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Travelers packing firearms in their carryon will face criminal charges at Asheville Regional Airport

This firearm was caught by TSA officers at the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport checkpoint on July 30.
Farbstein, Lisa, TSA
This firearm was caught by TSA officers at the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport checkpoint on July 30.

A spike in the number of firearms discovered at the Asheville Regional Airport is behind a newly implemented enforcement policy. Any person found with a firearm at a TSA checkpoint will face criminal charges and the firearm will be seized, according to a press release from the airport. The change – encouraged by the TSA – comes amid an increase in the number of firearms being discovered at airport checkpoints in Asheville and across the country.

In 2022, the airport saw an all-time high for number of firearms at the checkpoint, with 26 guns discovered at security screening, a 100% increase over the previous record year in 2019, according to the statement. The airport is on pace to see another increase in 2023.

“We believe that through active criminal enforcement, in conjunction with community outreach and ongoing TSA civil penalties, we can reduce the number of firearms that people bring to the TSA screening checkpoint,” Samuel Sales, Chief of Public Safety at AVL said.

The TSA and other state and federal agencies involved in law enforcement are encouraging criminal citations in light of increasing numbers of firearms being discovered at airport checkpoints. In 2022, the number of firearms discovered at checkpoints reached an all-time high across the country. And according to TSA Administrator David Pekoske, nearly 88 percent of those firearms were loaded.

Former Republican Representative Madison Cawthorn was among the flyers cited for bringing a loaded weapon to the airport. In 2021, TSA workers said they found an unloaded Glock 9 mm handgun in Cawthorn’s carry-on, along with a loaded magazine. No charges were filed. But the congressman was cited when he was caught with a loaded gun at the Charlotte Douglas International airport in April 2022. Cawthorn, who lost his reelection campaign, was charged with a misdemeanor, and is scheduled to appear in Mecklenburg County court in May.

Signs communicating that no guns are allowed are now posted at the Asheville Regional Airport’s TSA checkpoint, and information is also included on the airport’s website.[LL1] [HC2]

According to the TSA, travelers may transport unloaded firearms in a locked hard-sided container as checked baggage only and must declare the firearm and/or ammunition to the airline when checking bags at the ticket counter. The container must completely secure the firearm from being accessed. Locked cases that can be easily opened are not permitted. Be aware that the container the firearm was in when purchased may not adequately secure the firearm when it is transported in checked baggage.

For more information about how firearms may be transported in checked baggage, visit TSA.gov Also, check with your airline regarding airline-specific regulations.

Helen Chickering is a host and reporter on Blue Ridge Public Radio. She joined the station in November 2014.