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What you need to know about carrying a gun in an airport

Local criminal defense attorney Page Pate tells 11Alive carrying a firearm in an airport without a permit is a misdemeanor at the state and federal level.

ATLANTA — A day after a gun was fired inside the Atlanta airport, it was business as usual as busy travelers made their way to gates through security checkpoints.

But police are still looking for Kelly Wells, a convicted felon who accidentally fired a gun inside Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. There's now a warrant for his arrest. 

Authorities say Wells lunged for his bag at the security checkpoint, setting the gun off inside. 

Local defense attorney Page Pate says you can bring your gun to the airport, but there are exceptions. 

"Well Georgia law specifically allows some to take a gun through the airport as long as they have a carry permit and they're within the public areas of the airport outside of the security screening area," Pate said.

That means in your car, at outside areas, or any place before going to security. 

"But once you get to TSA screening, you cannot take that firearm, loaded or unloaded, through that checkpoint. It's a violation of both Georgia law," Pate explained.

There are also options if you take your gun to a checkpoint.

"If you have a carry permit and TSA says we found the gun, then you have a right to simply take the gun out of the airport and not be charged with any crime at all. If you don't have a carry permit and TSA finds a gun, then you're going to be charged with a state misdemeanor which is a very low level offense, probably a fine, maybe probation. Certainly no jail time." Pate said.

Traveling with a gun is permitted, but there are restrictions. 

"If you have a firearm, you can travel with it but it has to be in a checked bag. You have to declare it to the airline and you have to pack it in such a way that it's unloaded and it's in a hard carrying case in your luggage. So you can do it but you can't have it with you on the plane," Pate said.

Pate said carrying the gun into the airport without disarming it, not having a permit, and even the gun being discharged are considered misdemeanors. However, the case of Kenny Wells is a little different.

"If you are found in possession of a firearms and you have a prior felony conviction, or you're on probation for that particular felony offense, then it's a state felony and it's a federal felony and both federal and state penalties can carry some significant prison time," Pate said.

Bottom line, the best thing to do is double check your carry on bag and be sure to place your gun in your checked luggage, according to Pate. Depending on the violation, it could cost thousands of dollars if you're charged with more than one misdemeanor.