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Toril Lavender/For The Herald-Dispatch Travelers head through security at Tri-State Airport.

It's difficult to believe, after tighter restrictions were implemented at airports across the country in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, that many people still haven't received the message about rules regarding firearms on airplanes.

Yet, many people act as if they didn't.

At least twice in recent months, travelers at Huntington Tri-State Airport have tried to board planes with firearms in their carry-on luggage, a violation of the law.

The first incident occurred in May, when a man from Catlettsburg, Kentucky, passing through a security checkpoint was found to have a .380-caliber semi-automatic gun inside his carry-on bag. The gun was loaded with six rounds, Transportation Security Administration officials said. The man, who claimed he was unaware he had the gun and that a relative must have placed it in the bag, was cited on weapons charges and the gun was confiscated.

The second occasion happened just last week. A TSA officer staffing the checkpoint X-ray machine detected a 9 mm caliber semi-automatic gun inside the carry-on bag of a Barboursville man. It was loaded with nine rounds. Again, the gun was confiscated, and the man may face a civil penalty, but that won't be determined for months.

Isolated incidents? Perhaps they occur infrequently at smaller airports, such as Tri-State. But attempts to carry guns into the passenger areas of planes happen quite frequently across the country.

Last year, the TSA says it discovered more than 2,200 guns in carry-on bags at 224 airports. That's 22 percent more than the year before and continues a trend of annual increases over the last decade. For comparison's sake, 660 guns were discovered at airport checkpoints in 2005.

Another disturbing aspect is that 83 percent of the guns seized last year were loaded with ammunition.

So why does the number keep going up, even though rules about firearms on planes are well-publicized?

Some experts believe that the rise stems from the increasing number of people who routinely carry concealed weapons in their laptop bags, purses or on their belts. "It becomes a natural extension like their phone or car keys or wallet, they literally don't even think twice about it," Jeff Price, an aviation security analyst in Colorado, told the Washington Times. He also noted that airports in states that have less stringent concealed carry laws are where the largest increase of guns brought to TSA checkpoints occur. Conversely, airports in states with stricter laws about carrying weapons have noticed little change.

But forgetfulness is not a legitimate excuse, even though lawmakers in some states are working to make it a valid one. Nor are guns as harmless as a cellphone or keys. Any laws and penalties associated with attempting to board a plane with a gun should be enforced uniformly and strictly. People carrying around guns should not be so cavalier about it that they fail to remember they are armed. They may not be so absent-mined about their weapons if they have to pay a price.

Airports and guns

- Passengers are permitted to travel with firearms in checked baggage if they are properly packaged and declared.

- Firearms must be unloaded, packed in a hard-side case, locked, and packed separately from ammunition.

- Firearm possession laws vary by state and locality. Travelers should familiarize themselves with state and local firearm laws for each point of travel prior to departure.

- TSA has details on how to properly travel with a firearm posted on its website, http://www.tsa.gov/traveler-information/firearms-and-ammunition.

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