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Concerned that Assemblyman Tim Donnelly was cited and released after carrying a loaded firearm into an airport, a Southern California assemblywoman is proposing a new state law to require that such offenders be arrested and taken into custody.

Assemblywoman Norma Torres contends that bringing a loaded gun into a passenger airport is a serious violation and that the state should treat offenders consistently - with a jail booking, not a ticket.

"People should be on notice that we have zero tolerance for loaded guns at an airport," said Torres, a Pomona Democrat whose district includes the airport where Donnelly was cited.

Torres' Assembly Bill 2182 would require formal arrest for illegally carrying a concealed firearm into an airport. Upon conviction, offenders would be permanently banned from the airport where the crime occurred.

Donnelly has said he placed his firearm - a loaded Colt Mark IV - into a carry-on bag by mistake days prior, then mistakenly took it to Ontario International Airport on Jan. 4. He realized his error only after the gun was detected by screeners, he said.

The Twin Peaks Republican's gun was confiscated at the time, but he was released that morning and flew to Sacramento in time for a noon floor session.

Donnelly formally was charged Friday with two misdemeanors - illegal possession of a loaded firearm and possession of a prohibited item in a sterile area. He is scheduled to appear March 15 in a San Bernardino County court.

California law currently gives peace officers discretion in deciding whether to cite such offenders or to book them into local jails, many of which are crowded in a time of fiscal belt-tightening by state and local government.

Nonetheless, Torres said that citing and releasing Donnelly could create a public perception of special treatment for lawmakers.

"We're just like anybody else, and I don't think we should be treated any differently," Torres said.

"Our airports are a place where we want to feel secure, and frankly, I think the situation with (Donnelly) was not handled as well as it should have been," she said.

Sacramento County Sheriff's Capt. Doug Lee told The Bee last week that law-abiding citizens who accidentally carry a loaded firearm into Sacramento International Airport typically are cited for misdemeanor crime.

They usually are not charged with a felony or booked into jail unless there are extenuating circumstances such as a prior criminal record, membership in a gang, or the weapon is not registered, according to Lee.

Donnelly said that Torres' introduction of AB 2182 amounts to spending tax dollars to play "petty politics" and "confirm the low opinion Californians already have of politicians who abuse the power of their office for their own interests."

"Beyond that, the bill removes discretion from law enforcement who are trained to assess threats and respond appropriately," he said. "Rather than respecting the separation of powers and the discretion of law enforcement officers, Assemblywoman Torres is inappropriately inserting herself."

* Updated at 4:18 p.m. to add Assemblyman Tim Donnelly's comments.


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