A United States citizen could face up to 20 years in jail after trying to board a flight in Japan with a loaded handgun in his luggage.
Michael Edward Applegate, 43, flew from Seattle and arrived with his family at Narita International Airport on Monday, according to the airport police. He was planning to transfer to a domestic flight to Okinawa where he was due to start a new job as a firefighter for the United States Navy.
But when he arrived in Narita – around 70 kilometers (43 miles) from Tokyo – airport authorities found he had a Smith & Wesson automatic handgun loaded with 14 bullets, and a magazine loaded with another 14 bullets in his checked luggage.
Applegate confirmed to airport police that the gun was his own, but he said he didn’t know why it was there – and said he had likely packed it as he hurried to prepare for his move, according to the police.
The 43-year-old is in custody at the Narita International Airport police station, although he hasn’t yet been charged with violating Japan’s swords and firearms control law, which imposes an almost blanket ban on citizens owning firearms.
If he’s charged and found guilty, he faces a minimum of three years and a maximum of 20 years in jail.
Under Japanese law, guns and bullets must be stored separately. As Applegate’s firearm was loaded, his actions would be considered especially serious.
In a statement to CNN, a United States Transportation Security Administration (TSA) spokeswoman said passengers are required to declare if they are traveling with a firearm. Applegate failed to declare the gun when he checked in and TSA’s screening equipment – which is designed to detect explosives – did not detect the firearm in his baggage.
“TSA will continue to cooperate in any further review of this matter,” the spokeswoman said.
It’s not the first time a US citizen has been caught with a firearm in Japan. In January, a woman arrived in Narita International Airport with a firearm in her carry-on luggage after passing through a screening checkpoint in Atlanta.
At the time, Japan’s Transportation Ministry said there would be no penalties for Delta Air Lines or the TSA. But it did deem TSA responsible and asked the organization to take preventative measures.