The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania issued a new ruling, reversing the law and supporting the rights of gun carriers. In Commonwealth v. Hicks, the Court ruled that police do not have the right to stop or frisk someone simply because they have a firearm. This decision reverses the state’s previous interpretation of the law, which had allowed police to stop and molest people for merely exercising their rights keep and bear arms.
Mr. Hicks went to a gas station at 2:30 a.m. in Allentown, PA. The city had the station under video surveillance, and the person monitoring the video saw Mr. Hicks’ lawfully carried gun on his hip when he exited his car to enter the store. The camera operator called the police to report the activity, and they arrived and surrounded Mr. Hicks and subsequently arrested him on several charges unrelated to the firearm. Hicks said the entire stop should be declared unlawful and the evidence against him thrown out, arguing it violated his rights under the U.S. and Pennsylvania constitutions to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.
Firearm carriers in Pennsylvania have long suffered at the hands of the police. Philadelphia, for instance, allowed its gun permit unit to run roughshod over the rights of the people, and was forced to pay nearly $1.5 million to settle a class action suit filed on behalf of license applicants. The city voluntarily agreed, as part of that settlement, to obey state law in the processing of applications – something they had previously been unwilling to do. How did they get away with that? Well, if the cops steal your gun license, what are you going to do about it?
Most people do not have the thousands of dollars necessary to make the police honor their rights with a court case, so they simply suffer the violation. In the Philadelphia case, due to the thousands of plaintiffs, a class action was certified, making the amount recoverable workable for a contingency fee arrangement with an attorney.
One of the principal attorneys in that litigation is Joshua Prince, a Pennsylvania lawyer and head of the Firearms Industry Consulting Group. He spoke with Liberty Nation and said that if police violate a gun owners rights in Pennsylvania, those cases generally do not afford enough money damages to allow for him or other attorneys to work on a contingency fee basis. That means clients have to lay out thousands of dollars to try and make the police comply with the law.
Gun Carry Exception to Bill of Rights
If carrying a gun is not forbidden in Pennsylvania, how do the police justify stopping and searching Mr. Hicks in the first place? They claim that since only licensed people are allowed to carry a concealed firearm in the state, they are justified in stopping any person doing so to verify their bona fides. Astonishingly many courts have agreed with this very analysis.
The National Review’s David French lists a parade of bad federal court decisions on the matter – all limiting and trimming away at the rights of people who exercise their second amendment rights, and concludes correctly:
“In plain English, this means gun owners must choose: carry their weapon and lose the full protections of the rest of the Bill of Rights, or never pick it up and enjoy your other rights. For people who live in high-crime areas, people who are often poor and sometimes nonwhite, this presents a wholly unacceptable dilemma. The people who have the most urgent need for self-defense find themselves facing the greater risk of the loss of their liberties.”
The state argued that “police officers are not only entitled, but ‘duty bound’ to seize and investigate the licensing status of every individual who carries a concealed firearm in Pennsylvania…” Just pause to think for a moment if the state applied that to drivers’ licenses, and you can see the folly and farce of the argument. What right is it if exercising it means you give any police officer the permission to seize you at any time you exercise it? Well, of course, that is no right at all.
Robinson Reversed – Pennsylvania Gun Carriers Freed
In 1991, PA’s Superior Court held in Commonwealth v. Robinson that:
“possession of a concealed firearm by an individual in public is sufficient to create a reasonable suspicion that the individual may be dangerous, such that an officer can approach the individual and briefly detain him in order to investigate whether the person is properly licensed.”
Mercifully that is now reversed with the Court’s ruling here in Hicks. “We have little difficulty … rejecting this proposition, because we conclude that the Robinson rule contravenes the Terry doctrine and, indeed, the fundamental guarantees of the Fourth Amendment.”
Mr. Prince was astonished at how robust the decision was in defense of the rights of gun carriers. He said that since the Court used both the federal and state constitutions as bases for their ruling, the state cannot appeal, and this decision will stand in Pennsylvania regardless of what restrictions may be ruled allowable by federal courts. And what a decision it is – a full and adamant defense of those who carry guns to be left alone by the government, leaving a warning to those who would bargain away liberty for an increased perception of safety:
“Notwithstanding the dangers posed by the few, we must remain wary of the diminution of the core liberties that define our republic, even when the curtailment of individual liberty appears to serve an interest as paramount as public safety.”
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