[The] constitutional security for `the right to keep and bear arms’ implies the right to use them … This is the only remedy suggested by the Constitution, and is necessarily the only remedy that can exist, when the government becomes so corrupt as to afford no peaceable one. The people have a legal right to resort to this remedy at all times, when the government goes beyond, or contrary to, the Constitution. And it is only a matter of discretion with them whether to resort to it at any particular time. –
Henry Magee was sleeping when armed intruders burst into his home at dawn last December 19. Knowing only that he and his family were at mortal risk, Magee grabbed a gun and opened fire, fatally wounding Sgt. Adam Sowers, who was part of a police task force carrying out a “no-knock warrant” in search of drugs.
Magee was arrested and charged with murder. On February 6, agrand jury in Burleson County, Texas declined to indict Magee, accepting his claim that he acted in self-defense because he believed his home was being burglarized. In defiance of recent trends, that grand jury vindicated the hope expressed by Lysander Spooner that such panels would recognize and honor the right of citizens to exercise lethal force in defending themselves against government lawlessness.
Adam Sowers was an irreplaceable human being whose family has been devastated by his death. It is a singular tragedy that Sowers died. It is compounded by the fact that Magee had a moral and legal right to kill him, just as he has the right to use deadly force in dealing with any other armed invader.
Sowers’s death was not the result of a crime committed by the man who shot him, but rather of the criminal policy he was called upon to enforce.
Henry Magee’s case echoes an earlier one in which a resident of Texas was changed with a felony because he had tried to defend himself against a band of privileged home invaders.
Just after midnight on the morning of August 5, 2006, a SWAT team in McKinley, Texas used a battering ram to breach the front door of JohnQuinn’s home. The pretext for this crime was a warrant authorizing the police to search for narcotics allegedly in the possession of Quinn’s adult son, Brian. Awakened by the tumult, Quinn retrieved his rifle and went to confront the intruders. One of them, Officer Jesus Damian Guerrero, fired several shots in an attempt to murder the home owner.
The warrant named Brian Quinn, not his father, as the suspect, and it authorized a limited search of Brian’s effects. Once Guerrero shot John, the cops had their excuse to search the entire home. Inside a safe they would not have been authorized to search, they found a minuscule amount of cocaine.
Brian – who had no self-interested reason to say so – claimed that the cocaine was his, that his father had never used drugs, and was trying to help him overcome his drug habit.
Quinn, who suffered a relatively minor wound in his right hand, was arrested and charged with aggravated assault on a police officer. A test in the hospital confirmed that he had no drugs in his system. After waiting five years for a trial, Quinn was acquitted on the aggravated assault charge. He was later found “guilty” of possessing less than a gram of cocaine (a test conducted during Quinn’s hospitalization found no evidence of drugs in his system) and given two years’ probation and a $500 fine.
The most interesting contrast between the John Quinn case and that of Henry Magee is the near role-reversal between the costumed assailant and the defender: Where a grand jury refused to indict Magee for shooting the police officer who had barged into his home, in Quinn’s case it was the assailant, Officer Guerrero, who was “no-billed” by the grand jury.
The dismissal of the murder charge against Magee suggests that at least some Texas residents recognize that a police officer who breaks down a door and terrifies people in their bed is a common burglar and should be treated as such. This represents modest but welcome progress.
For his part, Quinn is appealing a Texas Appellate Court ruling that authorizes police to commit paramilitary home invasions anytime they learn that a citizen at a targeted address has the means to defend himself.
As is generally the case when police mount a paramilitary raid, the warrant was issued on the basis of two informants – both of whom had admitted to “activity related to Brian’s drug dealing” — who told the cops that “Brian kept a number of weapons in the house, including an AK-47 rifle.” One of the informants, at the behest of the police, sent a text message to Brian asking to buy Xanax.
In his affidavit, Detective Christopher Grollnek (a relentless self-promoter who has gone on to carve out a lucrative niche promoting the Regime’s war on the American population) claimed that neither informant was offered a deal in exchange for helping to set up Brian. This was almost certainly a lie, given that neither of the informants was prosecuted: One saw his charges dropped before trial, the other was never charged. Quinn appealed his conviction, arguing that the no-knock raid was unjustified, and that the evidence seized from his office safe was the product of an invalid search.
Communications among the officers at the time of the raid proved that they were aware that Brian wasn’t at the residence. Thus they had no reason to conduct a raid, let alone one involving assault rifles and a battering ram. Assuming, for the purposes of this discussion, that drug use is a crime of some sort, the police could have waited for Brian to return, taken him into custody, knocked on the door, and conducted their search.
However, according to a genuinely deranged opinion handed down last May by the Texas Fifth District Court of Appeals, a military-style assault was justified because “the circumstances presented a threat of physical violence in this case, based upon the informants’ statements that Brian kept a number of guns in the home…. Unannounced entries have been upheld as reasonable when the police had information there were guns on the premises to be searched.”
Officer Safety is the paramount consideration in all public policy, so the appellate court placed particular emphasis on the fact that some of the intrepid heroes who beat down Quinn’s door at midnight “testified [that] the presence of an AK-47 particularly concerned the team, because the officers’ body armor would not protect them from its shots.” The mere presence of the “exceptionally dangerous AK-47,” the court insisted, “made the no-knock entry reasonable under the existing circumstances.”
Only in a universe in which the rules of logic follow the contours of a Salvador Dali painting would that warrant be considered “reasonable,” if the objective had been to avoid unnecessary violence.
The purpose of having firearms, as Lysander Spooner pointed out, was to use them in self-defense against “bandits” and “ruffians,” a category that includes anybody who kicks in a door at midnight, armed and prepared to do lethal harm to those who reside inside the home. Staging a police raid of that kind on a home where the residents are known to be armed is a reliable recipe for a shooting, a fact underscored by the tragically necessary death of Adam Sowers, and the near-murder of John Quinn.
Mr. Quinn has filed an appeal to the Supreme Court. A richly documented and tightly argued amicus curiae brief filed on his behalf by the US Justice Foundation, Gun Owners Foundation, and several other public interest groups contends that the ruling by the appellate court in Texas “establishes a per se rule that, every time the police have a valid warrant, they can execute it without knocking, violating the Fourth Amendment at will,” if they discover that a resident has a legally owned firearm.
“If the police are now permitted to justify no-knock raids any time there is a firearm in the residence,” observes the brief, “no American home is safe from a terrifying, middle of the night home invasion.”
That state of affairs would suit the enforcement caste just fine – unless and until more victims respond with the tragic but justified efficiency of Hank Magee. If and when this happens, no rational and honest person should have any doubt as to which party is responsible.