ST. PAUL, Minn. - A Republican hoping to challenge Democratic Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar next year once pleaded guilty for having a loaded handgun at the airport. The councilman also had no permit to carry a weapon at the time.

Joe Arwood, a St. Bonifacius city council member, discussed his 2005 conviction Friday with The Associated Press. He said it taught him to "slow down" in life, especially when it comes to firearms.

The AP learned of the misdemeanor conviction during routine background research on the Senate candidates. Arwood said he already shared the story with a small number of GOP activists inquiring about things that could surface in a campaign and said he would have no trouble discussing it with voters who bring it up.

"I've never skirted answering the question," Arwood told the AP. "I've never shied away from telling people the details because I did it. It happened. It's on record."

Arwood, 38, is one of three announced Republicans seeking the nomination to oppose Klobuchar, a former county prosecutor.

In the telephone interview, Arwood recalled being pulled out of line at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport checkpoint as he headed to South Dakota on a business trip. He said he instantly realized he had forgotten to remove the Smith and Wesson .380 semiautomatic handgun - with six bullets in the magazine - from a bag he used on a prior over-the-road trip.

Arwood said he was taken to an area for questioning by the Transportation Security Administration, the FBI and local police. Court records show that charges weren't filed for six more months. After initially entering a not guilty plea, Arwood admitted guilt a couple of months later. He forfeited the weapon, paid a $300 fine and was sentenced to 10 days in the county workhouse, which was stayed.

Arwood said he carried the gun for protection while staying in hotels during frequent trips for an auto-industry company. He said he has a permit to carry a gun now but won't reveal if he brings one on the campaign. "It's not someone's business whether I do or do not carry a gun," he said.

Arwood, who formally entered the race in August but began campaigning full-time only last week, hasn't made gun issues a prominent feature of his campaign. Nor has he taken a formal position on TSA searches. Some travelers have complained the agency's pat downs and full-body scanners are too intrusive.

"Currently it is the way the TSA is instructed to do business," Arwood said. "I would expect them to do what they are mandated to do."

His conviction is the most serious run-in with the law among the 2012 Senate candidates. Mortgage finance professional Anthony Hernandez briefly had a suspended driver's license connected to a citation for speeding and failure to produce proof of insurance. Former state Rep. Dan Severson, the GOP's 2010 nominee for secretary of state, has been cited for speeding and not wearing a seat belt. A search of Minnesota records for Klobuchar found no offenses to her name.

Despite Minnesota's propensity for close Senate races, the state GOP has struggled to attract a big-name candidate for next year's race.

Klobuchar heads into her re-election campaign in strong shape, with a sturdy approval rating and a huge fundraising advantage over possible opponents. She had $4 million banked by the end of October while none of the others had cracked six figures.

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