HARRISBURG, PA (May 31, 2019) -- Today, the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court issued a significant 53-page majority opinion in the criminal appeal of Commonwealth v. Hicks. Firearms Policy Coalition (FPC) and Firearms Policy Foundation (FPF) filed an important coalition amicus brief cited by the Court supporting Hicks in December of 2017, alongside Firearms Owners Against Crime (FOAC) and seven Members of Pennsylvania’s General Assembly. The Court’s decision, concurring opinions, and the FPC/FPF amicus brief can be viewed at www.firearmspolicy.org/legal.
At issue was whether someone’s carrying of a firearm could be used as reasonable suspicion of criminal conduct, and thus justification for police to conduct a “stop-and-frisk” of the gun owner. The court ruled in Hicks that such searches and seizures, in the absence of other evidence are completely unlawful.
The coalition’s brief, which was relied on heavily in the majority opinion, argued that the Pennsylvania and federal constitutions prohibit searches and seizures based on a suspicion of criminal activity due to carrying a firearm. According to the brief, “As protected by the Second and Fourth Amendments to the United States Constitution and  the Pennsylvania Constitution . . . the mere open or conceal carrying of a firearm cannot establish reasonable articulable suspicion of criminal conduct, in the absence of additional indicia of unlawful activity.”
The Court agreed, noting “that the government may not target and seize specific individuals without any particular suspicion of wrongdoing, then force them to prove that they are not committing crimes.”
“Hicks’ position is supported by several amici curiae, including Members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, Firearms Owners Against Crime, the Firearms Policy Coalition, and the Firearms Policy Foundation. Hicks’ amici argue that the Robinson rule is contrary to this Court’s precedent and to the general teachings of the Supreme Court of the United States’ Fourth Amendment jurisprudence. Amici further point to numerous decisions of the courts of other states and federal appellate courts that have addressed the specific question at issue here, and which have held that mere possession of a concealed firearm provides no basis for an investigative detention,” Supreme Court Justice Wecht wrote for the majority.
FPC President and FPF Chairman Brandon Combs hailed the decision. “Stop-and-frisk practices that harass gun owners who carry for lawful purposes including self-defense, like the one at the core of this case, are unconstitutional, bad public policy, and dangerous,” explained Combs. “We are thrilled that the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania agreed with these fundamental principles and issued such an incredibly positive decision in favor of constitutional rights.”
Kim Stolfer, president of FOAC, was also delighted with the ruling. “We are thrilled to have participated in this case. The Commonwealth’s position, that the ‘mere sight’ of a firearm, with no criminal act, ‘justifies’ arrest and detention at gunpoint, is constitutionally repugnant and unjustified. Today the Court rightly held as much.”
Joshua Prince, author of the coalition’s brief, said that “the Court, in dismissing the Commonwealth’s position, declared that to permit investigative detention solely to determine whether someone is properly licensed is ‘ultimately untenable, because it would allow a manifestly unacceptable range of ordinary activity to, by itself, justify Terry stops.’”
“This ruling rightly puts an end to abusive, non-justifiable searches of law-abiding gun owners, and it should be relished by all those who support the fundamental rights enshrined in our Constitution,” Prince concluded.
Firearms Policy Coalition (www.firearmspolicy.org) is a 501(c)4 grassroots nonprofit organization. FPC’s mission is to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, especially the fundamental, individual Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.
Firearms Policy Foundation (www.firearmsfoundation.org) is a 501(c)3 grassroots nonprofit organization. FPF’s mission is to defend the Constitution of the United States and the People’s rights, privileges and immunities deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition, especially the inalienable, fundamental, and individual right to keep and bear arms.