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A brain scientist who was arrested last month after pointing one or more guns, including a fully loaded AR-15 semiautomatic assault-style rifle, toward a mother and daughter in the Phoenix, Arizona, international airport, said his intent was to make a political statement. The director of the Brain Modeling Laboratory at the Barrow Neurological Institute (BNI), Peter Steinmetz, is named in a court document which says the two women were scared for their lives.
The neurologist, who received his M.D. and Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University Medical School, openly carried his gun or guns into Sky Harbor International Airport’s (PHX) Terminal 4 on July 25. He insisted that he never pointed the weapon at anyone and characterized himself as “a peaceful political activist.” He said his purpose in strolling around the United States’ 10th busiest airport with a military-style semiautomatic weapon “was entirely political in nature.”
On November 1 of last year, a man with a semiautomatic gun, five 30-round magazines and hundreds of additional rounds shot Terminal Security Administration (TSA) officer Gerardo Hernandez at point-blank range at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Hernandez died quickly, perhaps before 23-year-old Paul Ciancia released the last of the 12 rounds he would eventually pump into Hernandez’ body. Ciancia then reigned terror throughout the airport, resulting in seven additional victims, all of whom lived. The gunman was eventually shot four times by police and survived. Not unlike Steinmetz, Hernandez is anti-TSA. He carried a note on his body saying that he “wanted to kill TSA” agents and described them as “pigs.”
On his Google Plus website the same day as Ciancia’s rampage, Peter Steinmetz published his thoughts around the LAX shooter’s motive. “Why was this guy [Ciancia] so angry?” he asked. He complained that the TSA routinely strip-searches “everyone” [an apparent reference to the organization’s body scanners] and that such efforts achieve “absolutely nothing…. Time to get rid of … TSA!” he wrote.
Displaying guns on one’s person is legal in Arizona, including in the unrestricted areas of airports. Steinmetz, 54, was arrested not on gun-related charges but for suspicion of two counts of disorderly conduct. Sergeant Steve Martos of the Phoenix Police Department said people in the airport were concerned because no one understood why a man was walking around the terminal with an assault rifle.
Brain doctor Steinmetz is currently on administrative leave from the BNI and his personal page on that organization’s website is no longer visible. BNI has provided no indication as to when Steinmetz would be invited back to work, if at all.
Steinmetz told reporters that his intent was to illustrate a line between where one is free and where the federal government subjugates personal rights inside airports. “On one side of a line,” he said “… we are relatively free and can safely keep and bear arms.” Elsewhere in airports, he said, the TSA “completely disarms people and subjects them to gross invasions of privacy simply because those people want to travel somewhere.”
Steinmetz was accompanied at the airport by his teenage son. Some sources indicate they had more than one gun with them, although this is not clear. Prior to the complaint by the two women, police approached the duo and inquired about what they were planning to do with their gun (or guns) that were on such blatant display. Not specifically answering, the senior Steinmetz said they were at the airport to pick up his wife and also to protest the TSA. Police left them alone at that point, frightening though it may have been to others in the terminal.
By Gregory Baskin