L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 198, November 11, 2002
from the Editor
FBI AGENTS 'MIFFED' THAT GUN OWNER CONTACTED MEDIA
Capitol Hill (CNSNews.com) - Prior to the capture of "Beltway Sniper"
suspects John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo, an unconfirmed number
of Maryland gun owners received surprise visits from the FBI as part
of the investigation. One such gun owner had a surprise of his own for
the agents when they arrived at his home.
PRESENCE OF AN NRA STICKER ON A VEHICLE INSUFFICIENT TO JUSTIFY SEARCH, RULES 5TH CIRCUIT
The presence of a National Rifle Association sticker on a vehicle is insufficient to justify a police search of that vehicle for firearms, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week. The case began when Officer Peace stopped a pick-up truck displaying an NRA sticker for speeding. After his truck was stopped, the driver got out of the vehicle with his driver's license and insurance information in hand. Officer Peace immediately asked the driver, Jeffrey Estep, if he had a gun in his car, which Estep denied. Officer Peace called for backup because he believed Estep had a weapon and would use it, testifying that he feared he was in danger in part because Estep's vehicle contained an NRA sticker. When backup arrived, Officer Peace searched the vehicle over Estep's protests, and found a pistol. Estep was then placed under arrest. While sitting in the police car, Officer Peace told another officer that the NRA sticker was what tipped him off to the weapon in the vehicle. Officer Peace later testified that the sticker, along with the presence of camouflage gear, a key chain with mace, and Estep's general failure to cooperate, made the officer fearful for his safety. The court reiterated the long-held U.S. Supreme Court rule in such cases, which states that "a warrantless search of the passenger compartment of a vehicle does not violate the Fourth Amendment if the search is conducted to protect the officer's safety." In this case, though, the 5th Circuit ruled that the presence of an NRA sticker in the vehicle should not have raised the inference that Estep was dangerous and might gain immediate control of a weapon. "Regardless of whether there is some correlation between the display of an NRA sticker and gun possession, placing an NRA sticker in one's vehicle is certainly legal and constitutes expression which is protected by the First Amendment. A police officer's inference that danger is afoot because a citizen displays an NRA sticker in his vehicle presents disturbing First and Fourth Amendment implications," said the court. "Indeed, if the presence of an NRA sticker and camouflage gear in a vehicle could be used by an officer to conclude he was in danger, half the pickups in the state of Texas would be subject to a vehicle search," added the court, ruling that the search violated the Fourth Amendment. The case is Estep v. Dallas County, Texas, No. 01-10967, 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, October 18, 2002.