You’re at a traffic stop.
The officer asks to see your license and registration, and, like a responsible concealed handgun permit holder, you offer your CHL along with your driver’s license.
Immediately upon seeing your handgun license, the officer forces you from your vehicle, frisks you, and removes your handgun from its holster.
Despite this clear violation of your Fourth Amendment rights, you keep your cool. Neither before, during, nor after the incident have you acted strangely, suspiciously, or aggressively.
When you ask why you’re being treated this way, the officer responds, “I had reason to believe you had a handgun. Your possessing a handgun makes the situation inherently dangerous, both for you, me, and other people.”
Unfortunately, no. After the Fourth Circuit Court’s recent decision, that situation is not out of the realm of possibility—or legality.
The Fourth Circuit recently ruled that after a lawful traffic stop, the police may frisk any person who they believe may possess a firearm, regardless of whether that person possesses a concealed-carry permit.
But don’t take my word for it. Here’s the Court’s opinion, word for word (emphasis added):
The danger justifying a protective frisk arises from the combination of a forced police encounter and the presence of a weapon, not from any illegality of the weapon’s possession.
The case, U.S. v. Robinson, arose after police stopped and searched a West Virginia man named Shaquille Robinson. Robinson, a convicted felon, who had been seen earlier that day with a loaded gun, challenged the stop and frisk on the basis of the Fourth Amendment. He said that, while the officer had good reason to believe he had a gun, his possession of a gun did not give the officer grounds to believe that he was dangerous. Yes, as mentioned, he was breaking the law because he was a felon in possession of a firearm but how was the officer to know that he was a felon just by looking at him? The search, Robinson argued, therefore, was unconstitutional.
The Court ate this line of reasoning for lunch. In the decision, Judge Paul Niemeyer wrote that Robinson “argues illogically that when a person forcefully stopped may be legally permitted to possess a firearm, any risk of danger to police officers posed by the firearm is eliminated….Robinson’s position…fails as a matter of logic to recognize that the risk inherent in a forced stop of a person who is armed exists even when the firearm is legally possessed. ”
In other words, regardless of whether you are a law-abiding citizen when you are armed, you are not only armed but you are also dangerous.
“The presumptive lawfulness of an individual’s gun possession in a particular State does next to nothing to negate the reasonable concern an officer has for his own safety when forcing an encounter with an individual who is armed with a gun and whose propensities are unknown,” the majority opinion concludes.
Following this line of reasoning to its logical conclusion means that if one is armed, they are dangerous and if they are dangerous they can be searched.
In her dissent, Judge Pamela Harris wrote the following:
I cannot endorse a rule that puts us on a collision course with rights to gun possession rooted in the Second Amendment and conferred by state legislatures. Nor would I adopt a rule that leaves to unbridled police discretion the decision as to which legally armed citizens will be targeted for frisks, opening the door to the very abuses the Fourth Amendment is designed to prevent.
Since when does exercising one constitutional right bar an American citizen from exercising others?
It shouldn’t, but that’s exactly the kind of faux logic arguably being employed here. If guns are inherently dangerous, then those who carry guns must be equally so.