If someone owns a gun, is that enough for law enforcement to justify violating that person’s Fourth Amendment rights with a no-knock raid?
It’s a question gun owners in Texas were hoping the U.S. Supreme Court would answer once and for all after Collin County police officers searched Texas resident John Quinn’s home without knocking or announcing their entry. But last week the court declined.
The case relates to an incident in August 2006. Police say they were investigating Quinn’s son, Brian, who they suspected was in possession of drugs. Since the officers were aware that the Quinns owned firearms, including possibly an AK-47, they opted to conduct a no-knock raid at the family’s home.
Because the police officers’ presence came as a surprise to John Quinn, who reportedly thought his home was being invaded by criminals, he reached for his gun. The heavily armed SWAT-like police force fired at him before he could fire at them, resulting in Quinn sustaining injuries.
The police searched the home and found less than 1 gram of cocaine, and charged John Quinn with possession.
Quinn’s son was not home at the time, a fact that the officer’s allegedly knew and was included in the warrant, so Quinn filed a lawsuit claiming the no-knock raid was an illegal search and seizure operation that violated his Fourth Amendment rights.
Under the Fourth Amendment, police officers are required to knock and announce their presence before entering. However, if police feel that knocking would put their lives in danger, they can legally obtain permission to conduct a no-knock raid.
Quinn’s case was taken up by the Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit civil liberties organization, but all lower courts and courts of appeal have rejected Quinn’s defense argument, which is that just because he has guns doesn’t mean that police officers can conduct a no-knock raid on his home.
In fact, Quinn argued that if the officers would have knocked, he likely wouldn’t have reached for his weapon, which he had for self-defense purposes, and wouldn’t have been shot at all. But the Texas courts explained in their ruling that because police knew there were guns in the home, they were justified in conducting a no-knock raid.
John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute, hoped the U.S. Supreme Court would hear Quinn’s case, and even created a petition arguing that “…in the absence of any evidence of actual danger to police, the legal possession of a firearm, as guaranteed by the Second Amendment, is not sufficient to justify allowing police to override the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unannounced ‘no-knock’ home invasions when executing warrants.”
Whitehead, who has also authored a book titled “A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State,” warned that if the high court opted to not hear this case, then police officers throughout the U.S. would be able to cite this case as legal allowance for them to conduct a no-knock raid on any person they believed owned a firearm, setting what he called a dangerous precedent.
Despite the Rutherford Institute’s best attempts, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it would not hear Quinn’s case, thereby allowing the lower court rulings to stand.
In response, Whitehead released the following statement:
“Whatever the issue might be, whether it’s mass surveillance, no-knock raids, or the right to freely express one’s views about the government, we’ve moved into a new age in which the rights of the citizenry are being treated as a secondary concern by the White House, Congress, the courts, and their vast holding of employees, including law enforcement officials,” Whitehead said.
“The disconnect, of course, is that the Constitution establishes a far different scenario in which government officials, including the police, are accountable to ‘we the people.’ For it to be otherwise, for government concerns to trump individual freedoms, with government officials routinely sidestepping the Constitution and reinterpreting the law to their own purposes, makes a mockery of everything this nation is supposed to stand for—self-government, justice, and the rule of law.”
Whether the court’s ruling will set a dangerous precedent for gun owners in the U.S. remains to be seen. If it does, it’s likely the Supreme Court will have no choice but to revisit the issue.