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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.

EDITORIAL: Possession of gun does not justify reasonable suspicion

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press
Tuesday, May 16, 2017 12:01 am

Relax. You have a right to be nervous. So says the Indiana Supreme Court. “There is no crime in rocking back and forth and wringing one's hands,” the court noted in the case of Pinner v. Indiana. Quoting the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, it observed that “it is common for most people to exhibit signs of nervousness when confronted by a law enforcement officer whether or not the person is currently engaged in criminal activity.”

The case dealt with the question of whether public possession of a handgun is, by itself, justification for stopping and questioning someone. The court said no, a conclusion consistent with what the U.S. Supreme Court has said about the “reasonable suspicion” that police need to detain people, and it's a victory for both the Second and Fourth amendments.

The case began, Reason magazine chronicles, with a call to Indianapolis police by a taxi driver who reported that “a black male wearing a blue jacket,” accompanied by a “black female with blonde hair,” had dropped a gun as he was getting out of the cab. The driver said he had been afraid that he was about to be robbed, although the passenger never actually threatened him. Based on that report, two police officers accosted Thomas Pinner as he was sitting on a bench inside a Studio Movie Grill and asked him if he was carrying a gun.

When he said no, one of the officers ordered him to “stand up and keep his hands up,” which revealed the butt of a gun hanging from the front pocket of Pinner's pants. The police arrested Pinner and charged him with carrying a gun without a license, a misdemeanor that was elevated to a felony because Pinner had a felony record, meaning he was not allowed to own a gun at all.

Cetainly Pinner broke the law. The question is whether police had reasonable grounds to suspect he had. According to more than one Supreme Court case, they did not.

The court's decision could have an effect down the road, as Indiana continues to debate whether to adopt a “Constitutional Carry” law of the type already passed in several states.

Under such a law, Hoosiers would not have to even get a permit to carry a gun. If bearing arms is a constitutional right — and the court has said it is — why should we need the government's permission to exercise it?

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