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By David Schwartz
PHOENIX, Aug 4 (Reuters) - An Arizona medical researcher arrested after taking a loaded assault rifle into the Phoenix airport said on Monday he was making a political statement and did not intend to harm anyone.
Authorities said Peter Nathan Steinmetz pointed the weapon at a terrified woman and her daughter on July 25, after striding around Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport with the weapon slung over his shoulder.
On Monday, Steinmetz spoke publicly about the incident for the first time.
“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,” Steinmetz said in a statement read to reporters.
He maintained that he was not pointing the gun at anyone at the airport and is “an educated and responsible gun owner” who had the safety on at the time.
Steinmetz, who was arrested but not charged over the incident, said he was asserting his Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms and not endangering anyone.
He told a news conference he believed the airport was a good place to make such a statement, lashing out at the Transportation Security Administration as an agency that “disarms people and subjects them to gross invasions of their privacy”.
But authorities said the 54-year-old researcher crossed the line when he carried the loaded weapon into the airport’s busiest terminal and pointed it in the direction of the mother and her 17-year-old daughter.
Police detained Steinmetz, who works at Phoenix’s Barrow Neurological Institute. He told them he was getting coffee and had no other reason to be at the airport.
Steinmetz was booked into jail on suspicion of two felony counts of disorderly conduct with a weapon over the incident. A spokesman for the county attorney said on Monday the case was returned to police for further investigation.
The arrest was not Steinmetz’s first weapons-related brush with police, said Sergeant Steve Martos, a Phoenix police spokesman.
Last November, Steinmetz was questioned while going to the airport armed to pick up his wife, Martos said. Steinmetz’s minor son was also armed, though neither was cited at the time, Martos said.
Hospital officials placed Steinmetz on administrative leave following the incident. (Editing by Sharon Bernstein and Clarence Fernandez)