A bench trial at which zero tolerance is not the rule. Tuesday, October 17, 2006 By Gabrielle Banks, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Carlotta Yvonne Kirksey was headed off to see relatives in California when a security screener at Pittsburgh International Airport spotted the silhouette of a pistol in the Moon grandmother's bag. The screener asked the neatly dressed 58-year-old if it were possible she had a gun in her carry-on luggage. Realizing her predicament, Ms. Kirksey blurted out: "Yes! It is real and it is loaded." She testified before Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Cheryl Allen yesterday that she had purchased and loaded the .38-caliber snub-nosed Derringer 30 years ago, then stashed it in a closet. Unbeknownst to her, she said, the palm-sized weapon must have dropped into the travel bag when she was packing to leave her house. She travels frequently and did not intend to create a stir, much less a national security threat, she said yesterday after her nonjury trial. She picked that particular bag for the Nov. 17 trip, she said, because it matched her outfit perfectly. Officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation interviewed the grandmother of seven, noted her immaculate record and decided against pursuing criminal charges. County police, however, charged Ms. Kirksey for having the gun that was confiscated with two bullets inside. Assistant District Attorney John Francis Dwyer argued yesterday that in "a post-9/11 world," the government must uniformly enforce "a zero tolerance policy." The prosecutor asked the judge to convict Ms. Kirksey on one misdemeanor count of carrying a firearm without a license. Defense attorney Joseph K. Williams III argued that the defendant did not pack the weapon intentionally. After the lawyers had finished, Ms. Kirksey held a fist before her tightly-closed eyes, awaiting the verdict that for almost a year has kept her life on hold and her close-knit family on edge. Though taking a loaded weapon through airport security or onto an aircraft is a serious offense, the judge said, she recognized that the retired Port Authority bus driver did not knowingly carry the gun. Ms. Kirksey broke down in tears when Judge Allen said "not guilty." She then embraced her husband, son and other family members who came to support her and testify if needed. Outside the courtroom, Ms. Kirksey said she regretted the mistake and was relieved at the outcome. "All I do is go to church. I'm not a criminal. I'm a Christian," she said.