Crime & Courts

Former UNC Board of Governors chairman arrested after gun found at airport

John Fennebresque
John Fennebresque Mecklenburg County jail

Charlotte lawyer John Fennebresque, the former UNC Board of Governors chairman, was arrested Thursday after authorities found a small handgun in his briefcase as he passed through a security checkpoint at Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police officers arrested Fennebresque at 10 a.m. at checkpoint B, charging him with misdemeanor possession of a firearm on city property, CMPD and Mecklenburg County jail records show.

He was released on $500 bail, according to the records.

Reached by the Observer later Thursday, Fennebresque said he didn’t know the gun was in the briefcase. “It was an honest, stupid mistake,” he said.

He said he had taken his wife and adult children to a class at a Matthews firing range Sunday so they could get their concealed-carry permits. He had removed four guns from a gun safe in his house and put them in the briefcase.

After he and his wife returned from the firing range, Fennebresque said he thought he had emptied the briefcase of all four guns and returned them to the safe.

He said he didn’t know a handgun – identified in the police report as a Smith and Wesson .380 – was still in the briefcase with his passport and boarding pass until he and his wife tried to pass through the checkpoint for a flight to the Dominican Republic, where they had planned to vacation.

“I thought I had emptied the briefcase, and I apparently missed this small gun,” said Fennebresque, vice chairman of the McGuireWoods law firm. “I obviously am horribly embarrassed. I feel like an idiot.”

CMPD arrested Fennebresque and seized his gun, the police report said.

Airport passengers are allowed to transport unloaded firearms in locked hard-sided containers as checked baggage, according to Transportation Safety Administration rules. The firearms and ammunition must be declared at ticket counters when checking bags.

It’s illegal to pack guns in carry-on luggage. In its weekly blog, the TSA reminds passengers that they can face penalties of up to $11,000 for trying to pass through security with a firearm in their bags.

The TSA has reported that the number of guns found at checkpoints has been steadily rising.

In October, Fennebresque stepped down as chairman of the UNC Board of Governors after a contentious process to find a new UNC system president. Some board members and state legislators criticized Fennebresque for his leadership and blamed him for what some thought was the botched ouster of former President Tom Ross.

Fennesbresque’s resignation came days after the board unanimously hired Margaret Spellings, former U.S. education secretary under President George W. Bush.

Fennebresque told the Observer on Thursday he “never” carries a gun but has a permit to do so.

He said his arrest took four hours, and he and his wife missed their flight by three hours. They canceled their vacation.

“Thankfully, my wife did not go without me,” Fennebresque said. “I am told this happens a lot – that there are thousands of members of the idiot club around the country.”

Perlmutt: 704-358-5061

Marusak: 704-358-5067, @jmarusak