Michigan House speaker pays $1,960 fine for gun incident at airport

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News
New Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield R-Levering, speaks to the media in Lansing in this Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019 file photo.

Lansing — Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield last week paid a $1,960 fine to the federal Transportation Security Administration after inadvertently carrying a loaded, unregistered handgun into an airport last summer, he said Thursday.

The Levering Republican was assessed a nearly $4,000 fine for the incident at the Pellston Regional Airport but was able to get cut in half under TSA policy by paying within 30 days, he told reporters after a taping of “Off The Record” on WKAR.

“That was an expensive mistake,” Chatfield said, noting he had also previously paid a $250 civil infraction.

Chatfield apologized for the gun incident in July but was not criminally charged by Emmet County Prosecutor James Linderman, who claimed prosecution was not possible under current state statute.

Michigan law prohibits carrying a firearm into a “sterile area” of the airport and refers to a federal law defining that area, Linderman told The Detroit News in August. But the federal code that once defined “sterile area” has since been amended to delete that definition.

Chatfield, a 30-year-old who took over as House speaker in January after election by his colleagues, on Thursday offered new details on what he has repeatedly described as an accident, including in an initial interview with law enforcement personnel at the northern Michigan airport. He has a permit to carry a concealed gun.

While he regularly carries a concealed pistol, including on the state House floor, Chatfield said he had put a rarely used pistol into a book bag he was carrying the day before because he did not have a jacket on at the time.

He wore his regular pistol the next day and had taken it off, unloaded it and put it in his safe before going to the airport to catch his flight, he said. Already in the airport, Chatfield said he decided to go back out to his car to grab his laptop, which was in his bag, forgetting he also had a pistol in it.

Authorities found the weapon during a routine scan of his carry-on bag.

Critics have knocked Chatfield over the incident and suggested he avoided criminal charges because of his political connections. Linderman, the county prosecutor, contributed $625 to Chatfield’s state House campaigns between 2014 and 2018 but said past support had “no significance” in the charging decision.

“I really question whether he should be able to have a concealed weapon license when he clearly doesn’t even follow some of the basic protocols — knowing where it is, knowing if it’s loaded or not and knowing if it is legal or not,” said Sam Inglot of the Progress Michigan liberal advocacy group. “In this case, he violated all of those principles.”

In a November interview with The News, Chatfield said he would support closing a “legal loophole” to align Michigan statute with federal law that generally prevents passengers from bringing guns to or past airport checkpoints.

Chatfield last year backed a plan to allow any legal firearm owner to carry a concealed gun without a permit or training that is currently required to obtain a license.

“Like most people, I have made mistakes before, but none as public as this one,” he told The News in December. “It was certainly embarrassing, and I took full responsibility. The rights that I enjoy and exercise every day have been fought for and should not be taken lightly.”


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Twitter: @jonathanoosting