Chattanooga Airport on track for record year for gun seizures

Chattanooga Airport is on pace to set a new high mark for guns seized from passengers going through the security checkpoint for the second year, according to the Transportation Security Administration.

Ten firearms have been confiscated so far this year at the airport, TSA regional spokesman Mark Howell said at the airport during a Tuesday news conference. That's compared to a record 24 guns last year and 11 in 2020.

Howell said sharply higher seizures were made last year in travelers' carry-on luggage at Nashville International Airport, McGhee Tyson Airport in Knoxville and Memphis International Airport, as well as in Chattanooga.

He cited a state law that went into effect last summer that allows the so-called "constitutional carry" of handguns.

Under the Tennessee law that went into effect July 1, people who are 21 and older can carry a firearm openly or concealed with no training or permit required if they have no existing convictions barring them from owning a gun.

"People are used to carrying day to day. Most just forget," Howell said, adding that it's key to "change the mindset."

He said some airports such as busy Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, which has been No. 1 nationally in gun seizures in nine of the last 10 years, display and broadcast public service messages warning passengers.

Blake Poole, Chattanooga Airport's vice president of air service and economic development, said Lovell Field doesn't take such actions now, but it may be worth exploring.


Number of firearms discovered at Chattanooga Airport in recent years:2021: 242020: 112019: 92018: 9Source: Transportation Security Administration

"We can take a look at it and see," he said in an interview on Tuesday.

Nationally in 2021, TSA officers detected a record number of firearms at airport security checkpoints, according to the agency. Nearly 6,000 guns were found in carry-on luggage at checkpoints countrywide last year.

Howell said travelers need to make sure their bags don't hold a firearm before they leave home.

The proper way to travel with a firearm is to put it into a hard-sided case with padding inside and a lock outside, he said. Also, Howell said travelers should remove the ammunition magazine from the gun and check for a round in the firearm. Ammo, too, can be stored in the case, though not loose rounds, he said.

Rifles also should be stored in a case that can be locked at each location where it has such a device, Howell said.

When at the airport, he said travelers should take the case to the ticket counter and declare it. A declaration card can be filled out and then put in the case which is then relocked, Howell said. He said travelers should put their names and phone numbers on the front of the case.

After leaving the case with the airline, he urged fliers to wait 10 to 15 minutes before going through the security checkpoint to ensure they aren't called back to the ticket counter over a question related to the firearm.

On occasion, a traveler doesn't know the rules related to flying with a gun, Howell said. There are instances when people try to hide parts of a gun to take into the passenger cabin, he said.

When a firearm is found at the checkpoint, a police officer is called to secure the gun, Howell said. That checkpoint line is then shut down until the issue is handled, slowing down boarding for other passengers, he said.

Offenders probably will miss their flights and face citations and civil penalties up to $13,900, the TSA spokesman said.

The Tennessee law passed last year doesn't apply to long guns, and it increased certain penalties. Nationwide, about 20 other states don't require permits for the concealed carry of handguns.

Contact Mike Pare at or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.

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