Does Carrying A Firearm Generate Reasonable Suspicion?

March 29th, 2013

I previously posed the question of whether the exercise of a constitutional right can trigger reasonable suspicion or probable cause. Owning a firearm is a constitutional right. Can a person exercising that right (just having a gun, not brandishing it) provide probable cause or reasonable suspicion?

The Fourth Circuit recently addressed a similar issue–whether open carrying a firearm in a place where that is permitted by law generates reasonable suspicion. The court said no in United States v. Black.

Third, it is undisputed that under the laws of North Carolina, which permit its residents to openly carry firearms, see generally N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 14-415.10 to 14-415.23, Troupe’s gun was legally possessed and displayed. The Government contends that because other laws prevent convicted felons from possessing guns, the officers could not know whether Troupe was lawfully in possession of the gun until they performed a records check. Additionally, the Government avers it would be “foolhardy” for the officers to “go about their business while allowing a stranger in their midst to possess a firearm.” We are not persuaded. Being a felon in possession of a firearm is not the default status. More importantly, where a state permits individuals to openly carry firearms, the exercise of this right, without more, cannot justify an investigatory detention. Permitting such a justification would eviscerate Fourth Amendment protections for lawfully armed individuals in those states. United States v. King, 990 F.2d 1552, 1559 (10th Cir. 1993). Here, Troupe’s lawful display of his lawfully possessed firearm cannot be the justification for Troupe’s detention. See St. John v. McColley, 653 F. Supp. 2d 1155, 1161 (D.N.M. 2009) (finding no reasonable suspicion where the plaintiff arrived at a movie theater openly carrying a holstered handgun, an act which is legal in the State of New Mexico.) That the officer had never seen anyone in this particular division openly carry a weapon also fails to justify reasonable suspicion. From our understanding of the laws of North Carolina, its laws apply uniformly and without exception in every single division, and every part of the state. Thus, the officer’s observation is irrational and fails to give rise to reasonable suspicion. To hold otherwise would be to give the judicial imprimatur to the dichotomy in the intrusion of constitutional protections. Additionally, even if the officers were justified in detaining Troupe for exercising his constitutional right to bear arms, reasonable suspicion as to Troupe does not amount to, and is not particularized as to Black, and we refuse to find reasonable suspicion merely by association.