From the TSA: Here's what you should know about guns and airports

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) wants you know there is a better - and legal - way to fly with your firearms than bringing it to an airport security checkpoint. 

On Wednesday, the TSA, which has been setting year-on-year records for finding guns at airport checkpoints, offered a warning to gun owners: The federal agency, along with local law enforcement, said travelers who bring firearms to a TSA checkpoint can face state or local criminal charges. The TSA can also file federal civil claims of up to $13,000 against people who bring firearms to checkpoints.  

"You will face criminal charges if you bring your firearm to the checkpoint," said Lt. Kevin Ayd of the Maryland Transportation Authority Police Department.  

The agency also offered pointers on the proper way to travel with firearms and ways to check with the agency in advance about how to travel legally with guns. The weapons must go into checked baggage, which are stowed in the belly of the aircraft. The TSA's website also offers step-by-step help on how to travel with firearms.  

Yet, thousands of times a year, people are caught with guns - most of which are loaded - at TSA checkpoints around the country. The most frequent excuses TSA agents hear from people caught with guns at checkpoints are: "I forgot" and "My wife (or husband) packed this bag for me, and I didn't know my gun was in there," a TSA spokesperson said.  

Officials also said people with permits to carry concealed firearms, particularly people from out of state, often appear to be unaware their permits are not recognized in Maryland and do not constitute a pass to bring a gun to a checkpoint.  

"You never, ever want to bring a firearm to a checkpoint," TSA spokesperson Lisa Farbstein said Wednesday during a news conference at Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport. She also addressed the perception that it is not that big a deal if a law-abiding person who has a permit to have a firearm has forgotten about it in a carry-on bag. 

 "It is a big deal," Farbstein said. "If you have a loaded firearm with you - and the vast amount of firearms are - and your bag drops, it could cause the firearm to go off." She said it is also possible a person who means harm to the public could wrest the firearm away from a person who owns the weapon legally, or cause a panic if it somehow got on board the aircraft.  

Wednesday's demonstration came as the TSA reported finding nearly 4,000 firearms in carry-on bags at U.S. airports in 2017, an increase of 17 percent over the previous year, which had also set a record. Earlier this month, the TSA reported finding a record number of firearms in a week. The agency also said 84 percent of the firearms detected in 2017 were loaded.  

The top five airports for weapons found at checkpoints last year were the same five since 2014: Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International (245); Dallas/Fort Worth International (211); George Bush Intercontinental in Houston (142); Denver International (98); and Phoenix Sky Harbor International (115).  

The numbers declined slightly at all major airports in the Washington metropolitan area. In 2017, the TSA caught a total of 58 handguns at Washington Dulles International Airport, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and BWI, compared with 67 the previous year. Both National Airport (13 firearms last year, compared with 19 in 2016) and Dulles (19 vs. 24) had declines; BWI increased to 26 from 24.  

If you do plan on taking your firearms on a flight, you should remember the following:  

- Passengers may travel with firearms only if the weapons are unloaded, locked inside a hard-sided case and stowed with checked baggage  

- Ammunition must be packed in its original box, even if some of the ammo has been used and the box is not full; the ammunition box may also be packed inside the hard-sided case with the firearm 

 - Properly packaged firearms should be brought to the airline's check-in counter  

- Advise the airline representative at the checked baggage counter you are carrying firearms

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