Jaydin Beverly Sham/CNN
Washington state Sen. Jeff Wilson (2nd right) leaves the West Kowloon Magistrate’s Court in Hong Kong on October 30, 2023.
A Hong Kong court has dropped charges against a US politician who surrendered to customs authorities after bringing a gun into the city’s airport in what it called an “honest mistake”.
Washington State Senator Jeff Wilson appeared in the West Kowloon Magistrate’s Court on Monday and was acquitted of “possessing a weapon without a license”.
Instead, he was given a 24-month “break” in which the charge was dropped and the defendant agreed to a good behavior order. Wilson’s firearm was also confiscated.
Both the prosecution and defense lawyers argued that this was a special case, citing Wilson’s self-declaration at Hong Kong customs and his admission of 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 has been open about his conduct during the investigation, the court said.
“Based on the limited evidence available, I find the defendant innocent,” Magistrate Don So said.
Soh added that because Wilson was a trade delegate and traveled frequently to the region, he believed the state senator “should have known that Chinese and Hong Kong laws are very strict.”
Conditions of the banning order include not possessing firearms and ammunition for 24 months. Repeat violations will result in a HK$2,000 (about $250) fine and additional prosecution.
After the court’s ruling, Wilson’s office issued a statement saying the state senator “inadvertently” brought the unloaded revolver on an international flight and admitted responsibility.
“After all, the fault was entirely mine. I am relieved that we have been able to resolve this matter effectively and would like to apologize for the anxiety I have caused,” Wilson said.
He also gave more details about how he discovered he had an unloaded gun on board a plane that had apparently gone unnoticed by airport security in the United States.
“I packed quickly and failed to check the contents of my briefcase. Over the Pacific Ocean, I reached into my briefcase for gum and felt for my gun instead. My heart sank. I immediately understood what had happened and that my only option was to report to the appropriate authorities, cooperate fully and abide by the laws of the country where my plane was supposed to land,” he said.
Wilson’s passport has been returned and he will resume his travels with his wife in Southeast Asia, the statement added.
Wilson also said Hong Kong authorities had “conducted themselves professionally”.
The court heard that on October 21, Wilson arrived in Chinese territory with his wife after catching a connecting flight to San Francisco from Portland.
He approached the customs channel at Hong Kong International Airport less than 30 minutes after landing and “on his own initiative” informed officials that he had a gun in his bag. Wilson was arrested because he could not provide a valid license to carry a gun in Hong Kong.
The senator said the ordeal was an “honest mistake” and he “hopes to resume his route when the matter is resolved,” according to a statement released by his office on Oct. 23.
Wilson also noted in his statement that his handgun is registered to Washington state and that he holds a concealed firearms license.
“I think we can all learn from what happened here,” Wilson said Monday. “First, of course, always check your carry-on before going through airport security. But more importantly, when you make a mistake like this, the right thing to do is show respect and take responsibility.