ASHEVILLE – US House of Representatives Member Madison Cawthorn has had his gun confiscated by airport police and will likely face a federal fine and loss of special security status local and federal officials said.
The Republican congressman representing the 11th District of Western North Carolina was attempting to board a plane on February 13 when employees of the Transportation Security Administration found an unloaded firearm in his luggage at main, as well as a loaded magazine, according to officials at Asheville Regional Airport.
The weapon was described in a written incident report and police radio traffic recordings as a “Glock 9mm handgun”.
Cawthorn, whose spokesperson answered questions on July 30 saying he brought the gun in error, has not been charged with any felony, according to reports and other information about the incident obtained. this month through a public records request. That’s a normal result, spokeswoman Tina Kinsey said.
“In 2021 so far, eight firearms have been reported at the checkpoint, and in all cases no criminal charges have been laid,” Kinsey said, adding that the passenger’s firearms were secure. and that they were allowed to travel without their weapons.
Cawthorn’s gun was secured at the airport and he picked it up after his flight, Kinsey said.
In the tapes, an officer is heard repeatedly telling another officer that there was an elected official found with a gun.
“The chosen one, Madison Cawthorn, with a gun,” he said.
Police then discuss what to do with the gun, saying at one point that they might ask Cawthorn to take him to his car. Later, they say that because his flight is in seven minutes, they will secure him.
Criminal rules for firearms at airports vary widely across the country depending on local and state laws, TSA spokesman Mark Howell said.
“In New York, they take you out of the airport in handcuffs,” Howell said. “In Georgia, you can open the carry anywhere. It’s different everywhere.”
Criminal proceedings are left to local law enforcement. At Charlotte Douglas International Airport, city police normally charge people with guns under a city ordinance that makes having a gun at a checkpoint an offense class 2 carries a sentence of up to 60 days in jail, said Charlotte’s attorney Brad Smith, who defends those accused of bringing guns. at the airport.
“I’ve never defended anyone in Asheville, but if that’s the position Asheville takes, it’s a 180-degree different approach than Charlotte-Mecklenburg,” said Smith.
While Asheville Airport is in the city, the municipal government does not have control as with Charlotte.
The Republican-majority state legislature removed oversight from a council made up of people appointed by the city and county of Buncombe in 2012. The General Assembly gave control to a new Greater Asheville Regional Airport Authority, which gives it its own rules. These say “it is illegal for any person, except those authorized by federal law and / or state law, to carry or transport a firearm or weapon on property. from the airport, except when that firearm or weapon is properly packaged for shipment. . “
Breaking this law is considered a criminal offense, according to airport ordinances. It was not clear why the eight people, including Cawthorn, had not been charged. Kinsey did not respond to questions about the rules on the afternoon of July 30.
TSA rules state that firearms can be transported unloaded in special registered bags with sides and hard cases. In almost all of the incidents, people found with guns on them or in checked baggage say they brought the gun in by mistake, Howell said.
Cawthorn spokesman Micah Bock said this happened with the congressman.
“Five months ago, while boarding a flight, Representative Cawthorn mistakenly stowed a firearm in his carry-on baggage (which often serves as a storage bag) instead of his checked bag. The gun was secure and chamberless, ”Bock said on July 30.
Cawthorn always tries to follow TSA guidelines, he said, and “quickly rectified this situation before boarding his flight.”
Cawthorn made the right of owning and carrying different types of firearms a central platform. During the Jan.6 uprising on Capitol Hill, he said he was armed, a potential violation of House rules.
Regardless of the reasons people give, in almost all cases those who improperly transport firearms face federal civil fines, Howell said, noting that an elected official would not be excluded from the potential sanction. .
He declined to comment on Cawthorn’s case, but said the February 13 incident was “still pending.” The process can take months, Howell said.
Fines are typically $ 2,000 for an unloaded firearm and $ 4,000 for a loaded firearm for the first incident, he said, although Smith said they could go as high as 30,000. $ in the most obvious cases.
It is not clear if this was Cawthorn’s first violation. In his response to the Citizen Times, Bock did not answer questions, including whether the congressman had previously been found with a gun at an airport checkpoint.
If Cawthorn has pre-screening status, a fast-track boarding process given to those with special security clearance, he will likely lose that as well. Howell said anyone found aboard a firearm usually has this suspended or revoked status.
“We can no longer consider you to be a low risk if you bring weapons in your hand baggage to the checkpoint,” he said.
Joel Burgess has lived at WNC for over 20 years, covering politics, government and other news. He has written award-winning stories on topics ranging from gerrymandering to police use of force.