Brian Pettyjohn attempted to bring a loaded gun on a commercial aircraft. A preliminary hearing for Sen. Pettyjohn has been scheduled July 25 in Wicomico County District Court.
UPDATE: A preliminary hearing for Sen. Pettyjohn has been scheduled for July 25 in Salisbury's Wicomico County District Court.
Delaware State Sen. Brian Pettyjohn (R-Georgetown) has been charged by the Wicomico County, Maryland Sheriff’s Office with attempting to bring a firearm on a commercial aircraft.
"It's just one of those things where I didn't check that one little flap, and there it was," Pettyjohn told The News Journal. "Sometimes mistakes happen, whether you're a legislator or not."
The 43-year-old senator was attempting to fly out of the Salisbury Regional Airport in Salisbury, Maryland to a conference in Louisiana on Thursday, June 22. Around 8:10 a.m., a Transportation Security Administration officer found a loaded handgun in Pettyjohn’s carry-on bag. He was detained and the handgun seized, but eventually able to continue on to Louisiana.
Though TSA press releases from other Maryland counties indicate individuals found to attempt to bring a firearm on a commercial aircraft are usually arrested, Wicomico County Sheriff Mike Lewis tells Sussex Living:
"In the absence of a criminal record, individuals arrested for handgun offenses such as the one involving Senator PettyJohn (sic) are normally released on their own recognizance.... We’ve had at least two previously documented cases here in Wicomico County. In each case, I’m told the Wicomico County Sheriff’s Office handled them exactly like we did in the current case involving Senator PettyJohn (sic). [He] was detained long enough to interview him about the crime, conduct the appropriate background investigation to make certain he was not prohibited from possessing a firearm, that there were no open protective/peace orders against him, and to confirm his itinerary."
Lewis went on: "He normally carries his weapon for self-protection, has a permit in Delaware to carry this weapon for self-protection, and was negligent in not removing the weapon from his carryon (sic) bag."
The WCSO deputy assigned to the case presented an application for charges to the District Court Commissioner, who issued a criminal summons. As of 3 p.m. Monday, June 26, Pettyjohn had not yet been issued that summons, according to both WCSO Lt. Tim Robinson and Pettyjohn’s attorney, Bruce Rogers. Pettyjohn is due back in Delaware today, Monday, June 26.
Maryland does not honor Delaware concealed carry licenses; Louisiana does. Robinson said Pettyjohn was not charged with carrying a concealed deadly weapon because it is a lesser crime than attempting to bring a firearm on a commercial aircraft, which is a felony and punishable by up to ten years in prison.
TSA Press Secretary Lisa Farbstein said that individuals that bring firearms to an airport security checkpoint are subject to civil penalties from TSA of up to $12,000. Typically, she said, a first offense for bringing a firearm to a checkpoint incurs a $3,000 fine.
According to Farbstein, airline passengers can travel with a firearm, but only in a checked bag, never a carry-on, and only after following proper procedure.
Pettyjohn first became a state senator in 2012. He ran unopposed in 2016, and his term lasts through 2020.
Delaware Department of Elections Commissioner Elaine Manlove could not think of an instance in Delaware history in which a legislator was convicted of a felony, but pointed to the Delaware Constitution, Article II, Section 21, which states: "[n]o person who shall be convicted of embezzlement of the public money, bribery, perjury or other infamous crime, shall be eligible to a seat in either House of the General Assembly, or capable of holding any office of trust, honor or profit under this State."
The definition of "infamous crime" is up for debate, and it's not clear if that provision applies to a legislator in office and/or a legislator attempting to run for reelection.