Medical researcher arrested after taking gun to Phoenix airport calls it a political statement

A medical researcher at a renowned neurological hospital who was arrested last month after police say he pointed a loaded rifle toward a woman and her teenage daughter inside Phoenix's main airport said Monday that his firearm "was never pointed at anyone" and he was just trying to make a political statement.

Peter Nathan Steinmetz, 54, was carrying the AR-15 rifle July 25 inside Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport's busy Terminal 4 and bought a cup of coffee before stopping in front of some passenger gates, a court document says.

Steinmetz removed the rifle from his shoulder, causing the muzzle to face a mother and her 17-year-old daughter, authorities said. They told police they feared for their lives.

"I am a peaceful political activist and my purpose in walking around the airport with my AR-15 rifle was entirely political in nature," Steinmetz said at a news conference with his attorney. "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," Steinmetz said.

Phoenix police said guns aren't restricted in that area of the airport. But "it certainly was concerning to other passengers at the airport, not knowing why this individual was walking around with an assault rifle slung over his arm," Sgt. Steve Martos said.

Martos also said it wasn't the first time Steinmetz has brought a weapon to Sky Harbor. Officers questioned him Nov. 13 when he picked up his wife from the airport armed with an assault rifle. Steinmetz told police he was exercising his right to bear arms and he wasn't arrested in that incident, Martos said.

Steinmetz does research at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix. Dignity Health's St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center, site of Barrow Neurological Institute, issued a statement last week that said Steinmetz was placed on administrative leave "following his arrest at Sky Harbor Airport and after careful analysis and review." It's unclear what his status with the institute is now, and he didn't take questions at the news conference.

In the most recent case, Steinmetz was booked into jail on suspicion of one count of disorderly conduct with a weapon before bonding out. His attorney, Marc Victor, said his client has not yet been charged with a crime, and that Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said he's sent the case back for further investigation.

Steinmetz said Monday that 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," Steinmetz said. "There is never anything to fear from peaceful, responsible gun owners."