Police raids and the Second Amendment

  • 2 August 2017
  • NormanL
Police raids and the Second Amendment

When Second Amendment rights and law enforcement clash, tragedy can result. That's one of the themes of this David French essay in National Review, discussing the growing problem of how erroneous police raids can lead to the injury or death of innocent people exercising their 2A rights. As French writes:

Police officers in Southaven, Miss., were trying to serve an arrest warrant for aggravated assault on a man named Samuel Pearman, but instead they showed up at a trailer owned by an auto mechanic named Ismael Lopez. It was nighttime, and according to his wife, Lopez went to the door to investigate a noise. She stayed in bed.

What happened next was tragic. According to the police, Lopez opened his door and a pit bull charged out. One officer opened fire on the dog, the other officer fired on the man allegedly holding a gun in the doorway, pointing it at the men approaching his home. As the Washington Post reported on July 26, it was only after the smoke cleared that the officers made their “heart-dropping discovery: They were at the wrong home.”

Lopez died that night. Just like Andrew Scott died in his entrance hall, gun in hand, when the police pounded on the wrong door late one night, Scott opened it, saw shadowy figures outside, and started to retreat back into his house. Police opened fire, and he died in seconds.

Angel Mendez was more fortunate. He “only” lost his leg when the police barged into his home without a warrant and without announcing themselves. They saw his BB gun and opened fire, inflicting grievous wounds.

Tragic mistakes? Unquestionably yes. But what usually follows makes an already very bad situation even worse:

If past precedent holds, it’s likely that the officers who killed Ismael Lopez will be treated exactly like the officers in the Scott and Mendez cases. They won’t be prosecuted for crimes, and they’ll probably even be immune from civil suit, with the court following precedents holding that the officers didn’t violate Lopez’s “clearly established” constitutional rights when they approached the wrong house. After all, officers have their own rights of self-defense. What, exactly, are they supposed to do when a gun is pointed at their face?

In other words, the law typically allows officers to shoot innocent homeowners who are lawfully exercising their Second Amendment rights and then provides these same innocent victims with no compensation for the deaths and injuries that result. This is unacceptable, it’s unjust, and it undermines the Second Amendment.

French argues that it is time for the laws governing police conduct in these faulty raids be brought in line with the individual right to keep and bear arms:

It’s time for legal doctrine to reflect that when the state intrudes in the wrong home — or lawlessly or recklessly even into the right home — that it absolutely bears the costs of its own mistakes. It’s time for law enforcement practice to reflect the reality that tens of millions of law-abiding men and women exercise their fundamental, constitutional rights to protect themselves and their families.

That includes strict limits on the use of "no knock raids," increased prosecutorial oversight of mistaken evidence that leads police to raid the wrong house, and an end to qualified immunity from prosecution of officers who kill or maim innocent homeowners, even if those homeowners use firearms to respond to intrusions into their homes.

These ideas are very likely to be controversial inside law enforcement circles, and in Congress. We also suspect opinion will be divided among Second Amendment supporters. But this is also an issue that deserves debate...because lives, of both law enforcement officers and law abiding armed citizens, are at stake.