ATLANTA — A man carrying a rifle inside the Atlanta airport wasn’t breaking any laws, but he did raise a few eyebrows, including those of some Atlanta police officers.
Jim Cooley says he carried his gun through the terminal when he and his wife went to drop his daughter off for her flight. He says he knew he wasn’t breaking any rules because he has a full understanding of Georgia’s gun laws.
“You can carry in unsecured areas of the airport. Past TSA, never,” Cooley said.
That’s exactly what he did. Cooley carried his AR-15 fully loaded with a 100-round drum through parts of the terminal.
He took photos and videos of himself in the airport. Cooley then sent those videos to Channel 2 Action News via Facebook.
Cooley says he was first approached by a fire marshal who asked him why he was carrying the gun in the airport. He was then approached by an APD officer, who asked him about the gun and whether he was permitted to carry the weapon.
“I told her I was carrying this for safety when she asked me why,” Cooley posted on Facebook.
Cooley says as he and his wife began to leave the airport the APD officer stopped him again and radioed to others that he was carrying an automatic weapon. Cooley says he was then followed to his car by a police lieutenant and two officers, who took pictures of their car.
“It shouldn’t matter what I carry, just that I choose to carry,” Cooley said. “You never know where something might happen.”
Channel 2's Mark Winne spoke with the FBI about Cooley's actions on Channel 2 Action News at 6 p.m.
The FBI told Winne that Cooley did not violate federal law.
FBI Special Agent in Charge Britt Johnson said he doesn’t want to get into a debate about state laws, but he wants passengers to be very clear that under federal law, ordinary people still cannot carry a gun into the TSA screening area or beyond.
“Entering the checkpoint with a weapon is a violation of federal law,” Johnson said.
Clayton County Solicitor General Tasha Mosley says a state law that took effect July 1, 2014, allows a permitted citizen with a handgun or a legal long gun to carry the gun in a commercial airport in many areas, but not to knowingly take it in or beyond security screening areas. It is also not allowed in certain other restricted areas.
Winne asked Cooley, “Don't you think people are saying, ‘Yeah, you can do it under the law, but should you do it?’”
Cooley says he knows people are wondering about that but he was just exercising his rights.
“If you don’t exercise your rights, the government doesn’t have any hesitation taking them away,” Cooley said.
Cooley says he doesn’t believe Atlanta police officers should have followed him out of the airport to his car.
An APD police report says, “At no time was Mr. Cooley deprived of his ability to leave property or freely move around the airport with the weapon. Officers followed to assure the safety of all patrons at the airport.”