Transportation Security officers at Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport have reported an increase of firearms in carry-on baggage this year.
Transportation Security Administration Regional Spokesman Mark Howell said 10 firearms have been found in bags so far this year; there were only nine firearms found during the entire 2016 year.
Howell, whose region covers Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, South Carolina, and Tennessee, said on average the number of firearms found in carry-on bags across the country is increasing about 20 to 25 percent every year.
“Last year we had more than 3,300 firearms (across the country) and that’s up from 2,653 in 2015, and we’re already on pace for another record-breaking year this year,” he said. TSA officers have found more than 1,500 firearms at security checkpoints across the country so far this year.
Howell said criminal charges vary from area to area, but having a firearm in your carry-on baggage can also net you a civil penalty from the TSA, which can cost as much as $12,000.
“TSA doesn’t want to infringe on anyone’s rights to carry a firearm when they travel. We just want to make sure it’s done in the safest way possible. Bringing it through the check-point is the absolute wrong way to do it,” he said.
On average, the airport collects about 100 pounds of surrendered items a month, which include tools, pocket knives, free weights, brass knuckles and replica bullets and grenades.
In the summer months, one of the most commonly surrendered items is sunscreen that is bigger than the allowed 3.4 ounces, said Howell, who, along with Transportation Security Officers, was at the airport on Wednesday to remind passengers what is and isn’t allowed in carry-on and checked baggage.
Every one item found amounts to adding one extra person in line at the checkpoint since the person has to be rescreened, but passengers have several options to get rid of most of the prohibited items if they don’t want to surrender them, including returning the item to their car, handing them off to someone who isn’t traveling or mailing the item.
Items that are surrendered are logged, collected and picked up by the Alabama State Surplus Office and are either disposed of or resold with the money going back to the state. Liquids, gels and aerosols are disposed of separately, according to hazardous material regulations.
Passengers with questions can check the TSA website at tsa.gov, download the TSA mobile app, send a Facebook message or even tweet a photo of an item on Twitter to @AskTSA. The TSA also has an Instagram account where they post photos of some of the more interesting items surrendered at checkpoints.
“As we enter the summer travel season, we do see more volume and with that additional volume comes more prohibited items…,” Howell said.
“We’re asking folks to help us out and, before you come to the airport, do a quick five-minute check of what you have in your bag and make sure that if it’s prohibited in your carry-on that it’s moved to the checked bag.”