By Dean Weingarten
The police Chief of Portland, Maine, Michael Sauschuck, isn’t a fan of the “bear arms” part of the Second Amendment, and he and other Portland officials are quite willing to work to chill its exercise. There have been recent cases where constables have stopped people who are legally openly carrying guns in the Portland area. One from 2012 has become popular on YouTube, in which a well-read open carrier civilly schooled the police officer on the limitations of detainment under the Constitution and case law. In December of 2012, an activist was legally carrying an AR-15 type rifle, and was stopped twice. He was a law student and recorded the incidents and was not arrested . . .
The police know good and well that open carry is legal and not against the law. It appeared that the case of Carlos Reed would go pretty much the same way. It didn’t. An Iraq war veteran and college law enforcement student, Reed was stopped on September 27 at gun point for doing nothing but exercising his Second Amendment rights, though he did it at night, so as not to attract undue attention. People in other states have won settlements for this type of overreaction by police. It didn’t happen that way for Reed, though.
The police confiscated Reed’s rifle and pistol while they tried to figure something to charge him with. When Reed later told an instructor that he would continue the walks as a way to exercise his Second Amendment rights and to prepare for a military training mission, the police and prosecutors decided to charge him with “threatening display of a weapon”, though Mr. Reed had never threatened or pointed his rifle at anyone. The appearance of a desire to “chill” the exercise of constitutional rights is clear.
The police obtained a warrant, arrested Mr. Reed and then tried to get him committed to a mental institution. While they held him for evaluation, he lost his job, lost his college credits for the semester and was finally released on his own recognizance with a court order not to possess guns or ammunition in the intervening period. Mr. Reed’s car was impounded as part of the arrest and he had to pay $700 to have it released.
The police then issued a press release that described Reed as a danger to the community and characterized his desire to exercise his Second Amendment rights this way:
“He said he’s going to arm himself again and force confrontations with the police,” Chief Michael Sauschuck said at a news conference Friday. “If somebody is saying he has piles of firearms and is going to have conflicts with police, that’s a concern for us and the community.”
The article in the Portland Press Herald seems to imply that Reed’s statement that he was preparing for a “military training mission” was somehow frightening or irrational, yet they state in the article that Mr. Reed entered the reserves after leaving active duty. With eight years of active duty, entering the reserves would appear to be a very rational act.
The police say that they found a “hypodermic apparatus” in Reed’s car and a substance that they suspect of being steroids. They have charged him with possession of a hypodermic apparatus and illegal drugs as well.
I do not have any personal knowledge of Carlos Reed, but when a police chief states that he doesn’t approve of the law on open carry in Maine, then goes to considerable lengths to find a way to charge someone who open carries, I tend to wonder about the chief’s motives.
The police have already gone out of their way to punish Carlos Reed without ever having to go to court. They have cost him his job, a semester of college and $700 in cash. They could easily have arrested him by calling him and asking him to come down to the station. He was found to be competent and not a threat to himself or others in the mental evaluation. While the evaluation may have been an exercise to “protect the police”, it reminds one of how the Soviets used mental institutions to punish those who were political dissidents.
The hypodermic and unknown substance are troubling, but they are also the sort of things an overzealous officer might produce in order to please his chief or to put those pesky “civilians” in their place. It’s even possible they belong to Reed and are completely innocent. Both my father and a good friend have or had hypodermics for their diabetes. The unknown substance has not been tested.
A later editorial in the Portland Press Herald changes the tone a bit, merely praising the police for chilling the Second Amendment while saying that Carlos “displayed poor judgement”.
I have long believed that openly carrying weapons is an exercise of both First and Second Amendment rights. Those who oppose open carry are not acting out of a concern for public safety because criminals and terrorists almost never carry weapons openly. Virtually all of the time, people who carry openly are doing it – in part or completely – as a political statement. It educates those who refuse to believe that the Second Amendment actually has teeth.
If Carlos Reed had slipped a loose cover over his rifle, he would not have been bothered, but it would not have changed his abilities in any significant way. Rifles are almost never used in the commission of crimes and openly carried rifles are an even tinier subset of those. If the police can chill the open carry of rifles, then they can do it for pistols, too. And if openly carried pistols are a threat, then concealed pistols will be deemed more of a threat.
Open carry is a form of speech that the Portland police chief does not like. It shows that there are constitutional limits that he must respect. We may agree or disagree that the speech is effective or not, but we should also agree that it must be protected.
©2013 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included. Link to Gun Watch