Wednesday, August 06, 2003

More on Mr. William Gates of Charleston, S.C.

I still have not received any replies from the Mayor, Chief of Police or the public relations officer. I know at least a few of you have written &/or called so please let me know if you get any kind of response.

But some interesting questions have been raised & interesting comments made. I'll attempt to wade through them.

From my comments David writes the following

"While I really don't like the logic, if any, behind the confiscation of the fellow's guns, I'm also not entirely at ease with his actions. It's one thing to shoot to defend oneself, or to assist in another's defense. But opening fire on a shootout such as this. . . there was so much room for error. What if one of the three had been an innocent neighbor, being attacked and defending himself? Or, for that matter, an undercover detective?"

Mr. Gates believed his wife had been hit by gunfire. People were on his property shooting. That presented an eminent threat to Mr. Gates as well as the neighborhood. It seems obvious that Mr. Gates did not recognize any of the people as his neighbors who may have been defending themselves. As for the possibility it could have been some other innocent civilian or police officer, yes it could have been.
However, there are times when one must take action based solely on the information one has available. This indeed leaves a lot of room for error but unfortunately that's part of life. Mr. Gates acted on the information he had - people were shooting in his yard & presenting a threat to himself & the community. It would have been unfortunate if one of the people he shot turned out to be an innocent party but I still wouldn't fault him for his actions. He did what he thought was necessary at the time based on what he knew at the time.

Jon writes

"...There's no reason for him not to cooperate with the police - he did nothing wrong. And you can bet after the publicity this is getting, he'll get his guns back."

There are many reasons not to cooperate with the police, the main one being self protection. Police can & will use anything you say against you even if you're just trying to be helpful. The 5th article of the Bill of Rights provides protection against the government compelling any testimony about yourself. It'd be foolish to let a perfectly good amendment go to waste.

& we all hope Mr. Gates will be getting his firearms back soon. Hope. There are many cases that have received far more publicity than this where firearms were not returned despite acquittals or even a lack of prosecution. The main culprits are usually the BATF when it comes to stealing large collections of arms, but local police aren't amateurs at it. But perhaps if we all do keep up the pressure Mr. Gates won't be robbed by his local police department.

Instapundit has this to say

"...The police chief here, Reuben Greenberg, is well-regarded, which makes it likely that either there's more to this story than has been reported, or that swift corrective action will be taken."

I have heard good things about Chief Greenberg as well. But I do not share the optimism expressed at Instapundit. There are many good people who honestly believe that this sort of action is justified & any means of getting 'guns off the street' are justified. I do not know if Chief Greenberg is one of them, but considering he is ultimately responsible for the actions of the department, & that confiscating all a persons' weapons is supposedly a departmental policy, things aren't looking good.

& yes, there may be more to the story than is being let on. But until they press charges against Mr. Gates or produce a search warrant then his property is off limits. I don't understand how it gets so confused, but due process is not the word or actions of a cop. Property should not be taken unless at the very least there is probable cause to believe a crime has been committed & the property to be taken bears some relevance to the crime. I see absolutely no connection to Mr. Gates entire firearms collection & his use of a shotgun in defense. Add to that the cops who were quoted as saying Mr. Gates' actions were justified & there goes the probable cause for taking even the firearm he admitted using. & barring probable cause I saw absolutely no mention of any court proceedings that granted the Charleston P.D. the authority to seize Mr. Gates' weapons.

Every wants to believe that cops are on our side & they never do anything they're not supposed to. & don't get me wrong - I think most cops aren't bad people. Most of the bad actions of cops can be traced directly to bad policies set by police departments & courts. But the bottom line is the Charleston P.D. stole Mr. Gates' firearms.

Laylines reports that this incident is even being mentioned by G. Gordon Liddy. Laylines goes on to say

"How does this make sense? It's disgraceful how Charleston Police Chief Reuben Greenberg is treating the citizens in his own city. It makes you think twice about visiting Charleston. If they treat citizens this way how would they treat someone from out of town much less from out of state?"


SayUncle feels if his name were Bill Gates things would have been different. He is also of the opinion that there'd have been two shootings reported if his local P.D. tried to seize his entire collection without a warrant or probable cause.

The Spoons Experience believes that Mr. Gates was smart enough to not mention all of his firearms when the police asked him what else he had besides his shotgun. I hope that's the case.

In the event Mr. Gates was a good citizen & let the police steal all his firearms the good news is they're not hard to find. Despite all the unconstitutional laws that burden citizens when it comes to acquiring guns, there still seems to be a thriving black market in arms as well as private sales that are not illegal (yet). If for some reason Mr. Gates could not buy one over the counter then he could always look for private sellers or in the worse case look for black market sellers.

WeckUptoThees has already thought of appropriate punishment for the officer who did the stealing of Mr. Gates' property

"Cut this the hell out. Give them back now, with an apology to him and termination for whoever made the decision to disarm him.
On second thought: whoever moved to disarm the homeowner, it's now your turn to sit on his porch with nothing but a cordless phone and a flashlight for the next 72 hours. No hardshirt either, asshole. If you live through that, then you're fired."

He also contemplates what he'd do in Mr. Gates' shoes

"I would hope to have the kind of balls this guy has. My first action would be, as G Gordon Liddy has advised, don't hand them over to the cops. If the cops insist that I must be separated from my weapons, I'm transferring them to my lawyer for safekeeping. Possible outcomes:
Worst: I am officially identified as a Bad Person and lose the right to own them. The lawyer sells them and I get the proceeds.
Bad: the lawyer returns them when the bullshit is over.
As if we have an RKBA: the lawyer pushes back hard enough that I don't give them up."

& finally Stop The Bleating says a few things I'd like to address:

"1) In many parts of this country, Mr. Gates would likely have been charged with attempted murder. If you live in a Blue State--or even some of the Red States--think very hard before emulating him, unless you're a risk-loving sort of fellow with lots of spare cash to spend on lawyers. The scenario as described isn't the strongest case of self-defense I've ever heard of. Not only is it arguable whether Mr. Gates reasonably believed that shooting the aforementioned scumbags was necessary to prevent death or serious bodily harm to himself or his wife (the scumbags were shooting at each other, not at him or into his home), but he charged into the fray with a shotgun intending--by his own words--to kill someone. In most states there's no absolute duty to retreat when unlawful violence is offered, but there is a duty not to act as the aggressor in the "affray." Interjecting onesself into the middle of a gunfight amongst strangers, with a Browning Auto-5 and homicidal intent, is the sort of thing that some folks might see as aggressive. (I'm speculating that it's an A-5. It's Browning's best-known auto shotgun, they probably produced more A-5s than any other model of semi-auto, and it's the right "fit" for Mr. Gates's generation.) There are plenty of prosecutors in this country who'd be willing to put Mr. Gates's defense to the test. I'm not saying that's as it should be; I'm simply saying that's how it is. If you want to stand on principle because you're sure you're right, good for you. Just know what the potential consequences are before you pull the trigger."

South Carolina is a very good state to be in if you're on your own property. It's been described as a 'shoot your neighbor' state, meaning that there is no duty to retreat when you're on your own property. I'm not sure what the exact threshold is but I believe that if you feel threatened on your own property by a trespasser then the use of force, including deadly force is justified.

Also what many people neglect is that defense is not limited to yourself. Defense encompasses your family, friends, neighbors, community, country & state. So should there be a threat to your community you should be justified in acting to stop that threat.

I feel Mr. Gates was thinking his life was in peril & that of his wife but even if that were not the case several men were still shooting in a residential neighborhood. Even if they had been on the street solely shooting at each other Mr. Gates should have stopped them if for no other reason than to prevent one of their shots from hitting an innocent bystander. Too many people feel that taking direct action to prevent crime & injury is vigilantism. I feel it is merely doing your civic & moral duty. Every one should do what they are able to stop & prevent crime even if that means getting directly involved. Most reasons against direct citizen action can be chalked up to job security efforts on behalf of the police. If citizens started acting upon this duty then perhaps crime would go down a bit & we wouldn't have the justification for so many cops, which may mean that we're safer not only from criminals but from government looking for something to keep its employees busy.

He continues

"2) It's probably not wise to proclaim to the media, "I shot to kill." It may sound good in movies and on TV, but it's not helpful when a prosecutor (or civil plaintiffs' attorney) gets it in front of a jury. It's probably best to keep one's mouth shut about such things, no matter how "righteous" the shooting(s) may have been. If you shoot someone get a lawyer for God's sake--no matter how sure you are that you were justified--and don't yammer about it to the police or media until you've done so."

I agree - keeping your mouth shut is the best policy. But I don't think the "I shot to kill" statement is as damming as Matt believes. The argument against it would be that he was looking to kill & his actions may not have been in self defense. The counter-argument to that is that he was in legitimate fear of his safety as he attempted to kill rather than wound or to scare off. Further cops are encouraged to shoot to kill simple because shooting to wound is risky at best & may not immobilize an attacker he poses an immediate threat.

He continues

"3) If you shoot someone, expect the gun you used--and perhaps all of them--to be seized as evidence. Publicola thinks this is senseless, because a shotgun can't be ballistically matched to its projectile(s). That's largely true, although the extractor and ejector markings on the shell casings that Mr. Gates presumably left all over his porch or front yard can be matched, with some degree of accuracy, Mr. Gates's A-5. At any rate, it may not really matter: although the motive for seizing the other guns isn't entirely clear, the A-5 is evidence. If nothing else, it's evidence that Mr. Gates owned a 12-gauge shotgun that had been recently fired. And quite coincidentally, two scumbags were found suffering from 12-gauge wounds in the owner's front yard. Is this necessary evidence, in light of the fact that Mr. Gates freely admits to shooting said scumbags? Perhaps not, but consider this. If Scumbag A admitted to dealing crack, and the police thereafter decided, "ah, what the hell--he confessed, so let's flush these rocks down the toilet," wouldn't we all be pretty pissed when Scumbag A's lawyer manged to get the confession suppressed and the cops had no physical evidence to put in front of a jury? Good police work means gathering evidence--all the evidence they can get their hands on. It's prosecutor's job to decide whether to use a particular item of evidence."

This is a good point. However it is not that persuasive to me.

Consider this - the shotgun shells found on the front porch are matched to the shotgun in question with a 90% probability of coming from said shotgun. It is evident that said shotgun was recently fired. Mr. Gates fingerprints are found on the shotgun. That's all they can tell from the shotgun & shells. & that is circumstantial evidence. Not very convincing in & of itself. In fact here's a scenario that would negate any findings obtained from the shotgun & shells:
Mrs.' Gates was suffering from some sort of delusion. She grabbed the shotgun & ran to the front door, firing 3 shots before Mr. Gates could get control of her. He then instructed her to go inside the house & lie down. When the police arrived he told them the story of hearing gunshots & firing in self defense. He lied in an effort to protect his mentally ill wife.

Not the greatest story but it would render any evidence obtained from the shotgun & shell casings mute, albeit opening up various fraud charges against Mr. Gates.

Ultimately though I still see no valid reason for confiscating any of Mr. Gates' weapons. When the officers on the scene attest to the righteous nature of a shooting then unless there is some very compelling evidence to the contrary there won't be a case. & the evidence obtainable from Mr. Gates' shotgun would not provide anything to help a prosecutor.

& it still goes back to probable cause. When the police on the scene state that a shooting was in self defense then any reason to confiscate the weapon used is rendered moot. The 4th & 5th amendments as well as provisions in state constitutions & laws are supposed to protect the citizen against 'fishing expeditions' by the government. You have to believe a specific crime has been committed before you can legally start gathering evidence. Since the cops said it was obviously self defense, & self defense is not a crime, then they had no legal basis for taking his weapons & in fact committed criminal actions by doing so.

He concludes thusly

"It's not uncommon for the authorities--particularly in fascist states like New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, California and Illinois--to refuse to return firearms even after their owners have been cleared of any wrongdoing. Is this lawful? In most cases probably not, although in some instances property may be seized--and kept--by the government on the basis of mere probable cause. (If I'm not mistaken, there are or at least used to be laws that permitted property to be seized--permanently--on the basis of mere reasonable suspicion! What about the Fifth Amendment, you ask? A damned good question . . . Welcome to the wonderful world of the War on Drugs, where the Bill of Rights doesn't count.) But the problem is that the typical firearm is only worth a few hours of attorneys' fees. So the cost of getting the gun back almost always exceeds the value of the gun. It's damned infuriating, but that's the reality."

I wish he were wrong, but he's not.

If I hear anything more on Mr. Gates' plight I'll be sure to post it promptly. If any of y'all hear anything please feel free to contact me either in the comments box or by e-mail at

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