U.S. District Judge: Open Carrying a Handgun is Reasonable Suspicion of a Crime
These kinds of cases always outrage me. There are countless videos on the internet of police encounters with people open carrying their weapon. Most of them don’t end well for the citizen, even though in the vast majority (if not all) of the encounters, the citizens themselves were never doing anything illegal. They were just carrying a gun in the open. That’s something police do all the time. But when a “civilian” does it, it constitutes probable cause for a crime.
That’s just how one U.S. District Judge ruled recently in a case originating in Sugar Hill, Georgia, not far from where I live and probably a mile or so from the recording studio where I work.
A security guard spotted a man walking around in a park with a handgun on his hip. Apparently, the man was wearing black boots, black socks and camouflage clothing. And also, there was a playground nearby. All this added up to just way too much “suspicious activity” for the guard to pass up. So, he called the county police and reported the “suspicious” man and asked for an officer to be called to the scene.
When police arrived, they tried questioning the man. Not having committed any crime, the man was not forthright about identifying himself or answering questions about why he was there and why he had a gun.
They arrested him for criminal trespass. They had apparently asked him to leave the park, and he didn’t comply. The police had the blessing of the magistrate judge who told them that they had sufficient probable cause for an arrest.
[Officer] Bell detained Plaintiff [the man in the park] because he had observed that Plaintiff was carrying a sidearm or firearm on his “left hip,” and was concerned for the safety of the people in the Park and for his own safety. Bell needed to identify Plaintiff to see whether Plaintiff was authorized to carry a firearm. Bell also wanted to find out why Plaintiff was at the Park
When the man was being patted down, they found an additional fully loaded gun magazine in one of his pockets in addition to the one round in the chamber of the gun that he had on his hip. They ran the serial number on his firearm to see if it was a stolen gun. It wasn’t.
The only identification that the plaintiff Christopher Proescher produced when he was under arrest was his Georgia weapons permit. But that wasn’t good enough, since it didn’t have Proescher’s photograph.
So, what they had on this guy was that he was carrying a gun out in the open at a park, near a playground (gasp!). The gun wasn’t stolen, as they found out from their warrantless and unreasonable search. And he was licensed to carry (even though the 2nd Amendment should be sufficient). Who cares that he was not wearing “clothing normally worn by walkers who exercise in the park,” as the court documents state? They had nothing on this guy to have justified their detention and interrogation of him in the first place. They had no place to even stop him.
He was arrested and jailed and all that, but thankfully, they didn’t prosecute him. The charges against him were dropped, and that was that.
But, Proescher decided to try the impossible: sue them for false arrest. It’s basically impossible, because these are police we’re talking about. Unless there’s bodily harm or property damage, the police are essentially immune from the laws they enforce on everyone else. And even when there is bodily harm or property damage, it’s your word against theirs, and we all know that most judges aren’t going to believe the word of a “civilian” over against that of the inerrant police report.
Now, if there is audio/video evidence proving your case and that the police lied to cover themselves, that’s a different story. Rarely will they go to jail for violent crimes, but they might get suspended or fired.
Not surprisingly, the judge ruled on the side of the cops. They didn’t do anything wrong in this case, according to U.S. District Judge William S. Duffey, Jr. They were just doing their jobs, and they had all the probable cause in the world to arrest the man. According to the ruling:
The totality of the circumstances here and the reasonable inferences from the
facts support the existence of a reasonable suspicion. Bell was advised by a police
dispatcher that a security guard had reported a suspicious person in the Park who was “carrying a gun out in the open” as he walked near a playground, who, when Bell arrived at the Park, did have a visible weapon, and who evaded Bell’s
questions and requests for identification bearing a photograph, provided more than a sufficient basis constitutionally to detain Plaintiff.
He never did anything illegal, but they still managed to use his Constitutionally-protected freedom to bear arms against him, as probable cause for believing Proescher had committed a crime. They even threw in a claim that because Proescher was evading their questions, his “mental stability” was called into question, which gave them more reason to be concerned for their safety. So, if you’re exercising your 2nd Amendment and 4th Amendment liberties, they’ll think you’re “mentally ill.” And we all know what the powers that be think about gun ownership and “mental illness.”
If open-carrying is probable cause for believing a crime has been committed or is about to be committed, then maybe these officers should be detained, questioned and given a strip search. If they refuse, that must mean they’re hiding something. Or perhaps they’re mentally ill. They can’t just walk around with guns on their hips and not expect people to be suspicious of them, right?
There are news stories everyday of police hurting, maiming or killing people who turn out to be innocent. Why should we feel safe around an armed cop, but not around an armed civilian or our own self-defense weapon? This whole war on guns thing has nothing to do with public safety, but rather turning non-government people into defenseless slaves.