NEW YORK (Reuters) - A tourist from Tennessee was arrested after she brought a loaded handgun to the National September 11 Memorial in her handbag, and she could face a possible prison term, authorities said on Thursday.

Meredith Graves, 39, was trying to visit the New York City memorial on December 22 but was arrested when she told security officers that she had a gun, apparently thinking she could check it for safekeeping, authorities said.

Security is tight at the memorial, located at the site of the World Trade Center towers destroyed in the attacks of September 11, 2001. Tickets for the memorial must be reserved online, and visitors pass through airport-style security screening.

More than a million people have visited the site since it opened to the public on September 12, a memorial spokesman said.

Graves told officers at the memorial that she had a permit to carry the concealed .32-caliber handgun in Tennessee, but such permits are not valid in New York, police said.

She was arraigned this week on a charge of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon, the Manhattan District Attorney's office said.

If convicted, Graves could face a sentence of 3-1/2 to 15 years in prison. She was released on $2,000 bail, the district attorney's office said, adding that she was being represented by attorneys with the Legal Aid Society, which did not respond to requests for comment on Thursday.

Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to approve a bill that would allow people to carry concealed weapons across state lines. Such a measure would, for example, make a Tennessee concealed weapons permit such as the one held by Graves valid in New York.

But the bill is seen as unlikely to pass in the U.S. Senate, and it has been strongly opposed by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, among others.

Graves' next court date is March 19 in Manhattan, when a grand jury may vote whether to indict her on the charge.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Cynthia Johnston)

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