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U.S. congressman is stopped at TSA checkpoint with loaded gun

Rep. Ross Spano (R-Fla.) was allowed to secure the gun and return to his flight to Washington, authorities said.

Ross Spano (R-Fla.) was stopped Wednesday at Tampa International Airport while trying to board an airplane with a concealed weapon. Here, Spano is shown delivering opening remarks at a hearing on covid-19 relief efforts by the Small Business Committee's subcommittee on investigations, oversight and regulations on Thursday. (Alex Edelman/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

A Florida congressman was stopped at a security checkpoint at Tampa International Airport on Wednesday after attempting to board a flight to Washington with a concealed firearm, an airport spokeswoman said Thursday.

Rep. Ross Spano (R) attempted to pass a Transportation Security Administration checkpoint at the airport about 7:50 a.m. Wednesday while carrying a handgun, an airport spokeswoman said. The weapon, a Smith & Wesson M&P Shield 9mm, was loaded with seven rounds.

Spano, 54, who has a permit to carry a concealed firearm, was not detained or arrested, airport spokeswoman Emily Nipps said. She said Spano was allowed to “secure” the weapon, which generally means taking the firearm back to one’s vehicle before returning to the checkpoint.

“He was treated like everyone else who carries with a concealed weapon permit,” Nipps said. “It’s disruptive but not illegal.”

The TSA — whose spokeswoman declined to identify Spano by name, citing privacy laws — has the authority to file civil complaints seeking penalties up to $13,000 for taking prohibited weapons into a checkpoint, regardless of whether there is an arrest. Sari Koshetz, a spokeswoman for the agency, declined to say whether such action would be taken.

TSA levied about $1.45 million in civil penalties against travelers with firearms in 2017

The TSA has raised alarms for years over the number of firearms caught at checkpoints and the risks they pose to security personnel and others. In 2019, the agency caught 4,432 firearms at its checkpoints, a 5 percent increase over the number seized in the previous year.

Gun owners and gun-rights advocates have argued that firearms discovered by TSA screeners pose little threat, and that most instances represent absent-minded lapses that should not be punished at all. Others say a person’s failure to follow airport security procedures should be cause enough to forbid the person to carry a lethal weapon.

Spano did not immediately return a call to his Capitol Hill office seeking comment.