Saturday, May 31, 2008

A surprise in the mailbox

Today I received the return receipt back from the Post Office, confirming that my RTK request had been delivered to the Dickson City PD. Along with it was a large manila envelope from the Dickson City PD. It contained a cover letter, 3 copied notebook pages with a list of 95 businesses being polled (and most of their responses) and 18 letters or faxes from businesses stating their policy on firearms.

I plan to follow-up and make sure I get any balance of info collected when their 'project' is complete.

Friday, May 30, 2008

2 wins for the 'Dickson Dozen'

Today, Rich Banks finally regained possession of the firearm confiscated from him by the Dickson City Police. I don't have many details yet, but will update this post when Rich gives more info.

Also, Bob Durgin (WHP580 in Harrisburg, PA) had me on in regards to the RTK request I've filed with Chief Stadnitski. Still no official response on that, but Bob was very objective and the callers were unanimously critical of the Dickson City PD's actions.

If you missed the broadcast, you can download an .mp3 of my segment.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Denials & Backpedaling

Apparently some of the Dickson City area media were interested in the Right To Know request I sent. The topic came up on local talk radio today where the Chief backpedaled his previous statements suggesting different responses to a call depending if the business was on the "I Hate Guns" list or not. He also attempted to sidestep my RTK request with the following reply:
There is no written documentation directing local business establishments comply with any type of request for prohibiting open or concealed gun carry on their property, an officer is contacting the business directly and asking if they currently have a policy either written or orally from management on firearms. Since the query is not complete a formal list of the responses has not been yet compiled. This information was passed on to the Scranton Times reporter but he wrote the article anyway. When the list is complete I would be more than happy to provide you with a copy. Chief Stadnitski
It's embarrassing to have to hold the hand of a public official, but at this point, I'm convinced that it's not an act...he's really this incompetent. I responded with the following clarification:
Chief Stadnitski,

Thank you for your prompt response. I look forward to your formal reply to this Right to Know Law request and the production of all your current records in this matter, including emails and personal notes. If you wish to wait until closer to the end of the 10 day period permitted under the law (so you can be as complete as possible) I understand, but at that time, any and all related documents are required to be produced, irregardless of whether your query is complete or how "formal" it's status is. This means that even if your officers are compiling a list on a notepad as they call or visit these businesses, that document is covered and legally obtainable under PA's Right To Know Law. It is not exempt simply because it is not on Department letterhead.
We'll see if this helps him get the point.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Banning guns ≠ less crime

John Lott has written a great Op Ed piece for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

What's really going on here?

Based on the most recent article in the Scranton Times-Tribune, it seems Chief Stadnitski is attempting to have local business owners do what state law prohibits him from doing, namely, restricting legally carried firearms.
Chief Stadnitski said the police wanted that list so they know where in the borough they should respond should someone be openly carrying a gun. Otherwise, unless another law is broken, police will not respond to a report of a person carrying a gun in those businesses.
To me, this says that if you're not on the "We hate guns" list with the local PD, they won't bother to respond even if there's a legitimate crime being committed with a firearm. Someone's pointing a gun at the cashier?.....Sorry, they don't prohibit openly displayed guns in their business.

Further, because signs carry no legal weight in PA, the police still do not have legal grounds to intervene if someone is openly carrying a firearm in a business that has a sign posted. Unless they have been verbally asked to leave, and have refused, they have not committed any crime by simply ignoring the sign.

In an attempt to learn more on the Chief's actions and intentions, I've filed a Right To Know request with the Chief, and have copied both the Mayor and Borough Council President. Stay tuned for updates as they develop.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Another "non-event" - in Gettysburg today

I attended a luncheon of area gun owners today in Gettysburg. Unlike Dickson City (but similar to dozens of similar outings all across PA) it was a total non-event (as far as police were concerned). We had 15 attendees, 12 of whom OC'd. We also collected $44.12 for the Dickson City legal fund. Thanks to all who came out today!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Dickson City Police Report - What we expected, only worse

Well, the Dickson City Police Report was released on Monday. It's a mix of CYA and surprising honesty as to some of the illegal acts they committed. Apparently they can't comprehend the simplicity of some of these legal points, despite being informed in person the night of the incident, again by many of us attending the City Council meeting the following Tuesday and numerous times in print as wells as on TV and radio. I predict there will some very interesting testimony when this finally makes it to court.

The entire fiasco began with the illegal detainment of those involved. The police can ask you anything you want, and you're free to ignore them. In order to 'detain' you, they must have "Reasonable Articulable Suspicion" that a crime has occurred, is occurring now or is about to occur AND that the person who is about to be stopped is the person who meets the prior criteria.

Here are some quotes directly from the police report:
The caller stated that the males were not doing anything wrong but the guns were on their sides visible and there were no badges displayed and felt this was wrong with children running around and requested police to check on it.
Ofc. Mariano and I (Gallagher) entered the restaurant and observed several males sitting at tables with what appeared to be their families. The above mentioned males had firearms (handguns) in holsters on their sides. Ofc Mariano approached one table while I went to another. I observed a male sitting at this table feeding his infant; the male had a handgun in a holster on his right side. I informed the male that we were called to the restaurant because people were concerned about the guns that he and other males had on their sides.
Even assuming that these officers are unfamiliar with Commonwealth v. Hawkins, both the caller and their own observations failed to note any 'suspicious' activity. Since RAS did not exist, ALL further actions were illegal

I should probably state 'for the record' that I was not present at the Old Country Buffet on the night in question, but I do know Rich Banks personally, and absolutely believe his version of what happened.

As I understand things, Officer Mariano asked for "weapons permits - concealed weapons permits" from "all you guys", not just from those who were concealing that night. In PA, there is no such thing as a "Concealed Weapons Permit". PA issues a License To Carry Firearms, which among other things, permits the holder to conceal a firearm on or about their person, but does not require them to do so, and does not bar them from open carry if they also hold a LTCF. Further, without RAS the request for LTCFs and IDs was also not proper, both in and of itself, and also because the original detainment was itself unlawful.

The report also alleges that Officer Gallagher "asked" that a video camera be turned off. My understanding is that consent to turn the camera off was declined, but it was indicated that if Officer Gallagher "demanded" that it be shut off, that they would comply (it's important to understand the difference between 'consent' and 'comply'). At this point, Officer Gallagher "demanded" that the camera be turned off, and it was.

Next, the report claims that Rich Banks "stated that he was concealing a weapon" and that he "stated that he would not provide us with identification". Rich's version is that he did not disclose the fact that he was concealing a B.U.G. until he was placed under arrest. Rich also maintains that he was not Mirandized at the time of arrest, or at any point during the encounter.

The report states that the reasons for Rich's arrest were:
1. Disorderly conduct - this charge is typically tacked on to almost anything as a 'catch all'. Neither the act of OC, knowing the law and your rights or asserting those rights comes remotely close to satisfying the legal standard.

2. Failure to provide ID - There is no such crime. There is absolutely no legal obligation to even posses, let alone present paper ID to the police. Rich offered to verbally identify himself if he was being 'detained'. The police either could not decide or chose not to articulate that he was being detained. Rich apparently went directly from a consentual conversation to being placed under arrest.

3. Failure to provide "concealed weapons permit" - Again, no such item in PA. Rich was open carrying a firearm, which requires no LTCF (Officer Mariano eventually stated he knew as much). His concealed B.U.G. was not disclosed until he was placed under arrest, and as they had no prior knowledge of that gun, the request for his "concealed weapons permit" while OCing was bogus.

Some more quotes:
Chief advised us to run identification and permits on all parties. He further advised us that we may run serial numbers of the weapons to be sure the weapons belonged to the carriers
I was told [by another officer] that as long as it was carried without being concealed that he could carry without a license to carry it if it was registered to him.
Upon checking with the chief of police I was advised that if it was not registered to him that he may not carry it and could release it to the registered owner Darcie if on scene, if she was not then I was to take the weapon and the owner would have to come to Police Headquarters to retrieve it.
Comm. Center advised me to call them in reference to the two weapons of Mr. Banks and was informed that the weapon he had concealed on his ankle a 9mm para serial number xxxxxxx was not registered and the other weapon that he had on his right side was registered to Mr Banks. I then received a call from another officer that they had spoken to the ADA and he was requesting to speak with me. I returned a call to ADA Kolcharno and informed him of the situation. He stated that he had just been reading the latest case laws after speaking with the other officer, He stated that a person cannot carry a firearm that is registered to someone else. I informed him of the 9mm of Mr Banks that it was not registered and the ADA informed me that he cannot carry a firearm that is not registered. He also approved the charge of Disorderly Conduct and would look into the failure to provide id and concealed weapons permit, but stated that I should release Mr Banks for the evening and file the charges. I asked ADA Kolcharno again about the weapon and he stated to take the weapon due to it not being registered. I then released Mr Banks and informed him of the above. Mr Banks stated that he is a federal firearms dealer and does not have to register a weapon. least Officers Gallagher and Mariano won't be in this alone. Yet again, without proper RAS at the beginning of the encounter, each and every one of these continued actions have no basis in law. Since there is no registry in PA (and such 'registration' is specifically prohibited by §6111.4), I'm not sure what the purpose of this act was. There are numerous scenarios where a legally possessed firearm is either not listed in the PSP database of sales and transfers or is listed under a name other than the person possessing or carrying it. Whether or not a gun comes up in the database, or who's name it comes back under is completely irrelevant.

Furthermore, the fact that Rich is a FFL has nothing to do with not having to 'register' a firearm, and he would not have done something as silly as suggest such a notion. NO ONE in PA is required to register a firearm.
Mr Banks informed me that if I took his weapon, from him that he would file a lawsuit.
Personal note: I know Rich to be an honest guy, and I fully expect him to keep this promise.
I secured the weapon in my vehicle and went to headquarters to place a property/evidence tag on it and lock it up. I also called the chief of police to update him and advise him that Mr. Banks would be in on Monday for his weapon and that I asked Mr. Banks to bring id showing he was a federal firearms dealer.
To date, the police have not returned Rich's firearm. Rich will not be providing proof of ownership or exemption from 'registration' to the Dickson City PD.

I noticed that the report posted by the newspaper indicated pages 3-5 of a 6-page fax. I wonder what the other 3 pages were? I also have a feeling that I know which side of the story the video will support.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Road Trip

After much internal debate, I took of work and headed off to Luzerne County to attend Dickson City's monthly meeting. About 30 of us showed up (many of us open carrying our firearms) to address city council.

We had originally planned to meet at the Old County Buffet where the incident occured last Friday, but they have since posted the establishment "No Firearms", so we moved to nearby Charlie Brown's Steakhouse. The manager, Tony Fenn welcomed us.

After routine business, which included statements from Counsel President, Barbara Mecca; and, Mayor, Anthony Zaleski endorsing and supporting the actions of the police, the floor was opened for public comment.

While two opposing views were clearly present, all parties were given an opportunity to speak. Considering the controversial subject matter, it's my opinion that things went very well. The police did not attempt to ID any carriers or seize their firearms to check for this phantom "registration".

After the meeting, we wanted to go somewhere to discuss the evening's happenings with Rich (who was not present at the meeting on the advice of his counsel). Since we knew Charlie Brown's didn't have an issue with our presence, we returned their and took advantage of their hospitality and excellent food again. Our post-meeting pow-wow was topped off by some delicious cake, which Mr. Fenn was kind enough to provide us at no charge.

Oh last thing.....My wife is right, and I'm ready to admit it: I'm an "activist".

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Someone is about to be schooled!

I learned late last evening that a good friend of mine was arrested after police responded to an Old Country Buffet where he was attending a dinner of area gun owners. Everyone with firearms openly displayed was taken outside, where the police demanded ID of everyone and illegally ran the serial numbers of the firearms.

This friend offered verbal identification, but refused producing "papers", since he was not participating in a 'privileged' activity and not legally bound to do so. He was arrested for "failure to identify himself" and disorderly conduct. He was released at the scene later that evening before being transported or booked (because they had nothing that would hold water and they KNEW it).

They also would not return one of his firearms, since it was not in the "illegal database that's not a registry". This friend is a FFL, which means the officers involved committed a theft from a FFL, which is a Federal crime. I'm certain there will be further legal action against the agencies involved, and I will post new details as they develop.