L. Neil Smith's
Number 198, November 11, 2002



from the Editor


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.

Jeff Brown of Gaithersburg, Md., was "a little nervous" when he heard the voicemail message from an FBI agent on the sniper task force who wanted to "visit" Brown at his home to check a .223 caliber semi- automatic rifle Brown purchased in 1993. Adding to that apprehension was the fact that Brown owns and drives a full-sized white panel van, the type of vehicle investigators believed the sniper was driving.


Brown's apprehension prompted him to contact an attorney, who instructed him on preparing for the visit. So, when FBI Special Agent Greg Metzger and his partner arrived at Brown's home for their scheduled meeting, they were greeted by Brown and his wife, Mary, along with reporters and photographers from various media outlets.

As Brown described the situation, the agents were "a little bit miffed."


"Why didn't you give us a chance to do what we said we were going to do instead of ambushing us with the media? Why didn't you trust us?" one agent asked.


"One thing they said was, 'Don't you know people are dying and we're just trying to do our job?'" Brown recalled, "Of course, the inference was that I didn't care that there were people dying and I was trying to interfere with them doing their job."


The agents followed Brown and his wife inside and confirmed the serial number on the rifle as they had said they wanted to do. But that was not the end of the encounter.

"After they checked, they started [questioning Brown again], and that's when my wife stepped in and told them to leave," Brown said, noting that his wife formerly worked in law enforcement.

Mary Brown believed the agents were attempting to agitate her husband, hoping he would say or do something to justify their confiscation of his rifle.

"I could tell that they were doing it on purpose and I didn't like what they were doing to you," she told her husband. "So, I decided to just jump right in."

The agents left the couple's property, as they were ordered to do.

Jeff Brown does not believe the agents' reaction to the presence of the media, or their "brow-beating" tactics were justified.

"I'm not here to make them feel happy. I have to make sure my rights are not violated. I wanted to help, but this is not Nazi Germany," he explained. "I looked [Metzger] right in the eye and said ... 'I don't care whether you're upset about being ambushed by the media. I felt I needed some witnesses here with me.'"

[GOA head LArry Pratt] believes the response of the agents to the presence of the media shows that their main focus was not on finding the "Beltway Sniper," but rather on sending a message to gun owners.

"They know it's not about crime control because, if they were really interested in finding the perpetrator they would have kept moving. Obviously this guy wasn't the guy," Pratt concluded. "What it's really all about is showing that the feds are in control in a very totalitarian sense of the word."

Source: www.cnsnews.com/ViewCulture.asp?Page=\Culture\archive\200211\CUL20021105a.html


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.

Source: www.fedagent.com/102402.htm


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