Three people sustained non-life threatening injuries in the ensuing panic.
The weapon discharge occurred when a checkpoint employee was performing a bag search after being flagged by an x-ray.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said the gun owner was advised not to touch the bag.
However, when the security guard opened the compartment containing the weapon, “the passenger rushed into the bag and grabbed a gun, at which point it discharged.”
The man, named Kenny Wells, fled the airport.
Terrified travelers, fearing an active shooter, scrambled onto the tarmac on Saturday, halting flights during the busy Thanksgiving holiday period.
“More and more people started running – there was screaming,” said traveler Erika Zeidler.
Authorities are now looking for the 42-year-old gun owner for carrying a concealed weapon at a commercial airport, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, use of a firearm and reckless driving.
Police said one person requested emergency medical services after falling in another part of the airport, while two others complained of “shortness of breath”.
Two hours after the 1.30 pm gunshot, the airport received the “green light”.
Hartsfield-Jackson was the busiest airport in the world in 2021, according to aviation analysis provider Official Airline Guide.
A record number of firearms were seized from checkpoints at U.S. airports in the first nine months of 2021, the TSA said.
At approximately 1:30 p.m. today, a gun was accidentally discharged in the ATL security check area. There is NO active shooter at the airport. The APD is on the scene. More information on the situation will be available on our social networks.
– Atlanta Airport (@ATLairport) 20 November 2021
Across the country, TSA agents have prevented 4,495 airline passengers from carrying firearms on their flights, exceeding the 4,432 firearms captured in 2019.
In Atlanta alone, 450 firearms were detected at airport checkpoints in 2021.