Federal airport security authorities found an unloaded pistol Thursday morning in a passenger's carry-on bag at McGhee Tyson Airport.

Transportation Security Administration officers alerted airport police about 9:30 a.m. The older model .38-caliber pistol was seized and the passenger cited on a state charge, according to TSA area spokesman Mark Howell.

The passenger was identified in an arrest report as Loretta R. Harrison, 74, of Corbin, Ky.

According to the report, an agent saw the gun show up in an X-ray. Harrison told a TSA agent she'd "forgotten about a firearm that belonged to her husband" in her bag.

Thursday's seizure at the security checkpoint brings the total number so far this year to 16, matching the total number taken at the airport for all of 2016, Howell said.

The national rate of seizures has been steadily growing nationwide, Howell said.

Gun carriers can travel with unloaded firearms in checked bags -- so long as they notify the airline and the weapon is in a "proper" carrying case, according to TSA. Guns are not permitted in carry-on luggage that's going into an aircraft cabin.

As of Sept. 19, 2,677 guns have been taken at U.S. airports, according to Howell. For all of 2016, 3,391 guns were taken.

It's likely 2017 will be higher than 2016.

"The numbers are way up across the nation," Howell told 10News.

He attributed the increase in part to an increase in passenger traffic. Also, he said, more people today have carry permits.

"That contributes to it. But I don't think that's the only reason," he said.

A sampling of other regional airports shows that so far this year there have been 32 gun seizures at the Birmingham, Ala., airport.

Lexington has had seven, according to TSA. Louisville, KY., has had 13. The Greensboro, N.C. airport has had 10, according to TSA.

Because states have their own gun laws, it's not always practical to make comparisons between airports, Howell cautioned. States have different carry permit regulations, he said.

Passengers found with weapons often say they never even realized they had it with them. Some people also use their range bags for travel and then forget that they've got either a pistol or ammunition left in the bag.