Representative Madison Cawthorn, a North Carolina Republican, was criticized by a 9/11 first responder after he began cleaning his gun during a House Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing.
Lawmakers convened the hearing, held over Zoom, to listen to learn about how uniformed military personnel when standing by burn pits, a common waste disposal practice at military sites outside the United States, such as in Iraq and. Afghanistan.
At least two sources noticed Cawthorn cleaning his gun during testimony from Jen Burch, an Air Force veteran who spent six years serving in Japan and Afghanistan, and images of the moment soon circulated on social media.
Speaking to The Daily Beast, John Feal, a 9/11 first responder who was at the virtual meeting, called Cawthorn's actions "immature":
“It was immature. He’s a child. He lacks common sense. I think the congressman was overcompensating for something that he lacks and feeling inadequate among the heroes on that call."
Rosie Lopez Torres, the cofounder of Burn Pits 360, was angered when she learned what Cawthorn was doing, saying that his actions were disrespectful to veterans who were providing their testimony:
"Oh wow. That is insane. Total disregard and disrespect to America’s war fighters. He was so bored with the topic."
"Those that are sick and dying and the widows in his district should see how much he cares about the issue.”
These criticisms are especially noteworthy because Cawthorn has made a name for himself praising military members for his service.
Cawthorn has also pushed a false narrative about his own military aspirations and has repeatedly claimed that a car accident was responsible for his decision not to attend the Naval Academy, though Washington Post reporters were able to confirm that he was rejected before the accident took place.
Cawthorn's actions have been harshly criticized.
Cawthorn has a history of unlawfully carrying weapons, as when he sparked controversy when he was accused of bringing a large knife to a school board meeting in his district.
Cawthorn, who appeared at the school board meeting to protest COVID-19 restrictions and mask mandates, denied the allegations, saying he didn't "know anything about it."
In February 2021, Cawthorn was stopped at the Asheville Regional Airport after Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents discovered an unloaded Glock 9mm handgun and loaded magazine in Cawthorn's carry-on luggage.
Cawthorn's gun was confiscated. He was allowed to retrieve it when he returned to Asheville.