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TSA gun (copy)

This handgun and magazine were detected by TSA officers at Yeager Airport on March 21, 2021.

Transportation Security Administration officers working security checkpoints at West Virginia airports with commercial service prevented nine handguns — all but one of them loaded — from being carried aboard passenger aircraft during 2021.

Six of the handguns turned up in carry-on bags screened at Charleston’s West Virginia International Yeager Airport, while the other weapons were detected at Huntington’s Tri-State Airport.

Seven handguns were detected at West Virginia airports in 2020, following the detection of a record 18 firearms during 2019, the heavily traveled year preceding the pandemic.

Nationally, 5,972 firearms turned up at TSA security checkpoints during 2021, shooting down the previous record of 4,432 set in 2019, as well as 2020’s total of 3,257.

Half of the interceptions made by TSA screeners at the Charleston airport in 2021 involved passengers from other states — Florida, Ohio and Arizona. Two of the three passengers stopped at Tri-State Airport during the past year were women, each of them carrying loaded .380 caliber handguns.

A search of TSA detection statistics for 2021 also showed two West Virginia passengers accounted for one-third of the six firearms that turned up last year at the security checkpoint at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.

On June 24 of last year, screeners found a loaded .380 caliber handgun in a pocket on a baby stroller that a Morgantown man tried to bring aboard a departing flight. Screeners were told the man wasn’t aware the gun was still in the stroller, which he and his girlfriend used to push their baby while walking their dog.

Four months later, a woman, also from Morgantown, attempted to board a flight at the same airport while carrying a loaded handgun in a carry-on bag, according to the TSA.

According to the TSA, 86% of all firearms detected at airports across the nation during the past year were loaded. Larger airports in southern and Rocky Mountain states accounted for the bulk of last year’s firearms detections.

With 507 weapons detected during 2021, screeners at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport racked up the year’s top tally, more than doubling the number of weapons seized there in 2020. Dallas/Fort Worth International had the second-most stops last year with 317, followed by Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport with 245.

Rounding out 2021’s Top 10 list for TSA weapon detections were Phoenix Sky Harbor International, followed by the international airports serving Nashville, Tennessee; Denver, Colorado; Fort Lauderdale and Orlando, Florida; New Orleans, Louisiana; and Salt Lake City, Utah.

Passengers who bring firearms to to TSA security checkpoints are subject to criminal charges from local law enforcement agencies and civil penalties from the TSA. Possession of a valid concealed-carry weapons permit does not allow firearms to be carried onto airplanes.

It is legal for passengers to travel with their firearms provided the weapons are unloaded and placed in locked, hard-sided cases. Ammunition may also be carried, provided it is in its original box and packed in a compartment separate from the firearm. Passengers must inform airline check-in personnel that their checked baggage contains firearms, which are carried in the belly of the aircraft where no one had access to them during the flight.

Rick Steelhammer is a features reporter. He can be reached at 304-348-5169 or Follow @rsteelhammer on Twitter.

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