FAIRBANKS — A local gun-rights advocate was arrested on a weapons charge on Wednesday night after Fairbanks police say he failed to notify an officer he was carrying a concealed pistol.
Schaeffer Cox was contacted by officers while monitoring the scene of a police search at an Eighth Avenue house at about 8 p.m. The 26-year-old carpenter and business owner is part of a “Liberty Bell” network that sends out mass notifications when someone believes their rights are being violated. The owner of the home had contacted him to complain that police were making an unauthorized search of her property.
While Cox was standing outside the home taking notes, police say he failed to tell them he was carrying a concealed .38-caliber pistol. He was arrested on a charge of fifth-degree weapons misconduct, a misdemeanor.
Sgt. Gary Yamamoto said Alaska statute requires that people immediately tell law enforcement officials about the presence of a concealed weapon after being contacted.
“We want everyone to be safe when we’re dealing with people,” he said.
It’s the second arrest this month for Cox, who was charged with felony assault on March 2, a week after Alaska State Troopers accused him of choking his wife during a trip to Anchorage. Cox, who didn’t have a previous criminal record, pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of misdemeanor reckless endangerment on March 5 and received a suspended sentence.
Cox is the leader of the local Second Amendment Task Force, which formed last year to support gun rights and organize several open-carry days, and is the founder of a grass-roots militia group. He became well-known two years ago after unsuccessfully challenging Rep. Mike Kelly in the House District 7 Republican primary.
Cox and Yamamoto, who contacted him at the scene, had different versions of the events leading up to Wednesday night’s arrest.
Cox said he questions the constitutionality of the notification requirement but that he complied with it. He said after Yamamoto contacted him and seized a small folding knife — its clip was visible in his pants pocket — he raised his arms and said that he was carrying a pistol. He said the notification occurred “within a matter of seconds” of contact between the two men.
“I don’t want to aggravate anything,” Cox said.
Yamamoto said he had already taken the knife from Cox and noted that Cox was wearing a bulletproof vest. When Cox headed toward the house that had two police officers inside, Yamamoto said he decided to check to see if Cox had a firearm.
Cox notified police he was carrying a weapon at the same time the concealed pistol was discovered during a search, Yamamoto said. The two men had talked earlier, he said, and the presence of the weapon never came up.
“There was more than one contact,” Yamamoto said. “He had more than one opportunity to tell me he had the gun.”
Yamamoto said arrests for failing to notify police about concealed weapons happen “fairly frequently,” although they usually take place during traffic stops, not encounters on the street.
Cox was the first person to arrive at the home after the owner complained that police were searching her home without permission. Cox said there are about 7,000 people in the area who are part of the Liberty Bell network, which was formed to monitor possible constitutional abuses by authorities.
Cox said that police interest in conducting a warrant-less search at the home diminished after a few people arrived to make sure the residence was being searched properly.
Police say they responded to the home after receiving a 911 hang-up call at 7 p.m. Yamamoto said a walk-through of a home is allowed under such circumstances to make sure that no one has been harmed.
Yamamoto said police saw an undetermined amount of marijuana growing in the home while making the safety check but that they aren’t allowed to seize it or make a drug arrest during a safety walk-through.
Yamamoto said a subsequent request for a search permit to look for drugs at the house was denied.
Cox wasn’t critical of police actions in the incident and said officers were probably acting out of an abundance of caution. He’s hopeful the issue will be resolved before formal charges are filed by prosecutors.
“They were trying to do the right thing, but I didn’t like getting arrested,” Cox said.
Cox is scheduled for a court arraignment on the weapons charge this morning.