silencer;

• and any destructive device.

Under the General Rules of Civil Aviation Security (49 CFR 1540.5), a “loaded firearm” has “a live round of ammunition, or any component thereof, in the chamber or cylinder or in a magazine inserted in the firearm.”

According to TSA, you should:

• Transport unloaded firearms in a locked hard-sided container as checked baggage only.

• Declare the firearm and/or ammunition to the airline when checking your bag at the ticket counter.

• Declare each firearm, each time you present it for transport as checked baggage.

• The container must completely secure the firearm from being accessed.

• Locked cases that can be easily opened are not permitted.

• Be aware that the container the firearm was in when purchased may not adequately secure the firearm when it is transported in checked baggage.

• Firearms must be unloaded and locked in a hard-sided container and transported as checked baggage only.

• Only you should hold the key or lock combination unless TSA personnel ask for the key to open the firearm container in order to check compliance with TSA regulations.

• You may use any brand or type of lock to secure your firearm case, including TSA-recognized locks.

• Do your research before you leave by familiarizing yourself with laws about firearms possession, which vary by local, state and international law.

• If you plan to travel outside of the U.S. with a firearm in your checked baggage, check the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website for information and requirements prior to travel.

• Ask your airline about limitations or fees that may apply.

• Firearm parts, including magazines, clips, bolts and firing pins, are prohibited in carry-on baggage, but may be transported in checked baggage.

• Replica firearms, including firearm replicas that are toys, may be transported in checked baggage only.

• Rifle scopes are permitted in both checked and carry-on baggage.

“It’s supposed to be in a lockable box,” Henry said. “I just have a small safe that I put mine in and take it in. It’s supposed to be locked. If it’s not locked, they don’t have to let you fly with it. It should be a lockable case, and I prefer hard-sided so nothing will happen to it.”

As for ammunition, the TSA says responsible gun owners should:

• Transport ammunition only in checked baggage and declare it when checking in at the ticket counter.

• Securely box or store within a hard-sided case containing an unloaded firearm any magazines and clips, whether loaded or unloaded. (See federal requirements governing the transport of ammunition in checked baggage as defined by 49 CFR 175.10 (a)(8).

• Carry small arms ammunition of .75 caliber or lower, as well as shotgun shells of any gauge, in the same hard-sided case as the firearm.

“Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport has led the nation in firearms detected by Transportation Security Officers at security checkpoints five of the last six years, and has already surpassed last year’s national record of 245,” said Mary Leftridge Byrd, TSA federal security director for Atlanta. “We are urging passengers to thoroughly check their personal belongings for prohibited items like firearms, especially in carry-on bags, before leaving to the airport.” Special packaging applies to rifles, shotguns and bows and arrows.

Whatever your plans are, always check with your carrier in advance. For example, Atlanta-based Delta has very specific regulations for traveling with firearms. For example, you must declare your firearm to any security personnel before you get to the counter, declare it at the counter, present the unloaded firearm, and sign a “Firearms Unloaded” declaration, among other requirements. (Look under “Shooting Equipment” on the “Sports Equipment” section of Delta’s “Special Items” page.)

Even active law enforcement officials must meet TSA regulations and complete the TSA Law Enforcement Officer Flying Armed Training Course before packing on a plane.

What happens if you forget to take off your holstered weapon or stow it in your carry-on bag?

• If you hold a valid weapons permit, TSA will confiscate your weapon and issue you a federal citation. You will be required to appear in court and pay a $130 fine.

• If you do not hold a valid weapons permit, you will be arrested, charged and could get up to 10 years in prison.

• You are also subject to TSA civil penalties of $2,000 to $13,000 per violation.

“The reason we are making this announcement today is because the message is clearly not hitting the mark,” said Chris Hacker, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta. “Despite the fact that our enforcement policies have become more strict, incidents of guns detected at checkpoints have increased substantially. Don’t let your holiday travel plans be significantly disrupted for a simple mistake.”

In the worst-case scenario, note that people arrested at Hartsfield-Jackson are transported to the Clayton County Jail.

For further details, check out these resources for traveling legally with firearms:

TSA’s Transporting Firearms and Ammunition page

TSA’s Flying Armed for Law Enforcement page

State Attorney General’s list of states honoring Georgia Weapons Carry Licenses

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