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Security seized Glock Cawthorn inadvertently stowed in carry-on

Airport security officers at Asheville Regional Airport detected and seized a 9-mm Glock pistol from U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn as he was going through security before a flight in February, the congressman's office confirmed.

A PAC organized to oppose Cawthorn — — first reported the incident on Friday morning. Cawthorn's communications director, Micah Bock, confirmed that his boss inadvertently left the firearm in a carry-on bag on Feb. 13.

“Five months ago, while boarding a flight, Rep. Cawthorn erroneously stowed a firearm in his carry-on instead of his checked bag," Bock said in a statement. "The firearm was secured, and unchambered. Rep. Cawthorn endeavors to always follow TSA guidelines, and quickly rectified this situation before boarding his flight.”

"He wasn't charged," Bock said in an interview. "He got the Glock back after he returned on his flight. Everything was perfectly normal. Essentially what took place was his range bag (to carry firearms to a shooting range) was also a bag that he uses as a carry-on and he just left the Glock in the range bag, forgot to take it out when he transitioned it to a carry-on." President David Wheeler expressed skeptism about why Cawthorn wasn't charged, noting in a news release that attempting to carry a firearm on board an aircraft can result in a fine of $3,000 to $10,000 and a criminal referral.

“This is a serious violation of the law and has nothing to do with the 2nd Amendment," Wheeler said. "A member of the U.S. House of Representatives wanted to bring a Glock firearm onto a commercial airplane. Just who does Cawthorn think he is?"

An audio tape that Wheeler said he obtained from the airport through a public records request contains communications between security officers talking about how to resolve the situation.

"What we're going to do is escort the individual out to his vehicle and allow him to secure it," an officer says before later deciding not to. "We're just going to keep the firearm and he can take it back when he comes back through."

"I got his information," an officer says. "He'll be the one picking up the weapon."

Tina Kinsey, the airport's communications director, confirmed details of the incident and said the case was handled the same as any other non-criminal

"The Asheville Regional Airport Department of Public Safety (DPS) responded to the TSA security check point the morning of February 13, 2021, due to the presence of a firearm in the carry-on luggage of a passenger," she said. "It is routine procedure for TSA to contact DPS in these situations, and most of the time, no criminal activity is determined. 

"Our public safety officers removed the passenger and the firearm from the screening area, and conducted an investigation to determine the details of the situation. The firearm was detained and secured for safekeeping, and the passenger continued through screening."

"There was no exception made," Kinsey said in response to the Lightning's question. "Firearms are not allowed, unless secured and declared properly for travel. When enforcing, our public safety team looks for willful and intentional criminal intent to determine how to handle each situation. Without exception, firearms are either seized (if criminal activity has been determined), or voluntarily and appropriately removed and safely stored before the passenger may continue to their flight.

"In most cases when firearms are in carry-on luggage at AVL, the traveler is a legally permitted gun owner who has forgotten that the firearm is in their bag. Discretion is used to police these matters in reasonable ways, focusing more on securing a firearm safely," she said. "Firearms are never allowed through security and onto planes. If after investigation it is determined that the passenger is allowed to legally possess a firearm, the firearm is legal, and there are no warrants or actions that indicate criminal intention, the passenger is given an option to be escorted from the screening area to properly secure their firearm elsewhere or voluntarily allow the airport Department of Public Safety to hold for safekeeping.  

"It should be noted that TSA does not seize firearms," she said. "In every case, they contact law enforcement to handle the situation. TSA enforces federal civil penalties."

Kinsey also provided an airport Department of Public Safety report showing that officers confiscated and stored the Glock pistol and to ammunition magazines that day and returned both when Cawthorn claimed them on Feb. 22.