Nineteen travelers were caught at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport security checkpoint in the past couple years

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CLEVELAND -- TSA agents at Hopkins remain on high alert for weapons at checkpoints after startling data shows that gun confiscations are on the rise.

"I think there are more people now traveling and there are more relaxed concealed carry laws across the states," said Scott Anderson of Northwestern University's Medill School Of Journalism.

Anderson gathered and analyzed the data.

Last year a total of 1,828 guns were discovered at airports, an increase of 20 percent from 2012. It is the highest amount tallied since the TSA began tracking.

Of the guns seized, 81 percent were loaded.

TSA and Cleveland Division of Police records show 19 travelers were caught at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport security checkpoints for attempting to board a plane with a firearm between 2012 and the first quarter of 2014.

Police reports indicate that 13 of the guns were loaded, which is a felony and carries a penalty of up to 18 months in jail.

Authorities tell Channel 3 News that air travelers caught with guns in their carry-on bags at Hopkins appear to be forgetful of what they packed.

"It was a small, palm pistol, and it was easy to miss," said Jim Forcina, 62, of Independence. He was stopped by officials with a .38-caliber loaded Ruger in his bag last May.

"I'm not dumb enough to think I can put a gun in a bag and get it through X-ray. I didn't try to sneak it in. It was a dumb mistake."

The same story for Doug Stiffler, 47, of Dover.

In October 2012, he was arrested after agents discovered a fully loaded .45-caliber Glock in his carry-on.

"I'm not a terrorist. I like to protect our freedoms," Stiffler said. "I was notified of a trip to Texas for work at the end of my day and picked up the wrong bag. It was my fault."

A further analysis of city and county records shows 18 of the 19 passengers either pleaded to misdemeanors or got their cases dropped.

Only Joel Elder, 31, of Lees Summet, Mo., fought the charges and decided to take his case to trial. In mid-September 2013, a jury ruled in favor of Elder, clearing him of all concealed weapons violations.

Both Elder and his attorney, J. Michael Murray, declined to be interviewed for this story.

In all of the cases at Hopkins, the suspects had proper concealed carry permits and did not have any criminal backgrounds, leading prosecutors to offer them a diversion or probation program.

"It's not that we're soft on crime. They are otherwise law-abiding citizens who've made one mistake, and we have diversion programs for those types of people," Cuyahoga County Assistant Prosecutor Colleen Reali said. "It's a very serious offense; however, we have to look at their record and look at their conduct that day to see if stronger charges were warranted."

"There should be some real tough consequences," traveler Chris Fulkerson said. "Forgetting you had a gun seems pretty silly."

Other passengers told Channel 3 News that the "I forgot" excuse doesn't make sense.

"If people say I forgot, I think it's probably a lie 'cause there are signs everywhere," one unidentified female passenger explained. "I think they should go to jail. Everyone knows you can't travel with a gun in an airport."

Anderson's analysis shows airports in Atlanta, Dallas and Houston led the nation in the number of gun confiscations. Georgia and Texas are states considered to have more tolerant gun laws.

The TSA reports weekly weapons seizures on its blog at tsa.gov.

Knives, stun guns, swords, grenades, razor blades and brass knuckles are among the weapons that have been confiscated from travelers across the country.

According to TSA, passengers may only transport unloaded firearms in a locked hard-sided containers in checked baggage.

The firearm must be declared to the airline agent at the time of checking in. They stress, at no time is a firearm, ammunition, firearm parts or realistic replica permitted in carry-on baggage.

For more a complete look at all the data from 2012-2014, click here: TSA Gun Data

Mobile users: http://nationalsecurityzone.org/site/tsa-gun-data-2014/

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