October 21, 2019 – Firearms Policy Coalition has issued the following statement in the wake of another killing of an armed and innocent person by police:
On October 12, in Fort Worth, Texas, Atatiana Koquice Jefferson’s neighbor called the police because he saw the door of her home left ajar. A Fort Worth police officer took the call. About 2:20 a.m., without announcing his presence, he began moving around outside Ms. Jefferson’s home, checking windows and making noise. Hearing alarming sounds from outside her home, Ms. Jefferson did what many responsible Americans would do: she went to investigate the sounds, prepared for the worst. Seconds later, she was shot and killed by the officer.
The tragic and unjustifiable killing of Ms. Jefferson underscores why law enforcement must be better trained to safely encounter people with guns and other constitutionally protected weapons. Especially with the ever-increasing number of individuals who keep and carry firearms for self-defense, the default assumption of law enforcement officers must be that someone armed is not a violent threat until that person proves otherwise. Assuming that every armed person poses a threat puts lives at risk and unnecessarily expands the class divide between government actors and the People they serve.
The Second Amendment codified the pre-existing right of self-defense, which includes the right to keep and bear instruments of force to repel unjust or unlawful force against them. Millions of people exercise this right every day by keeping and carrying guns for self-defense.
Effective self-defense sometimes requires responding, armed with a gun, to an alarming noise at one’s home. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court declared in its landmark D.C. v. Heller (2008) decision that the Second Amendment “surely elevates above all other interests the right of law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home.” Thus, law enforcement officers cannot use deadly force where it would otherwise be unjustified merely because the homeowner is believed to own a firearm.
Law enforcement agencies and officers must embrace the reality that the mere presence of a firearm does not, and cannot, make its possessor a target for deadly pre-emptive force. In its recent Hicks v. Commonwealth (2019) decision, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court adopted the arguments presented in our coalition brief supporting Mr. Hicks, explaining: “We find no justification for the notion that a police officer may infer criminal activity merely from an individual’s possession of a concealed firearm in public. . . . Unless a police officer has prior knowledge that a specific individual is not permitted to carry a concealed firearm, and absent articulable facts supporting reasonable suspicion that a firearm is being used or intended to be used in a criminal manner, there simply is no justification for the conclusion that the mere possession of a firearm, where it lawfully may be carried, is alone suggestive of criminal activity.”
Mr. Hicks was seized in public. Ms. Jefferson, by contrast, was in her home. And the U.S. Supreme Court said in Heller that “the need for defense of self, family, and property is most acute” at one’s home. Ms. Jefferson was therefore exercising a core Second Amendment right by responding to an alarming noise outside her home by retrieving her firearm to protect herself and her loved ones.
Law enforcement policies and practices that ignore or discount the right to be armed (such as by perceiving all people with guns as threats to pre-emptively shoot or kill), the militarization of our police forces, the absurdly expansive and dangerous qualified immunity doctrine, the senselessly frequent hostile police encounters, and casual use of deadly force are all incredibly concerning and demand serious reform.
FPC demands that federal, state, and local law enforcement throughout the United States immediately engage in substantive training programs that acknowledge the Second and Fourth Amendment rights of armed people, and adequately address the growing number of unjustifiable and tragic killings of armed and innocent people. FPC looks forward to supporting and promoting legal and policy reforms that put human rights and liberty first.
Firearms Policy Coalition (www.firearmspolicy.org) is a 501(c)4 grassroots nonprofit organization. FPC’s mission is to defend the People’s rights—especially the fundamental, individual Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms—advance individual liberty, and restore freedom.