California Lawmaker Found with Loaded Handgun in His Luggage at Sacramento Airport

March 9, 2022

Mar. 8—Authorities confiscated a loaded handgun found in luggage belonging to California Assemblyman Jim Cooper at a security checkpoint at the Sacramento International Airport, sheriff's officials said.

Cooper, D- Elk Grove, a retired law enforcement officer who is also running for Sacramento County Sheriff in 2022, was not cited after the loaded semiautomatic gun was found in a purse in one of his bags that he was in control of, said Sgt. Rodney Grassmann, a Sacramento County sheriff's spokesman.

Grassmann said it's not unusual for a citation not to be issued at the scene and sometimes a citation can be issued at a later date. He said the incident remained "under review" by the Sheriff's Office.

Typically, travelers could be charged with a misdemeanor for possessing a gun at the airport. Grassmann said sometimes there are exceptions granted for retired law enforcement officers to carry a concealed weapon.

Cooper is running against Sheriff's Capt. Jim Barnes to replace retiring Sheriff Scott Jones, who narrowly defeated Cooper in the 2010 sheriff's election. Cooper subsequently retired as a sheriff's captain and ran for the Assembly.

State law allows gun possession at an airport by a retired peace officer with authorization to carry concealed weapons, according to California penal code 171.5.

Cooper could not be reached for comment on Tuesday about the incident at the airport, said Skyler Wonnacott, a spokesman for Cooper's Capitol Office.

"There is nothing 'murky' about the law. That's why his firearm was returned to him by the Sheriff's department," Wonnacott told The Sacramento Bee. "The gun was in his male messenger bag which looks like a purse."

Grassmann said sheriff's officials confiscated the gun and placed it in a locked box at the airport before Cooper departed Thursday on his flight to Las Vegas. He said the handgun was given back to Cooper when he returned on Saturday to Sacramento. Grassmann said other law enforcement officers are offered that same courtesy.

Even if a traveler has a concealed weapons permit, guns are never allowed in carry-on luggage, said Lorie Dankers, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Transportation Security Administration.

Once TSA officers spot the image of a gun in carry-on luggage during X-ray screening at a security checkpoint, officers immediately stop all screening and notify airport law enforcement, which is the Sheriff's Office in Sacramento. Dankers told The Bee that deputies are required to respond directly to the security checkpoint, take control of the gun and remove the passenger and the weapon from the checkpoint.

Along with any criminal citations that law enforcement can issue, TSA can issue a civil fine of up to $10,000 for bringing a gun to a security checkpoint. Dankers said TSA evaluates each gun incident on a case-by-case basis, and whether the gun was loaded or there was accessible ammunition could be factors considered when determining the amount of a civil fine.

So far this year, TSA officers have found 5 guns at the Sacramento International Airport, according to TSA. Last year, they found 41 guns. In 2020, there were 21 guns discovered there; 31 in 2019 and 38 in 2018.

Nationwide, TSA officers have found more than 900 guns at airports so far this year. Last year, they found 5,972 guns. In 2020, when the total number of passengers screened by TSA nationally was 39% of previous year's total, 3,257 guns were discovered. Officers found 4,432 guns in 2019 and 4,239 in 2018.


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