Two gun rights activists were convicted yesterday as a result of an incident that took place in February at a police station in Michigan. James Baker and Brandon Vreeland walked in to the Dearborn Police Station to complain about an earlier traffic stop (a partial video of which was uploaded to YouTube — language NSFW).
Baker was wearing a black ski mask and body armor with a sidearm strapped to his hip and a rifle on a sling; Vreeland carried a camera to memorialize the event which can be seen below (with more NSFW language.)
Dearborn’s finest weren’t amused and drew their firearms to underscore the point. They disarmed and arrested the duo, who were subsequently charged with offenses that included brandishing a firearm, disturbing the peace, resisting arrest, and carrying a concealed weapon (CCW).
Neither, however, were charged with the act of carrying a rifle and handgun into a police station. Whatever the wisdom of that act, there’s no law in the Wolverine State that bars open carriage of a firearm by citizens into a police station…as Baker and Vreeland can be heard loudly asserting in the video above.
According to his attorney, Nicholas Somberg, Vreeland was convicted of the CCW offense, resisting arrest, and disturbing the peace. Baker was convicted only for the CCW offense.
If you think it’s odd that two open carry activists were convicted for carrying a concealed weapon, you’re not alone. Baker was openly carrying his firearms. As for Vreeland, he didn’t even have a gun with him. “All he did was walk in holding a camera!” says Somberg. So what gives?
The CCW conviction was based on video shot earlier in the day by Vreeland on his GoPro camera. As the two men were getting ready for the day’s activities, Baker can be seen unloading a handgun and putting it in the trunk of the vehicle, which Vreeland then closed.
Under Michigan law, persons without a Concealed Pistol License (CPL) can only transport firearms that are unloaded and locked in a container designed for firearms in an inaccessible area of the vehicle. Baker’s attorney James J. Makowski asserted that it isn’t clear in the video whether or not the firearm was placed in a container, but the jury apparently didn’t give him the benefit of the doubt.
“This conviction is based on the silliest of technicalities,” Makowski says. “The gun was in the trunk, completely inaccessible to the passenger compartment. Is that really deserving of a five year felony conviction?” Even in California, one of the most notoriously anti-gun states in the Union, he notes, the offense would be a minor misdemeanor.
There’s another wrinkle here. While Makowski notes that Vreeland “never bothered to get a CPL,” Baker arguably did have one at the time of the arrest. He had been issued a license by the state of Michigan in February 2015. It had been suspended that year due to misdemeanor charges stemming from another protest, but those charges were dismissed in August 2015.
At that time, Michigan law was unclear as to whether a CPL suspended due to pending charges would automatically be restored. Both Makowski and Somberg argue that it should have been, and that Baker was legal to have a handgun locked in the trunk when the incident took place earlier this year. Needless to say, an appeal is in the offing.
Both men are now facing several years in prison and, unless the felony CCW conviction is overturned, permanent loss of the right to own firearms under both Michigan and federal law. Regardless, neither is likely to continue their activism. “Fighting the power of the state has cost my client [Vreeland] so much, I don’t think he can afford to continue with it,” Makowski said.
There’s another twist. The CCW charge had been dismissed earlier in the year. The judge — who had been on the bench for 30 years — agreed that Baker’s CPL was still valid. Unfortunately, he retired and was replaced by another judge who agreed to reverse the dismissal based on an oral motion from Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy (who has been fond of anti-gun politics and prosecutions.)
No one marches into a police station with a rifle without reasonably expecting trouble to ensue, and these two got it in spades. Whether they achieved anything positive for the cause of gun rights is debatable at best; one doesn’t have to look at the comments section of those YouTube videos to know that this incident doesn’t put the gun rights in a positive light. Other Michigan open carry activists have disavowed them.
And yet… if an act is legal, why do we demand criminal prosecutions when someone undertakes that legal act?