CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Most of the guns discovered by TSA officers at the Charleston International Airport last year were found loaded, according to new numbers from the Transportation Security Administration.
Out of the 18 guns found by TSA officers during the routine screening of carry-on property, 15 were loaded with ammunition and six of those had a round chambered.
TSA officials for CHS said firearm discoveries doubled in 2019, mirroring a trend observed nationwide as TSA officers set a new record for guns caught at airport checkpoints last year.
David McMahon, TSA’s Federal Security Director for South Carolina, said the increase coincides with a rise in air travelers, however, 2019’s numbers did disrupt a more recent downward trend for CHS.
“With the increase of passenger travel, not only through Charleston but here in the state of South Carolina, we are seeing more firearms. With that being about a 54 percent increase across the state and then here, particularly in Charleston, we’ve seen a 100 percent increase,” McMahon said. “It’s very concerning, and it should be alerting to anybody that travels.”
McMahon said travelers face civil and criminal consequences if they bring a firearm through TSA checkpoints. Officers do consider whether the gun is loaded and whether there was accessible ammunition when determining the severity of those penalties.
“Our officers are trained for this. They know how to maintain their composure, not to really change their demeanor so as not to alert anybody,” McMahon said.
Even replica firearms and parts of firearms could get you in trouble if you try to carry them on an airplane.
“The receiver, the magazine, any of those that are associated with a firearm or a replica firearm, need to be checked,” McMahon said. “They should never come into a checkpoint where you are brining your property with you in the aircraft.”
McMahon said he is confident TSA officers are catching firearms before they end up inside a plane.
“The concern if they don’t catch them or they don’t catch a prohibited item is that, could devastation occur on that aircraft and it will impact a lot of people,” McMahon said.
The average civil penalty for a firearm is $2400, but depending on the severity or multiple offenses, it could be as high as $10,000.
According to the Transportation Security Administration, 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. Ammunition and firearm parts, including firearm frames, receivers, clips, and magazines are also prohibited in carry-on baggage and must be checked. Any type of replica firearm is prohibited in carry-on baggage and must be transported in checked luggage.
McMahon said it’s also important the traveler declares their firearm, ammunition or any firearm parts at the airline ticket counter during the check-in process.
A passenger could also face penalties for checking a firearm without declaring it to airline authorities first.
As of Jan. 24, 2020, TSA officers have already discovered two firearms at Charleston International Airport.