Are we not allowed to defend our homes anymore? It sure seems that way with this court ruling.
What happens when someone is pounding at your door? There are no lights on outside, you have no reason to be expecting anyone, and, most importantly, they do not identify themselves. Yeah, to say someone would be a little nervous is an understatement. You would have a gun at the ready.
But if the police are at your door, they can shoot you for just having the gun. Does this sound like the biggest load of BS to you?
By David French
After all, my home is my castle. It’s where my wife and kids are, and it’s hard to imagine a situation where there’s loud pounding, that late, that doesn’t involve a degree of urgency. I have a constitutional and a human right, guaranteed under the Second Amendment, to defend my family, my life, and my home.
Unless, of course, the people pounding on the door are cops who 1) had no search warrant, 2) didn’t turn on their emergency lights, 3) didn’t identify themselves as police, 4) misunderstood a neighbor’s directions, and 5) showed up at the wrong house, the house of a completely innocent man. Then, my right to defend myself turns into a right to die in two seconds flat, without firing a shot or even clambering a round.
That’s the effective holding of a panel of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, a holding that the entire Circuit declined to review en banc just last week. The officer who shot Andrew Scott, a man by the name of Richard Sylvester, never faced prosecution for killing an undeniably innocent man. That decision is wrenching but defensible. There was conflicting testimony as to whether Scott was pointing the gun at the officers, and the officers did (mistakenly) believe they were at the home of a man who they thought had just committed a violent crime.
But the Eleventh Circuit wasn’t deciding a criminal case and threw out a mere civil lawsuit (a claim brought by Scott’s estate for monetary damages for violations of Scott’s civil rights). The court held that the officer was entitled to “qualified immunity” when he fired the fatal shots. Why? Because when he showed up at the wrong door, misunderstood a neighbor’s directions, refused to identify himself as a cop, and then gunned down a man who was entirely lawfully carrying a gun in an entirely lawful circumstance, the officer did not, the court claimed, violate any of Scott’s “clearly established” legal rights.
The qualified-immunity doctrine holds that public employees can’t be held individually liable for violating citizens’ constitutional rights unless those rights have been “clearly established.” It’s a controversial doctrine and typically requires plaintiffs — even plaintiffs who’ve suffered egregious and unjustified harm at the hands of the state — to conduct furious searches for other cases with fact patterns just like theirs, hoping that the right court in the right jurisdiction had already ruled against the state under just the right circumstances.
In this circumstance, the judges writing for the majority of the court chastised the dissenting judges’ alleged failure to “identify any cases with facts similar to the undisputed facts here” and then noted that “clearly established law” shouldn’t be defined at a “high level of generality” but must be “particularized.” In other words, since Scott’s attorneys couldn’t find another court that had ruled against the police in a similar set of disastrous circumstances, they were out of luck.
But how’s this for a clearly established right? “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
Much of the case turned on analysis of the Fourth Amendment, which lays out the right of the people to be secure against “unreasonable search and seizure.” The panel specifically considered whether the police officer at Scott’s door had engaged in a permissible “knock and talk” procedure. The dissent noted: “There was no talk here. This was a knock and shoot.” But in reality, the case represents an unacceptable collateral attack on the Second Amendment. To understand why, consider the testimony in the case.