Chinese authorities arrested a Republican Washington State Senator Friday night for arriving at Hong Kong International Airport with a gun in his luggage.
Sen. Jeff Wilson said in a statement on his website that he didn’t realize he had his pistol in a carry-on bag until he was halfway across the Pacific Ocean.
“It was an honest mistake, and I expect the situation to be resolved shortly,” he said. Wilson was traveling with his wife on the first leg of a five-week vacation in Southeast Asia.
The weapon made it through a security checkpoint at Portland International Airport before he transferred in San Francisco and landed in Hong Kong, Fox News reported.
According to the statement, Wilson reached into his carry-on bag to get a piece of gum during his flight from San Francisco to Hong Kong, and felt the unloaded revolver in the bag.
“When the plane landed, he immediately went to customs officials and called their attention to the issue,” his office said.
Chinese authorities arrested him on the spot and charged him with possession of an unregistered firearm.
A Hong Kong magistrate on Monday reportedly “granted Wilson’s bail, confiscated his travel documents, and ordered him not to leave the city.”
The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is investigating the incident in Portland.
In his statement, the senator said “Reports that customs officials found the gun on their own during a bag check in Hong Kong are “incorrect.”
Wilson was released on bail but has been forced to surrender his passport, according to local media. If convicted, he could face a fine of $12,800 and up to 14 years in prison, although judges there reportedly rarely impose more than two years.
While the senator’s pistol was not registered in Hong Kong, it is properly registered in his home state, where he holds a concealed pistol license.
Wilson was charged with possession of an unregistered firearm and has a court hearing set for October 30.
The lawmaker said he is also a port commissioner in his hometown of Longview, Washington, and was planning to meet a group of counterparts in Shanghai.
He said he hopes to resume his itinerary when the issue is resolved.
A spokesperson for the TSA said the Wilson could be facing a hefty penalty for carrying a pistol in a secure area of the Portland airport.
“Firearms are not permitted in the secure area of airports and represents an expensive mistake for those who are stopped at checkpoints with firearms in their possession,” the spokesperson said. “The penalty for bringing a firearm to a TSA checkpoint may be as high as $15,000, and those stopped are ineligible for TSA PreCheck for up to five years.”
Travelers who wish to fly with a firearm are required to keep it in a locked hard-sided container in their checked baggage, and must declare it to the airline while checking in for their flight, according to TSA guidelines.
The TSA said in January that more than 6,540 firearms were intercepted and confiscated at security checkpoints across the United States in 2022—the highest number it had ever recorded.