California lawmaker stopped at airport security after loaded gun found in bag

Rich Pedroncelli/AP Photo

Officials with the Transportation Security Administration last week found a loaded pistol in California Assemblymember Jim Cooper’s luggage and contacted the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office, which confiscated the weapon and held it until Cooper returned from his trip, the sheriff's office confirmed.

Cooper's office told POLITICO that the state lawmaker, a retired law enforcement officer running for Sacramento sheriff, had accidentally brought a bag containing a loaded firearm to airport security.

Cooper declined to comment on the incident in a brief interview outside the Assembly chambers. But the Elk Grove Democrat stressed that, as a retired law enforcement officer, he was fully within his rights to carry a firearm.

Context: California’s penal code states that it is unlawful for a person to “knowingly possess” a firearm or other weapons within secure areas of airports. It makes an allowance for “a retired peace officer with authorization to carry concealed weapons” — a description that appears to apply to Cooper, a former sheriff’s deputy. But the law still bars retired peace officers from bringing guns onto planes.

Sgt. Rodney Grassmann, a spokesperson for the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office, said a person typically arrives at the airport’s TSA checkpoint with a prohibited weapon “once every three to four weeks.” People who are not active military or peace officers are subject to misdemeanor citations, Grassmann said, but the law for retired law enforcement is a “murkier area.”

Impact: The legality aside, Cooper’s mistake could create a political vulnerability as he seeks to become Sacramento County’s top cop. He is one of law enforcement’s strongest allies among Democrats in the Legislature, but the incident could raise questions about his judgment given the longstanding prohibition against bringing weapons on airplanes and ongoing concerns about the proper securing and storage of firearms by law enforcement officers.