ATLANTA (AP) — Rock guitarist Rick Derringer told a federal air marshal that he keeps his gun with him on commercial airline flights 30 to 50 times a year, and was only detained last month at Atlanta's airport near the end of a trip to Mexico, authorities said.
Found with a loaded gun in his carry-on bag after stepping off a Delta Air Lines flight from Cancun, Mexico, he now faces a criminal charge in Atlanta, court records show.
Derringer, 69, told the air marshal that having his gun with him has never posed a problem until this year, when it was found at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, a court affidavit states.
"Derringer explained that he was aware that his pistol was in his carry-on bag but he thought that it was acceptable to carry a pistol on an airplane," according to the complaint filed this week in U.S. District Court in Atlanta.
Derringer, whose music topped the charts in the 1960s and has been used in pro wrestling and presidential politics more recently, was charged with unlawfully entering the Atlanta airport's secure area Jan. 9.
Air passengers are allowed to bring guns as checked baggage only. The unloaded firearms must be in locked, hard-sided containers that are declared to the airline when checked, according to the TSA. Ammunition also is prohibited in carry-on bags.
The Kel-Tec pistol with six rounds of ammunition was found during a search of Derringer's bag after his flight landed in Atlanta, authorities said. Since he arrived on an international flight, he was being re-checked by security to continue on to Sarasota, Florida, when the weapon was found, court records indicate.
A separate gun clip with bullets in Derringer's bag — not the pistol itself — aroused suspicions as it passed through an X-ray machine, court records show. The pistol loaded with six rounds and the separate gun clip with six more rounds were found in a physical search of the bag, court records show.
Derringer meant no harm and will work with the government to clear his name, his manager Kenn Moutenot said in a statement.
He thought he was permitted to have the gun because he has a license to carry one, Moutenot said in the statement given to The Associated Press and WSB-TV in Atlanta.
Derringer has a Florida pistol permit valid through 2020, court records indicate. But numerous signs in the Atlanta airport warn passengers that they aren't allowed to carry guns on airplanes.
On Jan. 5, Derringer was processed through the Sarasota airport by its screeners and then flew to Atlanta and on to Cancun, records indicate.
"The person who missed this in the screening was terminated," said Rick Piccolo, president and CEO of Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport. "This is one where it got through, and the person did not do what they're supposed to do or trained to do."
The Sarasota airport uses private screeners who are overseen by the Transportation Security Administration, Piccolo said. They must comply with all TSA security screening procedures, the agency says.
"Unfortunately, in this business, you have to be right 100 percent of the time," Piccolo said.
But many banned items have gone undetected by screeners at several airports, government audits show.
In 2015, some U.S. Congress members said fake weapons, explosives and other contraband went unnoticed in 67 out of 70 tries — about 96 percent of the time — at TSA airport checkpoints.
Derringer told the air marshal during questioning in Atlanta that he had also passed through security in Cancun and was able to board the Delta flight.
Passenger carry-on bags are checked at the Mexican airport, and guns are not allowed, said Adolfo Castro, the director of Grupo Aeropuertos del Sureste, which runs the Cancun airport.
Castro said he didn't know how Derringer could have boarded a flight with a weapon, adding "this will have to be investigated."
"I am very surprised that he would say he flies 30 times per year with a gun," Castro said.
TSA spokesman Mark Howell said the agency investigates such statements when possible.
"While we take these claims very seriously and review them closely when possible, there is no way to substantiate the passenger's claims after a prolonged period of time," he said in a statement.
Derringer sang the 1965 hit "Hang on Sloopy" with the McCoys and later recorded "Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo."
He also wrote "Real American," the patriotic anthem Hulk Hogan used when entering pro wrestling rings. Former president Barack Obama walked to the podium to "Real American" at the 2011 White House Correspondents' Association dinner, where he poked fun at now-President Donald Trump's presidential ambitions.
Associated Press Writer Mark Stevenson contributed from Mexico City.