Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Civilian Police v. Military Gun Owners?

Most police are upstanding officers who obey their oaths to the US and respective state constitutions. They work a hard and often dangerous job, especially in more urban areas. Like the military, the police deserve our thanks and respect for their service to the community. However, as in the military, there exist those few who do the profession a dishonor. They overstep their authority and make judgement calls that sometimes break constitutional protections afforded to their employers, the citizens of the United States. 

In Texas, many people on both sides of the Second Amendment debate have been following the case of US Army Master Sergeant (E8) C.J. Grisham. Grisham was helping his son earn a Boy Scouts badge by performing a 10 mile hike.

The route for the hike took place near farms owned by members of Grisham's family. In that area, thieves are known to steal farmers' fertilizer intending to use it to manufacture crystal meth, an illegal drug. So, C.J. elected to bring both a pistol he has a license to carry concealed and his AR-15 for protection.

By Texas law, it is perfectly legal to carry an AR-15 or other rifle in public as long as certain conditions are met. C.J. had the rifle slung on his back, on safe, with no rounds chambered. It would require 3-4 actions in order to fire the weapon. Police accosted C.J. in a manner many describe as an abuse of perceived authority. C.J. was arrested. The charges were eventually reduced to a non-gun related charge. The first trial ended in a hung jury. The second returned a guilty verdict. The maximum sentence this Soldier faces, for standing up for his constitutional rights he was exercising in accordance with state law, is $2,000 and 180 days in jail. It is a class B misdemeanor (lower than a 1st offense DUI). The sentence Grisham received was just the fine. No jail, no probation, no court supervision. The crime "interfering with a police officer".

C. J. was arrested again outside of the Texas Capitol in Austin. The police would not declare the charges publicly and did not inform C.J. of any infractions until after they took him into custody. The charge was "trespassing" for legally being in a public place, exercising his 1st Amendment rights to speech and assembly. However, when they cuffed him, they stated the charge was "openly carrying a firearm in a gun-free area". The catch is that C.J. was not carrying a firearm. He had a plastic toy in the holster.

This begs questions on if police in some areas of Texas are targeting US Military personnel who are legally exercising their constitutionally protected rights to own and carry firearms. These men and women took oaths to support and defend those very rights along with the rest of the US Constitution. While off duty, they are allowed to do so within the confines of the local laws, if off-post. C.J. was not on any military installation and was fully within the laws both times he was arrested. Finding no legal reason to charge him with any gun-related charge, the police and prosecutors sought other charges they felt may stick.

C.J's case is not isolated, either.

In San Antonio, Ramin Bertsson claims he faced a similar situation. Ramin claims he is an active duty Sergeant First Class (E7) stationed at Ft. Sam Houston. In a Facebook post that has since been deleted, Ramin claimed he was sitting on his front porch with his privately owned AR-15 semi-automatic .223 caliber rifle laying on his lap. A police officer approached by car. According to Bertsson's story, he stood up, opened his door, and placed the rifle inside when he realized the police were coming to his door.

Bertsson then claims that the police, and an "Officer Bradley", came onto his property without a warrant, searched his person, without a warrant, opened the door to his house, without consent or warrant, then arrested Bertsson for not presenting the office identification.

While the Uniform Code of Military Justice and Army Regulations state that a member of the uniformed services is required to present identification upon the request of any US Military personnel or any recognized civilian law enforcement authority. The identification cards are not to be "surrendered" or handed over to those authorities, for several reasons. But if asked to display or show them, a Soldier must do so.

That is a military charge, one that local law enforcement personnel are not at liberty to enforce.It usually comes with a verbal reprimand, commonly referred to as an "ass-chewing" or a "dress-down", sometimes emphasized by an official counseling statement which informs the Soldier to "if you do it again, you may be actually punished".

Bertsson's story could not be corroborated or verified. The postings may have been fictionalized accounts designed to garner support or sympathy. If true, however, his tale does ring warnings to all law abiding residents of San Antonio. His postings on "Open-Carry Texas" and "Come And Take It - San Antonio" related web-pages have since been removed. Bertsson follows both organizations on Facebook, but his affiliation with either group cannot be determined. Both groups openly advocate in favor of Texas Open-Carry legislation. Both groups also insist on adherence to current laws in effect.