Guns on the street

A police story
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  September 19, 2012

Around 6 pm on Wednesday evening, I was walking with a friend who was carrying his rifle across Congress Street to my car. The rifle was legally obtained and was not loaded; as long as he isn't a felon (he's not!) carrying it openly was within his rights. He was bringing it to another friend's house to examine the trigger mechanism.

We passed in front of a police car, which turned to follow us onto St. Lawrence Street in the East End. The officer stopped his vehicle right next to my car just as we were about to put the gun in the trunk. There was little question that we — or rather, the rifle — had caught the cop's eye.

He stayed in the cruiser, speaking into his police radio, while my friend and I waited on the sidewalk. Within minutes, back-up arrived: a white, unmarked SUV pulled up behind the cop car; two more officers, both wearing bulletproof vests, emerged.

At that point, the original officer (whose name, according to the Portland Police Department's call log, is Kevin McCarthy — I was too flustered to note his name at the time) got out of his car and approached us. My friend (who would prefer to go unidentified) volunteered that the gun was not loaded and handed it over to be examined. McCarthy asked to see his driver's license and my friend produced that as well.

According to the research I did while working on a story about gun-rights activist Norman Hamann (see "Open-Carry Activist Takes to the Streets," June 22), the officer should not have asked for my friend's ID unless there was a reasonable suspicion that he had committed a crime.

"Am I doing anything illegal?" my friend wondered, worried that perhaps he had missed some crucial piece of protocol — maybe rifles must be carried in gun cases, for example.

McCarthy assured my friend that he wasn't doing anything wrong, but that because it was a busy area (near the intersection of North and Congress streets), he wanted to check things out in case anybody called with concerns. "Pedestrian checks" are routine procedure in Portland and elsewhere; officers are allowed to stop and talk to anyone they please, as long as that person is free to leave at any point. However, once the officer asks for identification and disarms a person, that individual is technically detained — which is illegal unless there is suspicion of a crime.

"Officer McDonald admitted that the only reason why he stopped me was because of my legally carried firearm," Hamann wrote in a letter to Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck earlier this year. "I would like to point you to US v DeBerry from the 7th Circuit. In that ruling a federal judge said that a the presence of a firearm where legal to possess cannot by itself be reasonable suspicion of criminal activity."

The cop ran my friend's ID and the serial number for the gun. He also had one of the other officers demonstrate how to disengage the safety and ensure the gun was unloaded. (Slightly troubling that he didn't know how to do so himself.)

There was never any animosity; my friend cooperated fully and even chatted about shooting ranges with one of the other officers.

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