No. 2 GOP lawmaker busted at airport with loaded pistol

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

The second-ranking Republican in the Michigan House attempted to board a plane in Pellston recently while carrying an unregistered handgun.

Rep. Lee Chatfield, the House speaker pro tempore, apologized for the “inexcusable mistake” in a post on Facebook Tuesday, noting that he accidentally left the pistol in his bag.

Transportation Security Administration officers at Pellston Regional Airport found a loaded .380 caliber firearm in the carry-on luggage of a passenger traveling to Detroit at about 3 p.m. July 15, said Michael McCarthy, a TSA spokesman. 

Officers contacted local law enforcement, took possession of the weapon and interviewed the passenger, whom McCarthy declined to name.

Chatfield, R-Levering, said he believed all of his firearms were registered with the Michigan State Police, but officials found the pistol in his bag was not “on file.”

“I registered the pistol soon after and also confirmed that every other pistol that I own was registered,” Chatfield said.

Should Republicans maintain control of the Michigan House in November, Chatfield is expected to be named the chamber's next speaker. 

Michigan House Speaker Tom Leonard, R-DeWitt Township, said on Tuesday his colleague "made an honest mistake."

"I'm glad to see he is owning up to it and already taking steps to make sure it doesn't happen again," said Leonard, who is running for the GOP nomination for attorney general. "I wouldn't expect anything less from him."

The Pellston Regional Airport declined comment. Emmet County Sheriff Pete Wallin and Emmet County Prosecutor James Linderman did not immediately return a call requesting comment.

People who bring firearms to security checkpoints can incur criminal penalties, McCarthy said, and fines up to $9,800.

Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Henry Saad pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in 2016 and received a $750 fine and deferred sentence after a handgun was found in his carry-on bag at Detroit Metropolitan Airport. 

During the Kwame Kilpatrick administration, Detroit Police Chief Jerry A. Oliver Sr. resigned in 2003 after being detained at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport for carrying a loaded .25-caliber pistol in his checked luggage. 

Oliver pleaded no contest to possessing an unlicensed handgun, a charge issued by then-Wayne County Prosecutor Mike Duggan. Oliver paid a $250 fine to resolve the misdemeanor charge and a separate $300 fine to the TSA. 

McCarthy said the agency likely will impose a fine related to the July 15 incident in Pellston.

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