Washington state senator arrested in Hong Kong unknowingly had gun in carry-on, he says

By Troy Brynelson (OPB)
Oct. 23, 2023 8:36 p.m. Updated: Oct. 24, 2023 3:17 p.m.

Longview Republican Jeff Wilson said the gun wasn’t loaded and that he cooperated with law enforcement.

State Sen. Jeff Wilson, Republican from Longview, Wash.

State Sen. Jeff Wilson, Republican from Longview, Wash.

Washington State / Washington State Legislature

A Washington state senator was arrested over the weekend in China for having a gun at the airport. He’s calling it a misunderstanding.


“We have a court date in a week,” said Jeff Wilson, a Republican from Longview. “I’m going to remain in Hong Kong. I’m quite happy and healthy.”

Wilson’s arrest was first reported by the Hong Kong newspaper The Standard. The outlet reported a baggage screener found a revolver in the senator’s belongings, for which he reportedly didn’t have a license.

Wilson was charged with possession of an unregistered firearm. He later posted a roughly $2,500 cash bail on Sunday.

The arrest came at the start of a planned, five-week vacation in southeast Asia alongside his wife, Wilson said. He traveled from Portland International Airport, with a layover in San Francisco, before arriving at Hong Kong International Airport on Saturday.

The 63-year-old offered some statements to OPB about the events, but largely declined to discuss his arrest. He cited the fact that the case is ongoing.

“The only thing to say is this was an honest mistake,” Wilson said.

Wilson confirmed by mid-afternoon Monday that the pistol belonged to him. In a statement, he said it is registered in Washington state.

According to spokesperson Erik Smith, the senator found the gun in the middle of his flight “when he reached into his briefcase for a piece of gum and felt his unloaded revolver inside.”

“When the plane landed, he immediately went to customs officials and called their attention to the issue,” Smith wrote.


In an interview with OPB, Wilson tried to make the case that U.S. airports should have caught the gun.

“I should have never been out of security in America,” Wilson said. The statement later added that “baggage screeners failed to note” the pistol in his briefcase while going through security in Portland.

The Transportation Security Administration on Tuesday released a statement to OPB acknowledging a lapse in security.

“TSA is aware that a passenger on a flight departing from (PDX)... passed through security and traveled with an unloaded firearm in his carry-on bag,” a TSA spokesperson said. “TSA takes this situation very seriously and is currently investigating the circumstances.”

Earlier this month, the agency wrote in a statement that agents had caught more than 5,000 firearms from boarding planes through the first three quarters of the year. Last year, they caught a record-high 6,500 firearms, the agency said.

In PDX alone, TSA agents have intercepted 43 firearms, the spokesperson said.

Wilson said that he is being “very respectful and humble” to customs and the law enforcement in a foreign country. He added that he had been in communication with Republican caucus leaders.

“We’re hopeful that I will successfully adjudicate this and look for a conclusion within a week, no problem,” he said.

Wilson is a former business owner in Cowlitz County. Lately, he has primarily served as a commissioner for the Port of Longview. His trip to southeast Asia was a “personal vacation,” Smith said, however Wilson was also planning to spend time with counterparts from the Port of Shanghai.

In his prepared statement, Wilson later disputed details in The Standard’s report. Specifically, Wilson denies that a baggage screener discovered the gun, saying instead that he proactively brought it to authorities.

Wilson also disputed that he argued with reporters after leaving the courthouse. According to The Standard, the senator “had some verbal exchange with reporters who were taking photos of him.”

Wilson told OPB that he asked the reporters for their press credentials, and that the people present “were confronted by (Hong Kong) police.”

Representatives for Senate Republican leader John Braun of Centralia did not respond to requests for comment.