2012 was a banner year for guns in U.S. airports. The Transportation Security Administration seized more than 1,500 firearms at security checkpoints last year. That's up 14 percent over the previous year.
Atlanta led the list with 115 firearms seized at security checkpoints in 2012, according to preliminary TSA numbers. That makes some sense, since Atlanta is the busiest airport in the country.
Charlotte made the top 15 – but just barely - with 25 firearms seized. A number of smaller airports – primarily in Florida and Texas – ranked higher on the guns-at-checkpoints list.
Charlotte Aviation Director Jerry Orr says one reason relatively few guns were seized here is that Charlotte-Douglas International is a transfer hub for U.S. Airways.
"Three quarters of the people – of our enplanements here - never leave the airport," says Orr.
So if they had a gun, it would have been confiscated earlier in their travel. But, Atlanta has a lot of transfer passengers too – about 70 percent, according to an airport spokesperson.
So, let's look at the TSA data a different way: when you rank last year's firearm seizures per million passengers boarding planes, transfer hubs like Charlotte and Atlanta actually do fall to the bottom of the list. Smaller regional – and often rural – airports rank highest.
Even so, what gives with so many people bringing guns to the airport?
"Most – if not all of them – are accidental on the part of the person carrying the firearm," says Orr. "They just neglected to leave their gun at home."
Okay fine, but get this:
"The majority of the firearms that we discover at the check point are loaded," says TSA spokesman Jon Allen.
Of the 1,500 firearms seized in 2012, most were handguns - often with a round in the chamber. And that number doesn't include the really crazy stuff TSA caught at checkpoints - spear gun, anyone?
(If you don't believe me, check out the weekly list of confiscated weapons posted on the TSA blog.)
So what's the consequence of bringing a gun through airport security? Allen says TSA calls the local police who may arrest you. But usually you'll be allowed to continue your travel, either by taking the gun home or locking it in a checked bag. You will pay a price though: bringing a firearm through an airport checkpoint carries a civil penalty of up to $7,500.