The other day, a man walking into Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International Airport bought a cup of coffee and then strolled over to the passenger gate area.
Perfectly normal behavior — except this airport visitor was carrying an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle slung over his shoulder.
Needless to say, passengers embarking for flights were not happy to see someone with a weapon lingering nearby, despite the fact that he made no threatening moves toward them.
Quite naturally, they called the cops.
As it turns out, the armed man was a medical researcher at a Phoenix hospital, and he was carrying the weapon to “make a political statement.”
Peter Nathan Steinmetz told police, “I am a peaceful political activist and my purpose in walking around the airport with my AR-15 rifle was entirely political in nature. I am also an educated and responsible gun owner. ... As I was making this political statement, I was careful not to disturb or endanger anyone.
“At all times, I was extremely careful to ensure my firearm was never pointed at anyone. ... The safety was engaged at all times.”
Well, perhaps. But how were the passengers to know that? How were they supposed to know that he had no plans to shoot his way aboard one of the nearby airliners? Or to open fire in the terminal, as others have done recently?
Sorry, Steinmetz may have been within his legal rights to carry the rifle, but his actions fail the common sense test. After all, the First Amendment guarantees the right to free speech, but does not permit someone to yell “fire!” in a crowded theater.
Steinmetz’s little stunt could well have resulted in a panic, during which someone could have been hurt.
In this case, Steinmetz was booked on one count of disorderly conduct with a weapon before bonding out, and has not yet been charged. He’s also been suspended from his job. He says he has no plans to bring a gun to Sky Harbor again. “I believe I have now made the important point that peaceful and responsible people can safely be trusted to handle firearms — even AR-15s, even at the airport. There is never anything to fear from peaceful, responsible gun owners.”
That’s true. But Steinmetz’s actions were not in any way “responsible.”