Mark Meckler, the founder of a major tea party organization, was arrested Thursday at LaGuardia Airport for gun possession, law enforcement officials said.
The Queens District Attorney said Meckler was carrying a pistol and had a California permit, but not one for New York, authorities said.
Meckler allegedly told authorities he carries the pistol "because he gets threats."
The gun was found during a routine pre-flight check-in, the DA said. While checking in with a Delta Airlines agent, he presented a box carrying a Glock 27 piston and 19 9 mm cartridges.
Meckler is being charged with second-degree criminal possession of a weapon, a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
But travelers who are arrested in such cases and appear to be trying to comply with the law typically pay fines.
He was released after his arraignment Thursday and has a court date on Jan. 12. The DA did not have information about his attorney, and a request for comment through Meckler's website was not immediately returned.