Peter Steinmetz says he was just trying to make a political point when he brought a fully loaded AR-15 into the airport on July 25, but he won't repeat the act.
Police arrested the Barrow Neurological Institute brain researcher on suspicion of disorderly conduct with a firearm, alleging the muzzle of Steinmetz's rifle was pointed briefly at two women. No word has come from Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery about any criminal charges.
"I wanted to help educate the public and employees at the airport ... by allowing them to observe a peaceful person responsibly carrying an AR-15 while doing things that people normally do there, like waiting and drinking a coffee," Steinmetz said on Monday at his lawyer's office, adding that he was "careful to ensure my firearm was never pointed at anyone."
Reporters and TV cameras packed the small lobby of attorney Marc Victor's southeast Valley office on Monday at 3 p.m. for the highly anticipated comments by Steinmetz, who until then hadn't said why he had a semi-automatic rifle at the airport.
Wearing a blue suit with an American flag pin on the lapel, Steinmetz pulled out a piece of paper and read from a prepared statement.
Calling himself a "peaceful political activist," Steinmetz explained in his statement that his display of the AR-15 at Terminal Four of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport was "entirely political in nature."
The demonstration, if that's what it was, follows his previous open-carry display at the airport back in November, in which he and his son were confronted by police as they waited with their rifles for Steinmetz's wife to arrive on a flight. Steinmetz told cops they were showing their weapons as a way to protest the Transportation Security Administration and its "strip-searching" of Americans. It also followed a post on his Google Plus account in which he seems to sympathize with a man who shot and killed a TSA agent at the Los Angeles International Airport on November 1.
The Barrow institute, saying last week it took the July 25 incident "very seriously," suspended Steinmetz from his job as principal investigator of the institute's "Neuroengineering/Human Neurophysiology Laboratory," also called the Brain Modeling Laboratory, a title he's held since 2008.
Steinmetz's entire statement follows:
"Good afternoon and thank you for coming:
"I consider myself to be a freedom activist, a man of peace and a responsible American citizen. I fully respect the rule of law and complied with it my entire life. I am also an educated and responsible gun owner who has earned the legal right to have a concealed weapons permit. I have responsibilities that accompany firearms ownership. I enthusiastically support the rights of my fellow Americans to peacefully and responsibly keep and bear arms. I also strongly oppose the irresponsible use of firearms by anyone. I take my constitutional rights and the constitutional rights of all people very seriously, and I believe those rights need to be exercised and protected or they will be lost.
"I am a peaceful political activist, and my purpose in walking around the airport with my AR-15 rifle was entirely political in nature. Put simply, I decided to make the point that a peaceful citizen can openly and responsibly carry a firearm - including an AR-15 for the protection of themselves and their community. I wanted to help educate the public and employees at the airport on this point by allowing them to observe a peaceful person responsibly carrying an AR-15 while doing things that people normally do there, like waiting and drinking a coffee.
"I chose to make this lawful political demonstration at the airport because there are few places in our society where the contrast between our liberties and their erosion is so stark. On the one side of a line of the floor, in the shopping area, we are relatively free, and can safely keep and bear arms. On the other side of that line we have the TSA, a large federal bureaucracy which completely disarms people and subjects them to gross invasions of their privacy, simply because those people want to travel somewhere.
"As I was making this political statement, I was careful not to disturb or endanger anyone. Indeed, I was never aware of any person being disturbed in any way. At all times, I was extremely careful to ensure my firearm was never pointed at anyone. In addition to carefully handling my firearm, the safety was engaged at all times. I have no plans to repeat this demonstration as I believe I have now made the important point that peaceful and responsible people can safely be trusted to handle firearms, even AR-15's, even at the airport. There is never anything to fear from peaceful responsible gun owners.
"That is all I have to say. My attorney Marc J. Victor will now address any questions you may have."
Steinmetz declined to answer any follow-up questions himself, though his statement raises more than a few.
As Steinmetz watched, often seeming to wear a slight smile, Victor answered reporters' questions and argued that Steinmetz's were simply gun-rights activism and he never endangered anyone.
Police say Steinmetz's rifle had a bullet in the firing chamber. Victor, the attorney, says that's because Steinmetz was carrying his rifle "the way police carry."
Alan Korwin, a local gun-rights activist and author who spoke at the news conference, hammered the points home that this was a political demonstration.
Victor says Steinmetz hopes Steinmetz's employer "will see he didn't do anything wrong," and that "he'll be reinstated without any issues."
No word yet from Barrow on Steinmetz's suspension. References to Steinmetz on the institute's website were still deleted as of Tuesday morning.
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