WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn, a first-term lawmaker from far-western North Carolina, attempted to bring a handgun through security at the Asheville airport in February.
His congressional spokesman said it was done in error.
A Glock 9mm handgun was taken from Cawthorn’s bag as he attempted to go through security on Feb. 13, 2021, according to audio first obtained and posted online Thursday by a group trying to oust the congressman from office.
Officers from the airport’s Department of Public Safety first wanted Cawthorn to bring the weapon to his car, but elected to hold onto the gun because Cawthorn’s flight was leaving in “seven minutes,” according to the audio.
“Five months ago, while boarding a flight, Rep. Cawthorn erroneously stowed a firearm in his carry-on (that often doubles as a range bag) instead of his checked bag,” Cawthorn spokesman Micah Bock said in a statement provided to The News & Observer and Charlotte Observer. “The firearm was secured, and unchambered. Rep. Cawthorn endeavors to always follow TSA guidelines, and quickly rectified this situation before boarding his flight.”
The officers on the audio said they would hold onto the weapon and that Cawthorn could retrieve it when he came back. The officers were aware of whose weapon it was, with one officer telling another that “it’s going to be an elected official Madison Cawthorn’s firearm.”
Cawthorn picked up the gun on Feb. 22, according to documents from the Greater Asheville Regional Airport Authority that were posted by the group.
David Wheeler, the president of FireMadison.com, said his group received a tip about the incident and filed public information requests to obtain the audio, which was posted on their website along with other documents about the incident. The News & Observer and Charlotte Observer have also obtained the documents and audio.
“If you and I did that, we’d be detained. We’d be questioned. The gun would be secured. A report would be written. We certainly wouldn’t make our flight,” Wheeler said in a phone interview Friday.
Cawthorn was allowed to board the flight, according to the audio and his spokesman.
This year, there have been eight incidents at the Asheville Regional Airport of passengers going through security with a firearm or weapon and none have faced criminal charges, Tina Kinsey, a spokesperson for the airport, told The News & Observer Friday. Kinsey said passengers are allowed to leave the firearm in their car if there is a secure place or with the public safety officers, just as Cawthorn was allowed.
“I want to emphasize that this is standard procedure here for the airport,” she told the N&O.
In 2020, TSA officers found more than 3,200 firearms on passengers or in their carry-on bags at checkpoints, according to the agency. The figure amounted to 10 firearms per 1 million passengers screened, double the rate in 2019 when air travel was much more frequent.
Passengers can fly with firearms in checked bags if they’re properly secured and declared at check-in, according to TSA. The civil fine for carrying an unloaded firearm at a security checkpoint can be between $1,500 and $2,475 as well as a criminal referral.
If the passenger had accessible ammunition, the fine can be between $3,000 and $10,000 as well as criminal referral.
There was a loaded magazine discovered by security, according to documents from the Greater Asheville Regional Airport Authority.
The Asheville Regional Airport has service to 24 non-stop destinations, including to three airports in the Washington, D.C., area.
Cawthorn, 25, represents the 11th Congressional District in the U.S. House since January. A Republican, Cawthorn won a primary run-off in 2020, besting his opponent who was endorsed by then President Donald Trump and former 11th District Rep. Mark Meadows. He then won the general election.©2021 McClatchy Washington Bureau. Visit mcclatchydc.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.