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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Two Marin Deputies Watched Killer Jog Away From Double-Murder

The Cato Institute this week highlighted an event that was described in an Aug. 18 article by Karl Fischer in the San Jose Mercury News:
Two Marin County sheriff's deputies watched from 50 feet away while a man killed two people with a shotgun on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge last week. The deputies, detectives returning from an unrelated investigation in San Pablo, stopped traffic and radioed for help, Richmond police said Tuesday. But they made no move to stop the killer's rampage or to follow him or take his license plate number.
The Cato article commented:
These two law-enforcement officers did what police officers tell the public to do: Don't intervene. Get a description of the offender. Call the police. Be a good witness.

Ten states still use a system that subjects lawful self-defense to the whim of a functionary such as [Marin County] Sheriff Doyle, a practice known as a "may issue" policy. (Two more refuse to grant concealed-carry permits to anyone.) The decision rests with the local chief law-enforcement officer, who may employ whatever criteria he deems valid — or deny permits for no reason at all. The result is that only those who are wealthy or politically connected are able to secure permits.
This is not the case in most of the nation. Thirty-eight states have "shall issue" permit systems, which essentially require the chief law-enforcement officer to issue permits to everyone who passes background checks and training requirements.

The propriety of "may issue" permitting is now being challenged in court on the opposite coast. The District of Columbia maintains a "shall issue" or, more appropriately, a "no issue" policy. After the Supreme Court struck down the District's ban on handgun possession within the home last year, the District repealed the police chief's power to issue permits to let gun owners carry their weapons outside the home. Several plaintiffs have filed a lawsuit challenging this refusal to issue handgun-carry permits.

In the Heller decision last year, the Supreme Court affirmed the Second Amendment right of individuals to keep arms in their home and have them in a condition useful for self-defense. The Court stressed that the individual right to arms was not an unlimited one, leaving undisturbed bans on carrying guns into "sensitive places" such as schools and government buildings. The D.C. suit does not challenge this power, but asks the court to recognize that the whole of the District of Columbia cannot be a "sensitive place."

The District will almost certainly mention that the Heller decision also did not call into question 19th-century bans on concealed carry. This ignores the fact that while concealed carry was considered the mark of a brigand, open carry was accepted and legal. Modern feelings are the reverse; concealed carry is now practiced far more often than open carry. The plaintiffs do not specify the method of carry — open or concealed — merely that the Second Amendment does not stop at your front door.

One of the plaintiffs, Tom Palmer (disclosure: Tom is my colleague at the Cato Institute), once used a handgun to deter a mob of violent aggressors who were yelling death threats at him.
More details from the Mercury News article:
The Marin County sheriff's deputies, whom police would not identify, saw the shooter as they approached the toll plaza, one in front of the other in unmarked cars. They wore street clothes but were armed and on the clock, returning from a follow-up investigation in San Pablo. One saw the muzzle flash in the south parking lot, where police say Nathan Burris, 46, shot Everette. Moments later, Burris jogged out into traffic toward the toll booth. The attack lasted less than half a minute. One of the deputies alerted her dispatch center in Marin County during the shooting, and the other used her car to block traffic so other drivers would not blunder into the gunman's sights, Richmond police said. They then checked on workers in the toll booths and the adjoining Caltrans building. Meanwhile, the suspect, later identified as Burris, drove away.

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