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Falcon Heights shooting: let’s take a deep breath

Gun owners, Second Amendment advocates, and civil rights supporters:

Let’s all slow down and take a deep breath.

We have seen some horrible things happen in the last couple of days. While we don’t have official confirmation of all the facts, it seems very likely that a permit holder who didn’t have any violent intentions was killed by a Minnesota police officer Wednesday night. Last night, apparently in response, five police officers were killed in Dallas, and seven others were wounded.

In the last 36 hours, GOCRA leadership has been flooded with calls to support the police, to condemn the police, to be louder, and to be quieter. There is little doubt that no one is going to agree with everything we say, and that’s okay. We each see events through the lens of our own life experience and worldview.

But some things need to be said.

  There isn’t a war on police. There isn’t a war on permit holders. And there isn’t a war on the black community.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t problems, and that doesn’t mean we don’t have things to fix, but almost all citizens, permit holders, and police officers are good people, just trying to do our best and get through our days.

What unites us is much more than what divides us, and we need, as hard as it can be sometimes, to expect that we will deal with each other with respect, trust, and empathy.

  We don’t have all the facts about what happened in Falcon Heights

In fact, we barely have any facts.

We do have a ton of assumptions, allegations, and theories. We think Philando Castile was a permit holder — his mom and girlfriend say he was — but that data is, appropriately, private.

We don’t know what transpired during the traffic stop on Wednesday night. We don’t know what was said and done, nor in what order.

We do have a video made by Philando Castile’s girlfriend immediately after the shooting. In it, we can see that both she and Officer Yanez are very shaken up.

Firearm trainers and investigators and psychologists all know that adrenaline messes with your mind, with your perceptions of time and space, and with your memory. That’s why police officers are almost always given a day or two to settle down before being subject to an investigational interview. Because in the moment, their thoughts and memories are going to be jumbled and confused by the stress.

  What do we do know?

We know that Philando Castile was shot and killed by Officer Jeronimo Yanez during a traffic stop Wednesday night.

We do know that Castile got a lot of traffic tickets in his life, but had never been convicted of any serious or violent crime.

We also know that Officer Yanez has a clean record, with no serious or violent crimes, nor complaints about his work as a police officer.

We have the video of the aftermath.

And that’s about it. I pray that there is good audio and video from the squad car video camera, and that it might shed some light on what happened.

  We have to remember that people are fallible

It is almost certain that neither Philando Castile nor Officer Yanez acted with any bad intent.

But! It is entirely possible — even likely — that Castile, or Yanez, or both, made errors in communication, judgement, and tactics that contributed to the outcome.

  We need to get the facts – quickly, transparently, and believably

Right now, there’s a lot of distrust in the air: distrust of the police by citizens, distrust of the integrity of investigations of public officials, distrust of permit holders, distrust of those who advocate for civil rights. Distrust of the media, which sees and reports events through its own lens.

While healthy skepticism is good, a society can’t survive when the people and the government can’t trust each other at all. This Falcon Heights incident needs to be thoroughly investigated, and right now.

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is already on the case, and that’s good, but we believe that the Obama Justice Department ought to do its own, independent investigation. We need to get to the bottom of what happened, we need to do it soon.

And when we get the facts from multiple, independent sources, maybe we can trust that they are real, and not a police cover-up.

  The police need to do better

Better training for police officers can go a long way toward ensuring that a tragedy like this doesn’t happen again. We need to make that happen, and we need to do it now.

EVERY police officer needs to recognize what most do already: permit holders are among the very few certified “good guys” officers will encounter on a shift.

And police departments need to do more — much more — to gain the trust of citizens, and that means more accountability and more transparency.

Yes, that means more body cameras, but it also means police leaders need to have the courage to get rid of the bad apples in their departments. It means that police contracts need to give the chiefs and the cities the authority to get rid of those bad apples.

And it means that police officers have to cross the thin blue line. Police officers need to sometimes say, “No, what this officer did is NOT okay, and he doesn’t belong in our ranks.”

Nobody’s perfect, and every organization has some marginal employees. But when these employees have a badge, a gun, and no direct supervision for most of their shift, the police can’t afford to have ANY marginal employees. With great power comes great responsibility, and police officers wield enormous power. That means that the standard for police officers’ conduct HAS to be higher.

For our police officer friends: it may not seem fair, but you are coming from way behind. It’s not all your fault, but it is absolutely your problem: too many in the community don’t trust you, and you’re going to have to work hard, individually and as a group, to earn back that trust. Your life may one day depend on it.

  The community needs to do better

EVERY permit holder has to remember that guns are powerful tools, capable of strong defense and strong offense, and we need to remember that a police officer may not know the permit holder’s status on initial contact.

Permit holders, let’s go out of our way to make really, really sure that we don’t present a perceived threat to law enforcement officers. Because your life may one day depend on it.

Community leaders need to do more to break down the “no snitch” mentality in the community. Just as the police need to kick out their bad apples, so do we. When criminals hurt others, we need to work with the police to get those criminals caught, and prosecuted, and locked up.

And we need to acknowledge that not every police use of force is unjustified. There are real bad guys out there, and they do resist and attack the police.  Those officers have just as much right as you or I to defend themselves from attack — and they have the added duty to protect society.

When I see trouble, I run away. Cops can’t do that. They need to run toward trouble, and risk their lives, to protect us.

And we all need to lose the “us-vs-them” mentality. The police aren’t the enemy. And neither are the people. We all want to live in a safe, free society.

  So let’s take a deep breath

Let’s let the investigation proceed – quickly. Let’s trust, but verify, that the investigation is thorough and honest. Let’s be more kind, more tolerant, and more patient with the people around us, and treat them with more respect.

We will be watching, carefully, and we’ll be working with our allies in the community and in law enforcement to work toward solutions that will help keep incidents like this from happening again.

  You’ve heard what we think

What do you think? Get in touch with us by email, on Facebook, or on Twitter, and tell us what you think.

St. Cloud Case: Long Gun Carry and State Preemption

A man was stopped and then ticketed by St. Cloud police, for openly carrying a rifle in public. Now he’s suing the city, saying the ticket was illegal, because he has a Minnesota permit to carry a pistol. What does the law say?

We asked GOCRA’s founder, Professor Joseph E. Olson, to explain.

Note: THIS IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE!

This is general information and commentary. Every case is different: consult your attorney before taking any action that could expose you to legal jeopardy.

On November 17, 2014, Tyler Gottwalt was stopped by St. Cloud and Sauk Rapids police on the Sauk Rapids Regional Bridge, because he was carrying an AK-47 semi-automatic rifle on his back.

That stop was legal: Under Minnesota law (624.7181), carrying a rifle in a public place is generally forbidden. But there is an exception: it IS legal for a person to carry a long gun in public, if the person has a Minnesota Permit to Carry a Pistol.

Tyler Gottwalt did have a carry permit. Once the officers verified that fact, that should have been the end of the incident.

And for the Sauk Rapids Police officers, that was the end of the incident. They consulted with their County Attorney’s office, and quickly concluded that Tyler hadn’t broken any laws!

The St. Cloud cops were more stubborn. They cited Tyler for carrying a rifle in public, in violation of a St. Cloud ordinance that requires a long gun to be cased or broken apart.

But here’s the problem: St. Cloud isn’t allowed to enforce any ordinance about carrying guns that is different from state law. That’s called state preemption, and I was there at the Capitol, helping to pass that preemption law, back in 1985. It’s been state law ever since.

Again, cities and counties cannot regulate guns! That’s why a county judge threw out the citation. That’s why Tyler is suing the police and the city for false arrest. And that’s why he will win.

There are ordinances like this all over the state. We’ve been able to work with a number of cities to voluntarily remove them. The others, it seems, need to be slapped down in court. We hope that other cities will learn from St. Cloud’s mistake and do the right thing before they end up in hot water and wind up costing their taxpayers money.

Here’s the lawsuit filing: Gottwalt v. Oxton, et al.

Tonight: Tell the Plymouth city council to drop gun control from its agenda!

plymouth-chiefPlymouth police chief Mike Goldstein was at the Capitol last week, shilling for Senator Ron Latz’s gun control bill, SF2980 (watch the channel 12 video here).

Do you think this is the best use of the chief’s time, and of your tax dollars?

Tonight, at the Plymouth City Council meeting, Second Amendment supporters will ask the Council to remove gun control from its legislative priorities. A strong show of support by Plymouth residents will help convince the Council to do the right thing.

We apologize for the late notice; this all came up very quickly.

PLymouth Council Meeting
3/22/2016, 7:00 PM
Council Chambers
3400 Plymouth Blvd.
Plymouth, Minnesota 55447
Google Maps: https://goo.gl/maps/kJ2hncxTwYt

Please show up, wear your GOCRA shirt, and make your voice heard.

Regardless of whether you go, please email the city council and tell them you expect them to respect, not infringe, your Second Amendment rights.