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US state senator arrested in Hong Kong over pistol in carry-on bag

Authorities in Hong Kong arrested a politician from Washington state after he stepped off a flight from San Francisco for having a pistol in his carry-on bag.

Jeff Wilson, a Republican state senator, was granted bail on Monday after being charged with possession of an unregistered firearm. A court hearing in Hong Kong, which China administers, is set for 30 October.

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“It was an honest mistake, and I expect the situation to be resolved shortly,” Wilson’s office said in a statement on his website.

Wilson said he did not realize the pistol was in his briefcase when he passed through US airport security, and only discovered the unloaded weapon, he said, when he reached in to get some chewing gum mid-flight. He said the gun was registered in Washington state.

Wilson was travelling with his wife on a five-week personal vacation to Cambodia, Malaysia and Thailand. And he said he alerted Hong Kong customs officials after the plane landed.

But the Wilsons’ holiday is now disrupted. Though a Hong Kong magistrate granted bail to Wilson, the state senator’s travel documents were confiscated, and he was ordered not to leave the city, according to Hong Kong’s Sing Tao Daily.

Penalties for possession of arms or ammunition without a license in the region run up to a maximum of 14 years in prison and a fine of HK$100,000 ($12,800).

But the magistrates court where Wilson is set to appear typically hands down sentences of two years or less, the Wall Street Journal reported.

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Wilson’s Republican colleagues in Washington state said they hoped his case could be resolved expeditiously.

“We are learning about the incident with [Wilson] at the same time as the press and public here in America. As I understand it, this was an honest mistake,” Washington state’s senate Republican leader, John Braun, said in a statement, according to the Journal.

Figures from the US transportation security administration show officers at pre-flight screening found 6,542 firearms at 262 different American airports last year.

The agency said it screened approximately 761 million passengers and crew members at airports. It discovered firearms in carry-on luggage at a rate of 8.6 firearms per 1 million passengers – or one firearm for every 116,394 travelers screened.

Regionally, north Texas airports came out top with 521 weapons found in travelers’ carry-on luggage.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta came in first place, with 448 found firearms, followed by Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental with 298; Nashville with 213, and Phoenix Sky Harbor with 196.

Then came Orlando, Denver, Fort Lauderdale, and Tampa.

It is not known how TSA screeners in Portland, Oregon, where Wilson’s flight originated, missed the weapon.