Feb. 10--Oklahomans headed to the airport aren't just packed. Sometimes they're packing.
Tulsa and Oklahoma City ranked in the top 10 among the nation's busiest airports for per capita gun seizures last year, far ahead of airports in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and Atlanta, an analysis by The Oklahoman has found.
Among the nation's 77 airports that serve more than 1 million fliers annually, Tulsa International Airport finished third and Will Rogers World Airport 10th for the rate of confiscated guns.
In 2013, Transportation Security Administration agents seized 17 guns in Tulsa, a rate of 1.3 guns per 100,000 passengers. Fourteen of the guns were loaded. At Will Rogers, agents seized 11 guns, a rate of 0.75 guns per 100,000 passengers. Eight of those guns were loaded.
By contrast, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the nation's busiest airport with 45.8 million passengers, ranked 43rd in seizures. Los Angeles International Airport came in 67th place, Chicago O'Hare International Airport was 72nd and New York City's two major airports, John F. Kennedy International and LaGuardia Airport ranked 74th and 75th, respectively. All had seizure rates of 0.24 per 100,000 or less.
So why the high confiscation rate in Oklahoma? The number one reason passengers offer when a gun is seized at a Will Rogers security checkpoint?
"They forget they have their firearms with them," airport spokeswoman Karen Carney said.
If properly packaged, guns, gun parts and ammunition legally can be transported in checked baggage. But guns and other weapons, such as knives, never are allowed in a carry-on bag, TSA spokeswoman Carrie Harmon said.
Each day, the TSA screens 1.8 million passengers and their luggage for prohibited items using imaging technology and X-ray units, Harmon said.
In 2013, TSA personnel seized a record 1,813 guns, an average of five per day and a 20 percent increase over 2012.
According to an analysis by the Medill National Security Journalism Initiative, the vast majority of guns seized last year -- 84 percent -- were loaded when confiscated.
Among the notables recently stopped with a gun in their carry-on bag are Cincinnati Bengals tackle Andre Smith, who was arrested in January 2013 at Atlanta's airport; the wife of singer and National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent, who was arrested in August at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport; and basketball legend Bill Russell, who was arrested at Seattle's airport in October.
Former Oklahoma University football coach Barry Switzer was arrested in 1997 while coaching the Dallas Cowboys after security personnel found a loaded .38-caliber revolver in his carry-on baggage at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport.
When a gun is found at security checkpoint, TSA personnel call police. Local law enforcement officials take possession of weapons and conduct interviews to determine if any criminal charges will be filed.
Guns seized at Will Rogers are stored in the Oklahoma City police property room until an investigation is completed, Oklahoma City police Capt. Dee Patty said.
If charges are filed, the gun is held as evidence. If not, the owner can request the gun be returned, but the decision of whether to do so lies with the city attorney's office, Patty said.
The Oklahoman could not immediately determine how many guns seized at Will Rogers in 2013 were returned or how many gun owners were prosecuted.
In addition to any criminal charges in such cases, the TSA can impose civil penalties and fines up to $11,000 for bringing firearms to a security checkpoint, Harmon said. The TSA could not immediately determine the amount in fines and penalties levied as a result of confiscations at Will Rogers last year.
Other notable numbers
Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport in Little Rock, Ark., leads the nation in gun seizures with a rate of 1.4 per 100,000 passengers.
No. 2 on the list, at a barely lower rate, is Alabama's Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport.
Over the past three years, U.S. airport passengers have surrendered an average of 14,000 potential weapons - enough to arm every passenger on 33 filled-to capacity jumbo jets.
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