AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is part 2 of a 2-part series on the increasingly difficult phenomenon of open carry by law-abiding citizens. In Part I the laws and actions of lawful gun owners in general opened the discussion into a hotly debated arena of gun ownership today. Part II will look at the legal responsibilities of law enforcement, and provide suggestions to law enforcement’s response to lawful citizens who open carry.
The Law Enforcement Response
So where do the current laws leave today’s law enforcement officers? In a very difficult situation full of legal land mines, that’s where. The law enforcement officer’s job is already difficult, but understanding how to properly handle citizens lawfully carrying firearms is really a newer phenomenon in the numbers we are seeing today. It is also a situation that officers must master in order to maintain officer safety and not infringe on a civil right.
The Legal Responsibility of Law Enforcement Officers
At one time or another every law enforcement officer swore an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution, and the Constitution of the State they work in. The iconic ‘to protect and serve” is heavily influenced by this oath, and provides the foundation that all officers should work from in deciding how to handle any situation. Sometimes the application of laws can be somewhat cloudy, but the beacon of correct decision-making always goes back to the Constitution.
The most legally dangerous decisions law enforcement is faced with making are those that require decisions in a fraction of time. Thankfully the U.S. Supreme Court has consistently sided with officers faced with dangerous situations that evolve very rapidly to determine if the officer’s actions remain within Constitutional guidelines. The landmark case of Graham v. Conner laid out the legal standard judging whether an officer’s actions were “objectively reasonable”, even if ultimately they were wrong in their initial observations or decisions. An even stronger admonition by the Supreme Court is that officers must be judged by what a reasonable officer would have done given the same set of circumstances. Officers cannot be judged by the micro-analyzed view of 20/20 hindsight that is often the measure used by the media and attorneys.