A pair of House Democrats urged the Transportation Security Administration on Thursday to crack down on the growing threat of firearms at airports, days after a Republican congressman was caught bringing a gun to a TSA checkpoint.
Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C. was cited Tuesday on a misdemeanor criminal charge after the TSA intercepted a loaded 9mm handgun as it passed through a security checkpoint at Charlotte Douglas International Airport.
Just over a year earlier, Cawthorn reportedly had an unloaded Glock 9mm handgun taken from him at another North Carolina airport after TSA workers found the weapon in his carry-on bag.
A criminal defense lawyer told CNBC after the latest incident that carrying a gun at the Charlotte Douglas airport is a violation of city ordinances that “more often than not” leads to arrest.
In Thursday’s letter, the House Democrats urged TSA Administrator David Pekoske to “act decisively to ensure repeat offenders like Rep. Cawthorn face the full extent” of the agency’s “enforcement actions.”
“Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle agree that those who break the law and endanger the safety of other passengers — and especially repeat offenders such as Rep. Cawthorn — must be held to account,” read the letter from Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and transportation subcommittee Chairwoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-N.J.
“TSA must pursue appropriate action without fear or favor against all such offenders, regardless of whether they are public figures such as Rep. Cawthorn,” they wrote.
A spokesman for Cawthorn did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment. In an Instagram post Wednesday, Cawthorn said the gun was left in his bag by accident.
“Even if you fly all the time, and are used to just grabbing your bags and going, always take the extra 30-60 seconds it takes to check your bags and make sure everything is how it should be,” Cawthorn wrote in the post. “I made a mistake yesterday, no excuse for it, just a flat out mistake.”
In an accompanying video, a smiling Cawthorn said he was flying home from Washington, D.C., and had just gone through a TSA checkpoint without causing another incident.
“Really good news: Just went through TSA, no major alarms, nothing bad happened,” Cawthorn said, adding, “Fly safe, make sure you don’t have a gun in your bag.”
The 26-year-old House freshman has become a magnet for criticism on both sides of the aisle, especially following his recent claims about members of Congress using drugs and inviting him to orgies.
On Wednesday, another North Carolina Republican, Sen. Thom Tillis, called for a House ethics investigation following reports alleging Cawthorn may have violated insider trading rules through his relationship to an anti-Biden cryptocurrency. Tillis has endorsed Cawthorn’s primary challenger.
Cawthorn’s airport troubles came amid a sharp rise in airline passengers bringing guns through security, Thompson and Coleman noted in their letter.
They cited TSA data showing that such incidents have doubled on a per-passenger basis since 2019, with nearly 6,000 firearms found at checkpoints in 2021. Of the guns caught that year, about 86% were loaded, according to the TSA.
The data show that the number of firearms detected at TSA checkpoints has increased every year since at least 2008, with the exception of 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic grounded thousands of flights. In 2008, the TSA said it caught 926 guns at its airport checkpoints; by 2021, that figure swelled to 5,972.
The Homeland Security Committee last month considered legislation, sponsored by Coleman, aimed at strengthening safety measures and beefing up penalties for gun offenders at airports, including by suspending their eligibility for trusted-traveler perks and establishing minimum civil penalties for repeat violations.