Chinese authorities have arrested Washington state Sen. Jeff Wilson, a Republican, for arriving with a gun in his luggage at Hong Kong International Airport Friday night.
According to a statement on Wilson’s website, the senator didn’t realize he had his pistol in a carry-on bag, which made it through a security checkpoint at Portland International Airport before he transferred in San Francisco and finally arrived in Hong Kong.
“It was an honest mistake, and I expect the situation to be resolved shortly,” he said.
The U.S. Transportation Security Administration is investigating the incident in Portland as Wilson faces charges overseas.
According to Wilson, he was halfway across the Pacific Ocean on a flight from San Francisco to Hong Kong when he reached into his carry-on bag to get a piece of gum. Then he 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 in a statement.
Authorities arrested him on a charge of possession of an unregistered firearm.
Reports that customs officials found the gun on their own during a bag check in Hong Kong are “incorrect,” the senator said.
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 weapon is not registered in Hong Kong, Wilson has a concealed carry permit in his home state, where he said the gun is properly registered.
The arrest comes at the start of a personal vacation with his family to multiple countries in Southeast Asia. The senator, who is also a port commissioner in his hometown of Longview, Washington, was also planning to meet a group of counterparts in Shanghai.
A spokesperson for the TSA, which handles baggage screening at U.S. airports, said the agency is aware of the incident and investigating.
“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.”
Wilson’s bag was screened before he departed from Portland Friday. He had his connecting flight to Hong Kong out of San Francisco, where he did not have to go through security for a second time.
Portland TSA officers have seized 43 firearms at the airport’s checkpoints so far this year. The internal investigation will have access to security video as well as images taken by the screening equipment ahead of Wilson’s departure.
More than 6,540 firearms were intercepted at security checkpoints across the entire U.S. in 2022, a record high, according to the TSA – up from 1,913 in 2013.
Travelers who do want to fly with a gun can do so if they keep it in a locked hard-sided container in their checked baggage. They also must declare it to the airline while checking in for their flight, the TSA said.