He claimed to have the gun with him "by mistake"
On July 30th it came to light that in February of this year, GOP Representative for North Carolina Ashton Cawthorn had been caught by TSA officials trying to board a flight with a Glock 9mm handgun and a magazine of live ammunition in his carry-on baggage.
Cawthorn, a renowned super fan of former President Donald Trump and outspoken advocate for gun rights was trying to board a flight at Asheville Regional Airport. When challenged claimed to have brought the gun "by mistake" according to a spokesman responding to questions on July 30. Criminal proceedings were never filed.
The offence came to light after campaigners running the firemadison.com website filed a public information request to obtain records of the incident, including an audio transcript of the incident.
That it didn't lead to criminal proceedings at the time is somewhat curious. 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 has accessible ammunition as was the case for Rep. Cawthorn, the fine can be between $3,000 and $10,000 as well as criminal referral.
Has Cawthorn escaped punishment?
At the time, Cawthorn was permitted to fly after storing the gun securely at the airport. However, it seems likely that justice may yet be brought to bear. Speaking with the Citizen Times, TSA spokesperson Mark Howell shared that in almost all cases, air passengers found to be improperly transporting guns face federal civil fines and an elected official should not be excluded from the potential punishment.
With the offence now clearly out in the open it seems likely that Cawthorn could and should face a federal fine and loss of a special security status according to local and federal officials.
More guns seized by the TSA in 2020 than ever before
Data reported recently for 2020, suggests that the TSA are now confiscating more firearms from US traveller's luggage than ever before.
In spite of reduced numbers of flights and air-travellers in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of guns seized was actually higher than past years.
An article in Forbes reports that the number of guns discovered by the TSA actually increased in 2020 - the agency seized 10.2 guns per million passengers screened, double the number per million travelers screened in 2019. It also represents highest gun seizure rate since the TSA was established 19 years ago.
Most alarmingly perhaps - of the 3,257 firearms caught in 2020, the TSA reports that approximately 83% were loaded. At a state level, Florida was responsible for the most guns confiscated by airport security - with 336 guns detected at its airports in 2020.
Should Cawthorn know better?
As a gun-rights advocate and member of congress, Cawthorn should know better about the proper and safe handling of guns at all times and the rules for transporting them safely and securely. It's also unacceptable if his status as a politician has in any way been exploited to receive special treatment.
If he is to face the same fines and treatment as other travellers for the same midemeanor then these are spelled-out quite clearly on TSA's own website:
"Passengers bringing a firearm to a TSA federal security checkpoint will be assessed a civil penalty up to $13,669 and this civil penalty is independent of whether you are arrested or face criminal charges from our law enforcement partners. Fines may also be assessed for other threat items brought to the checkpoint" - TSA.gov
Time will tell what the consequences of his actions actually amount to.
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