Colorado is an open carry state. Steven Lohner is 18, and cannot legally obtain a concealed carry permit and buy a handgun. His only option at this point is to buy a shotgun and carry it out in the open.
He was walking down a busy street in Aurora when he was predictably confronted by the police after they had received a 911 call from a scared citizen. The argument that ensued between the officers and Lohner was all too familiar.
They want to know why he’s open-carrying a shotgun. He responds that it’s for his protection and for the protection of others.
They ask how old he is, and he responds that he’s 18.
They ask for his full name, and he only gives them his first name and date of birth.
They ask for his ID, and he refuses to hand it over.
He asks them what crime he’s committed to warrant being forced to show them his ID. They tell him that for all they know, he might be a felon or be in possession of a stolen weapon.
He asks them what reason they have to suspect that he might be a felon or be in possession of a stolen weapon. Then they pull the obstruction card. They tell him that if he continues in his noncompliance, they’ll cite him for obstructing their investigation of him.
It’s familiar enough that when you’re watching the video of the encounter, you can mouth the words as they’re being spoken.
The kid could have been a bit more respectful. There’s no reason to make a couple already edgy cops with their own axes to grind even more agitated.
However, I have to say that the burden of proof is on them. The kid has a point. If he’s not doing anything illegal, they have no right to detain and interrogate him. The whole bit about “well, you might be a felon” isn’t good enough. Lots of people “might be felons.” But police aren’t stopping and questioning people at random just to make sure those people aren’t felons. (Unless you’re in New York City.) They have to have probable cause and all that.
They ended up arresting the kid for obstructing their “investigation” of him. What investigation? Again, they didn’t have any basis for an investigation in the first place. He had to have been doing something illegal for them to stop him and investigate him. Then, any noncompliance on his part would be obstruction.
And the fact that they got a 911 call from a scared citizen doesn’t mean that they must do something about it. They could have checked out the guy from a distance, or even talked to him like they did, except with the presumption of innocence. If they saw that he was just some dude walking around with his shotgun and not causing any trouble, not doing anything that would make them reasonably suspicious that he was engaging in criminal activity, then they should have left it at that. The burden of proof is on them.
I’m all for open carrying. I just think there are better and more effective ways to go about it. For one thing, do open carry demonstrations in groups. I know this kid wasn’t “demonstrating,” but maybe he should hook up with other like-minded folks and do demonstrations.
Also, I actually think that trying to be on good terms with your local police department would go a long way towards normalizing open carry, which was one of this kid’s stated goals. Coordinating open carry demonstrations with the police would (almost) ensure that no one would get harassed or arrested.
And I totally get not wanting to provide ID, since there was no crime committed. I get that that is a violation of the 4th Amendment. But that’s why befriending officers (especially like-minded ones like this guy and this guy) is a good idea. Get to know them, and let them get to know you so that there’s no confrontation.
People would see larger and larger open carry demonstrations and with police presence, which would prevent anyone from calling 911. If they’re done enough, people would stop thinking twice about seeing some guy walking down the street with a shotgun over his shoulder.