Drew Zahn is a WND news editor who cut his journalist teeth as a member of the award-winning staff of Leadership, Christianity Today's professional journal for church leaders. A former pastor, he is the editor of seven books, including Movie-Based Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching, which sparked his ongoing love affair with film and his weekly WND column, "Popcorn and a (world)view."More ↓Less ↑
A flurry of recent stories about police knocking on – and sometimes knocking in – people’s front doors have raised alarms in both the U.S. and Canada about whether the home is still constitutionally protected from increasing police power.
As WND reported, High River, Alberta, has become a recent focal point of the controversy, when it was revealed Royal Canadian Mounted Police entered the flooded town after a mandatory evacuation, broke down doors and began confiscating “several hundred” firearms.
In High River, RCMP and province officials assured citizens the only guns taken were those “improperly secured” and “in plain view” – to be stored for safekeeping and returned to residents after the evacuation ended.
But Michael Coren of Canada’s Sun News says the authorities are “lying, because we know the police actually broke locks to get into cupboards to find out if there were guns there.”
High River resident Cam Fleury believes his house, which sits at a high point free of floodwater, was targeted by the RCMP. The following video shows his front door was broken down, and police made a bee-line for his gun cabinet:
“This whole area is the highest point in town, so there was no flood damage,” Fleury told Sun News, “so there was no reason for them to enter any of these houses.”
The RCMP’s actions drew a rebuke from Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose office issued a statement: “If any firearms were taken, we expect they will be returned to their owners as soon as possible. … We believe the RCMP should focus on more important tasks such as protecting lives and private property.”
Yet civil rights and gun advocates in the country warn that’s not good enough.
Faith Goldy, who has been following the story for Sun News, is concerned about the information authorities were able to gather by invading people’s homes: “Now they’ve got [firearm] serial numbers, they’ve got addresses and there is no mechanism put in place for us now to force them to abolish what has basically become an emergency, back-door [gun] registry.”
“There’s absolutely no way, no how you can justify going into people’s homes and taking their property without a warrant,” asserted Tony Bernardo of the Canadian Sport Shooting Association. “This is Canada! We have laws here!”
“People are protected from having an unwarranted search and seizure,” Goldy added, “[yet] that’s exactly what happened here.”
Gun grabbing nothing new in the U.S.
Americans are similarly protected by the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, which states, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
Yet the Fourth Amendment was sorely tried – or outright ignored, depending on your perspective – when the residents of New Orleans faced similar floodwaters.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, thousands of weapons – legally obtained and owned – were simply grabbed from citizens after New Orleans Police Superintendent P. Edwin Compass III announced, “Only law enforcement are allowed to have weapons.”
Just to make sure the message was loud and clear, the city’s Deputy Police Chief Warren Riley told ABC News: “No one will be able to be armed. We are going to take all the weapons.”
Then they did exactly that.
One man at a post-Katrina meeting assembled in conjunction with the National Rifle Association said, “The bottom line is this. Once they did it, they set a precedent. And what we’ve got to be sure [of] is that the precedent stops here.”
In a series of videos, the National Rifle Association has documented the stunning weapons grab by police in New Orleans, assembling videos that show them physically taking weapons from individuals, including one woman who was stunned when officers threw her against her kitchen wall because she had a small handgun for self-defense.
The not-to-be-forgotten images, Part 1:
Herb Titus, a nationally known constitutional attorney and law professor, told WND government’s claim always is that such draconian powers will only be used “in an emergency situation.”
But there are so many “emergencies,” he said, that “all of our rights are in jeopardy.”
There, they burst into homes with guns drawn, ordering residents out while they searched.
Commentators said while homeowners there technically had the right to refuse a request for a search if officers didn’t have a warrant, “it seems unlikely that many residents of Watertown felt like exploring that particular legal nuance by refusing the policy entry.”
Merely expecting an “emergency”
As WND has reported, the most recent example of a police-state presence is developing even now in Sanford, Fla., where neighborhood-watch participant George Zimmerman faces a nationally prominent, racially charged murder trial for the death of teenager Trayvon Martin.
Police say they fear the backlash from the community when the jury verdict is delivered, ala the days of rioting in Los Angeles when the Rodney King verdict came down.
So Sanford Police Chief Cecile Smith confirmed officers are going door-to-door talking to people.
“Our worst fear is that we’d have people from outside the community coming in and stirring up … violence,” he said.
The police live here now, ma’am
Yet surprisingly, the Fourth Amendment isn’t the only “front door” right to come under assault in recent months.
As WND reported, a lawsuit has been filed against the Henderson, Nev., police department over an incident in which its officers allegedly demanded to use a private home as a lookout for an investigation, then arrested the resident when he refused.
It raises the unusual claim that the police violated the Third Amendment, which prohibits the “quartering of soldiers” in private homes in peacetime without the owner’s consent.
“Whatever the ultimate outcome of this case, it is clear that lawyers and legal scholars should start taking the Third Amendment more seriously,” commented legal scholar Eugene Volohk. “Contrary to conventional wisdom, there is in fact a history of violations of the Third Amendment, such as the military’s brutal treatment of Alaska’s Aleutian Islanders during World War II.”
According to the complaint, “At 10:45 a.m. defendant Officer Christopher Worley (HPD) contacted plaintiff Anthony Mitchell via his telephone. Worley told plaintiff that police needed to occupy his home in order to gain a ‘tactical advantage’ against the occupant of the neighboring house. Anthony Mitchell told the officer that he did not want to become involved and that he did not want police to enter his residence. Although Worley continued to insist that plaintiff should leave his residence, plaintiff clearly explained that he did not intend to leave his home or to allow police to occupy his home. Worley then ended the phone call.”
The complaint then explains that members of the police departments “conspired among themselves to force Anthony Mitchell out of his residence and to occupy his home for their own use.”
According to a report in Court News, “Defendant Officer David Cawthorn outlined the defendants’ plan in his official report: ‘It was determined to move to 367 Evening Side and attempt to contact Mitchell. If Mitchell answered the door he would be asked to leave. If he refused to leave he would be arrested for Obstructing a Police Officer. If Mitchell refused to answer the door, force entry would be made and Mitchell would be arrested.’”
The lawsuit explains at least five police officers banged on Anthony Mitchell’s front door and demanded he leave, then broke down the door and pointed their guns at him.
“As plaintiff Anthony Mitchell stood in shock, the officers aimed their weapons at Anthony Mitchell and shouted obscenities at him and ordered him to lie down on the floor,” court documents explain. “Fearing for his life, plaintiff Anthony Mitchell dropped his phone and prostrated himself onto the floor of his living room, covering his face and hands.”
According to the complaint, Mitchell was subsequently transported to Henderson Detention Center, booked on charges of Obstructing an Officer and required to pay a bond to secure release from custody. All criminal charges, however, were ultimately dismissed with prejudice.
Volokh noted for damages to be due under the Third Amendment, the court would have to decide whether “police … qualify as ‘solders.’”
“On the other hand,” he said, “many police departments are increasingly using military-style tactics and equipment, often including the aggressive use of force against innocent people who get in the way of their plans. … In jurisdictions where the police have become increasingly militarized, perhaps the courts should treat them as ‘soldiers’ for Third Amendment purposes.”