Here's What Happened When a White Guy Marched Through an Airport With an Assault Rifle


Jim Cooley marched into the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta last week to pick up his daughter from a flight. Except this wasn't a normal pick-up with a sign and flowers. 

Cooley is an open-carry activist and was marching through the airport with an AR-15 assault rifle and a drum of ammunition. And what happened to Cooley? 


In a stunt that probably would have ended badly for anyone who wasn't a middle-aged white man, Cooley scared fellow citizens, and, when security stopped him to ask about the gun, he demanded to know what right security officials had to ask him about the weapon.

In videos he posted of the exchanges to YouTube, Cooley can be heard asking a fire marshal at the airport, "Don't you know the law?" and refusing to answer questions about the firearm politely. In another, he threatens a police officer with a lawsuit and at one point says "people's fear is not my responsibility."


The background: The best justification Cooley could offer for his behavior was that "something might happen" — you know, like an angry person bursting in with a large firearm. Local television station WXIA reports Cooley views the suspicion he received in the airport as "harassment."

While Cooley is unlikely to win any father of the year awards, he is right about his right to carry the gun in the airport. According to WXIA, the city of Atlanta decided to "quietly" change its enforcement policy after its attorneys concluded that SB 308, a 2010 state law loosening restrictions on firearms, protects a gun owner's right to carry firearms in the non-TSA-controlled areas of the facility.

Jim Cooley, Facebook via The Raw Story

"Now, I personally do not agree with it. I do not believe that any weapons of any kind should be on the airport campus unless they're in the hands of law enforcement officials. So that's where I stand. But the fact of the matter is, I have to comply with state law," Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed told WXIA in 2010.

But just because something is legal doesn't make it a good idea. By carrying the gun into the airport, Cooley knew he would attract the attention of security guards and law enforcement personnel. As such, he was implicitly challenging them to confront him while he was toting a semi-automatic rifle.

Why you should care: Cooley might be the radical fringe of the pro-gun movement, but gun lobbying groups like the National Rifle Association are essentially catering to people like Cooley when they demand guns be allowed everywhere from churches and bars to college campuses.

And as Salon's Joanna Rothkopf points out, regardless of what the law says about firearms, Cooley being white probably helped him out dramatically. Black people continue to get shot by police on a regular basis for simple suspicion of firearm possession, or even holding a toy gun while talking on their cellphones. 

Meanwhile, ever since 9/11, Muslim Americans have reported rising Islamophobia and stereotyping. Muslim chaplain Tahera Ahmad recently claimed a flight attendant wouldn't give her an unopened can of soda because it could be used as a "weapon."

It's hard to imagine that if Cooley were a black or brown man at the airport, his gun or his attitude would have been tolerated for so long. But instead of considering himself lucky that his stunt didn't result in a SWAT team deployment, Cooley acted like everyone else should quietly defer to his firearm. That's the definition of white privilege, right there.