A Hong Kong court has dropped charges against an American politician who turned himself in to customs authorities after bringing a gun into the city’s airport in what he called “an honest mistake.”
Washington State Senator Jeff Wilson appeared at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court on Monday and was acquitted of “possession of arms without a license.”
Instead he was given a 24-month “bind-over” where the charge was withdrawn and the defendant agreed to a good behavior order. Wilson’s firearm was also confiscated.
Both prosecution and defense lawyers argued that this was a special case, citing Wilson’s self-declaration at the Hong Kong customs and his admission to possessing a firearm by mistake during questioning.
The Republican state senator, whose full name is Stephen Jeffrey Wilson, also has a clear record in the city and had an open manner throughout the investigation, the court heard.
“Based on the limited evidence available, I believe the defendant is innocent,” said magistrate Don So.
So added that that since Wilson was a trade delegate and traveled frequently in the region, he believed the state senator “should have known Chinese and Hong Kong laws are very strict.”
The conditions for the “bind-over” order include abstaining from possessing firearms and ammunition for 24 months. Repeated offenses would lead to a HK$2,000 (about $250) fine and further prosecution.
After the court’s decision, Wilson’s office issued a statement saying the state senator had “inadvertently” brought the unloaded revolver on an international flight and acknowledged responsibility.
“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 said.
He also gave more details on how he came to discover he had an unloaded gun onboard a plane, which was apparently not spotted by airport security checks in the United States.
“I packed quickly and failed to check the contents of my briefcase. Over the Pacific, I reached into my briefcase for gum and felt my gun instead. My heart sank. 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’s passport was returned to him and he will resume travels with his wife in Southeast Asia, the statement added.
Wilson also said the authorities in Hong Kong had “conducted themselves in a professional manner.”
The court heard that on October 21, Wilson arrived in the Chinese territory with his wife after catching a connecting flight in San Francisco from Portland.
He approached the customs channel at the Hong Kong International Airport less than 30 minutes after he landed, and “on his own initiative” informed officers that there was a gun in his bag. Wilson was arrested as he could not provide any valid license to carry arms in Hong Kong.
The senator said the ordeal was an “honest mistake” and he “hopes to resume his itinerary when the matter is resolved,” according to a statement posted by his office on October 23.
Wilson also noted in his statement that his gun was registered in Washington state and that he holds a concealed firearms license.
“I think we all can learn from what happened here,” Wilson said Monday. “First, of course, to always check your carry-on baggage before you go through airport security. But more important, when you make a mistake like this one, the right thing to do is to show respect and accept responsibility.”