HONG KONG — A Hong Kong court acquitted a Washington state senator Monday of possessing an unlicensed firearm after he brought a gun into the Chinese territory in what he said was an “honest mistake.”
Sen. Jeff Wilson, R-Longview, was granted a conditional discharge so long as he commits no further firearms offenses in Hong Kong in the next two years, according to The South China Morning Post. Prosecutors noted that Wilson had told authorities about the gun himself and had no criminal record in Hong Kong, the newspaper said.
“The Chinese authorities conducted themselves in a professional manner, and I commend them for their diligence,” Wilson said in a statement. “The mistake, after all, was fully mine. I am relieved we were able to resolve this matter efficiently, and I want to apologize for the concern I created.”
Wilson, who was traveling to Southeast Asia for a five-week holiday with his wife, was arrested at Hong Kong International Airport on Oct. 21 after he told customs officials he had discovered an unloaded revolver in his carry-on bag during his flight from San Francisco.
The weapon passed through security undetected at Portland International Airport in Oregon, and Wilson did not have to go through security again before his connecting flight in San Francisco, the statement said.
The Transportation Security Administration, which manages all passenger screening at the Portland airport, said last week that it “takes this situation very seriously and is currently investigating the circumstances.”
Wilson said that he had packed quickly and failed to check the contents of his bag and that his “heart sank” when he reached into it midflight and realized his mistake.
“I understood immediately what had happened, and that my only option was to report to the proper authorities, cooperate fully, and respect the laws of the land where my plane was about to touch down,” he said.
Wilson had to surrender his passport pending resolution of the case and was detained for three days before he was released on bail Oct. 23, the statement said. The firearm was confiscated, the Post reported.
In an earlier statement, Wilson said the weapon was registered in Washington state but not in Hong Kong, where gun laws are much stricter. Those convicted of carrying an unlicensed firearm face fines of up to 100,000 Hong Kong dollars ($12,800) and up to 14 years in prison.
Wilson said that he looked forward to resuming his travels and that “we all can learn from what happened here.”
“First, of course, to always check your carry-on baggage before you go through airport security,” he said. “But more important, when you make a mistake like this one, the right thing to do is to show respect and accept responsibility.”
Jennifer Jett is Asia digital editor for NBC News, based in Hong Kong.