New Report: Legal Challenges to "Getting Guns Off the Street"
Less restrictive state gun laws and two Supreme Court decisions have made policing gun activity more difficult.
NEW YORK, NY — Cities across the country are experiencing rising gun violence. Historically, the reaction to such incidents would be to increase gun seizures. However, changes in the legal status quo over the last several decades as well as competing priorities have complicated this tactic. In a new report for the Manhattan Institute, fellow Robert VerBruggen sheds light on this issue by first summarizing the legal landscape surrounding "stops and frisk" and investigating how pedestrian stops of armed individuals play out in practice, then laying out options that judges and states with different sets of values might consider.
Most states have radically liberalized their gun-carrying laws, and last year the Supreme Court recognized a constitutional right to carry a gun in public. This creates some tensions in light of an older Supreme Court decision, 1968's Terry v. Ohio, which police have long relied upon to stop and frisk individuals believed to be illegally armed. VerBruggen suggests the Supreme Court should resolve the various circuit splits that this issue has created. Additionally, state legislatures and law-enforcement agencies should implement legally sound policies for seizing illicit guns without violating the rights of those who carry them legitimately. His key conclusions include:
Courts are divided regarding when someone may be stopped on suspicion of carrying a gun, and when a frisk may be conducted on that basis. The Supreme Court should address these splits when presented with an appropriate case.
There are good ways of balancing the right of law-abiding civilians to carry guns with the need for police officers to stop illegal gun-carrying and protect their own safety. Courts can allow states to structure policies in ways that serve both ends and give states some freedom to pursue their own mix of priorities.
Americans should not face forcible stops and pat downs merely for exercising their constitutional rights. But states should be allowed, for example, to take a stricter stance toward concealed carry than toward open carry, or to require that guns be carried in an inconspicuous manner and authorize stops of armed individuals whose behavior attracts the attention of officers or other civilians.
In New York City, the nation’s largest by population, evidence shows that stops that uncover guns are often initiated on suspicion of weapon possession—but they tend to have other bases, in addition—suggesting that changes in the legal landscape need not dismantle efforts to stop illegal gun carriers via street stops.