A Win for Gun Rights in Pennsylvania

Earlier this week, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court delivered a message that the United States Supreme Court desperately needs to hear: The lawful exercise of your Second Amendment rights does not make you a second-class citizen.

Here’s the context. For the last two years, federal courts — including, sadly, the Supreme Court — have endorsed a legal regime where police can use even the lawful exercise of gun rights as a pretext for the violation of other constitutional rights, principally our Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure.

For example, in 2017, the Eleventh Circuit held that a police officer enjoyed immunity from suit when he pounded on the door of the wrong apartment late at night, failed to announce himself, and then shot dead a young man when he lawfully answered the door, armed. The existence of the gun granted the officer the right to shoot with absolute legal impunity.

Two months later, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of police officers who, without a warrant, entered the modest dwelling (a one-room shack) of a man named Angel Mendez and opened fire when he pointed a BB gun at them. Mendez lost his leg. His girlfriend was also injured. SCOTUS then used this case as an occasion to reverse a Ninth Circuit use-of-force rule that would impose liability when police “provoke” a violent confrontation through an “independent Fourth Amendment violation.”

But perhaps the best expression of gun owners as second-class citizens under the Bill of Rights came from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. The court ruled that police could frisk a person if they believed that the person carried a firearm, even if he possessed a concealed-carry permit. According to the court, “the danger justifying a protective frisk arises from the combination of a forced police encounter and the presence of a weapon, not from any illegality of the weapon’s possession” (emphasis added).

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