According to several media reports, on March 3 California Assemblyman Jim Cooper (D-09) was traveling through a security checkpoint at Sacramento International Airport when the Transportation Security Administration found a loaded gun in his baggage. The Sacramento Bee reported that the firearm was detected by an X-ray screening machine in what was described by Cooper’s Capitol Office as a “male messenger bag which looks like a purse.”
The NRA-ILA F-rated lawmaker was not charged during the incident. In fact, the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office told the Sacramento Bee that law enforcement stored the discovered firearm for Cooper while he was on his trip and returned the gun to the lawmaker upon his arrival back in Sacramento.
Law-abiding gun owners who mistakenly bring firearms to airport security checkpoints don’t always enjoy such a seamless experience.
Cal.Penal Code § 171.5 provides,
(b) It is unlawful for any person to knowingly possess, within any sterile area of an airport or a passenger vessel terminal, any of the items listed in subdivision (c).
(c) The following items are unlawful to possess as provided in subdivision (b):
(1) Any firearm.
“Sterile area” is defined to include “a portion of an airport defined in the airport security program to which access generally is controlled through the screening of persons and property.”
A violation of Penal Code § 171.5 is “punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for a period not exceeding six months, or by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both that fine and imprisonment.”
Under federal law, those found with firearms at a TSA checkpoint are often subject to stiff fines. According TSA’s enforcement sanction guidance table, a person found with a loaded gun should be charged a civil fine of $3,000-$10,000 for a first offense.
Cooper is a retired law enforcement officer. California’s prohibition on firearms in the “sterile area” of airports exempts some retired law enforcement officers. Sgt. Rodney Grassmann of the Sacramento County Sheriff’s office confirmed to KCRA that Cooper met the qualifications for this exemption. However, Cooper’s status would not make it legal for the lawmaker to carry a firearm on a plane under federal law.
Despite quite obviously enjoying his own Right-to-Carry, Cooper is no defender of the Second Amendment. In 2016, Cooper authored so-called “ghost gun” legislation in the form of AB857. The bill criminalized the traditional right of Americans to make their own firearms for personal use without government interference.
NRA-ILA understands that otherwise law-abiding gun owners who mistakenly carry a firearm into an airport security checkpoint should be shown the same courtesy as Assemblyman Cooper. That’s why NRA-ILA has worked with state lawmakers to create safe harbor laws that protect gun owners who make this unfortunate mistake.
For example, like California, Texas law outlaws the possession of firearms inside the “secured area” of an airport. However, Texas Penal Code § 46.03(e-1) provides a defense to prosecution for those who,
(1) possessed, at the screening checkpoint for the secured area, a handgun that the actor was licensed to carry under Subchapter H, Chapter 411, Government Code; and
(2) exited the screening checkpoint for the secured area immediately upon completion of the required screening processes and notification that the actor possessed the handgun.
NRA-ILA stands ready to work with Cooper on such legislation should the lawmaker be willing to put aside anti-gun politics long enough to extend to all law-abiding Californians the compassion that he was so generously afforded.