When Jim Cooley recently dropped off his daughter for a flight to O’Hare International Airport, he took a picture of them together and posted it –and now it’s gone viral.
Cooley, 51, assumes it has to do with the AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle slung over his shoulder and loaded with a 100-round ammunition drum. Inside Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the world’s busiest.
It was legal, even though police officers showed up and took a report on Cooley and his weapon of choice.
“Because it was a long gun and carried in such a manner, there was a concern for the safety of patrons within the airport,” the police report stated.
But it also noted, “As by current Georgia law, it was not illegal to carry a weapon inside the airport.”
Cooley, a former member of the Illinois National Guard, said he brought the rifle into the airport to protect his wife and daughter. He said he kept the safety lock in place the whole time.
On a YouTube video posted by Cooley, an airport security officer tells him “calls are coming in left and right” about the gun. Travelers pass through the frame and stare at the rifle hanging across his chest. Airline ticket counters can be seen behind him.
“I carry a firearm for the safety of myself and my family. It shouldn’t matter the size of firearm that you are carrying,” Cooley said by phone Thursday. “I’m not scaring anybody. If people are getting scared, that is their own fault.”
Pressed on what he is protecting his family from, Cooley talked about the growing powers of the government. “I believe that police have too much power,” he said. “The police believe that they have power over us, when even our Georgia Constitution says they don’t.”
A Georgia law passed in 2014, the Safe Carry Protection Act, allows people to carry firearms into some sections of airports, bars and, under certain circumstances, schools. Cooley, who used to live in Chicago, praised the Georgia law and criticized his home state’s gun restrictions.
“I used to live in Illinois. The gun laws there are so ridiculous,” he said, adding that he never owned a gun in Illinois. “But here we are much more relaxed. A lot of people carry guns out here.”
Before moving to Georgia, Cooley served for 13 months in the Illinois National Guard, beginning in 1990, according to Lt. Col. Brad Leighton, a spokesman for the Guard.
This is not the first time Cooley’s actions have attracted attention. In April 2014, Cooley was arrested for allegedly carrying a loaded handgun near a school. According to the Gwinnett County police, Cooley was there to protest a school district’s plans to shut down an American Legion post in order to develop the land.
He was charged with criminal trespass but no weapons violations, according to police.
“People freak out if they see someone other than a police officer carrying a gun,” Cooley said. “But since (the Safe Carry Protection Act) was signed last year, unless the police have reasonable suspicion of probable cause that you are about to commit crime, they can’t approach you.”
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