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This Police Department Is So Bad, a Cop Reported It to Black Lives Matter

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast / Photos Getty/Facebook

By September 2020, police officer Robert Black was at his wit’s end.

Over his year of service in the department of Millersville, Tennessee, Black had allegedly been subjected to sexual harassment, including from a female officer who used a racist slur while grabbing his genitals. The police chief, whom Black suspected of harboring Ku Klux Klan ties, had allegedly made disparaging comments about Black’s biracial son. The assistant police chief was under investigation for allegedly assaulting his wife during a dispute over an alleged affair with a drug suspect. Through it all, management allegedly silenced officers’ complaints by instructing them to support the “thin blue line.”

“Nobody would listen to what was going on up there,” Black told The Daily Beast. “Nobody cared.”

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It’s relatively easy in New York to get a license to carry a gun for limited purposes — the plaintiffs in NYSRPA include two men who already have a license permitting them to carry a gun for hunting, for target practice, and while in areas not “frequented by the general public.” One is also licensed to carry a gun while commuting to and from work. But neither plaintiff obtained an unlimited carry license, and New York courts require that someone who seeks such a license must “demonstrate a special need for self-protection distinguishable from that of the general community or of persons engaged in the same profession.” The petitioners sued, along with a New York gun-rights group, claiming that they are entitled to an unrestricted license. The implications of this case go far beyond these two plaintiffs and New York state. The current Court, with its 6-3 conservative supermajority, may very well dismantle the limits on the Second Amendment articulated in Heller. 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Justice Antonin Scalia’s majority opinion in Heller includes a long list of limits on the Second Amendment. “Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill,” Scalia wrote, nor “laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.’” The government may also ban “dangerous and unusual weapons,” so the regulation of machine guns and similarly destructive weapons is still valid. This language, retired Justice John Paul Stevens revealed shortly before his death in 2019, was inserted at the insistence of Justice Anthony Kennedy. Because Heller was a 5-4 decision, Scalia needed support from all four of his conservative colleagues, or else he’d lose his majority. And that meant Kennedy could wield a great deal of influence over the final opinion. But Kennedy retired in 2018 and was replaced by the much more conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Then liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died in 2020, was replaced by conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett. As lower court judges, both Kavanaugh and Barrett wrote opinions calling for an expansive approach to the Second Amendment. It’s far from clear, in other words, whether there are still five justices who will respect the mitigating language in Heller. Many of the “longstanding prohibitions” on gun use that are now perfectly legal could soon be declared illegal. Kavanaugh, moreover, is one of the judiciary’s most outspoken dissenters from the consensus approach to the Second Amendment that federal appeals courts have come up with since Heller. At least 10 federal appeals courts — every court to hear a Second Amendment case since Heller, in fact — have applied what federal appellate Judge Stephen Higginson describes as a “two-step analytic framework.” Under this framework, “severe burdens on core Second Amendment rights” are subject to “strict scrutiny,” the most skeptical level of review in most constitutional cases. Meanwhile, “Less onerous laws, or laws that govern conduct outside of the Second Amendment’s ‘core,’” are subject to a more permissive test known as “intermediate scrutiny.” Applying this framework, federal appeals courts determined that restricting “the right of a law-abiding, responsible adult to possess and use a handgun to defend his or her home” burdens the “core” of the Second Amendment. 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One of those critics was Kavanaugh, still a lower court judge at the time, argued in a 2011 dissenting opinion that this framework should be abandoned. “Courts are to assess gun bans and regulations based on text, history, and tradition,” Kavanaugh claimed, “not by a balancing test such as strict or intermediate scrutiny.” Notably, both the plaintiffs challenging New York’s licensure law and the state attorneys tasked with defending it spend the lion’s share of their briefs applying this “text, history, and tradition” standard to New York’s law. So it seems that, at the very least, the lawyers litigating this case seem to think that it is very likely the Supreme Court will adopt Kavanaugh’s approach. So how, exactly, does the “text, history, and tradition” test work? 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New York’s lawyers, meanwhile, cite many of the same historical sources but make a more nuanced argument that “any right to bear arms outside the home permits a State to condition handgun carrying in areas ‘frequented by the general public’ on a showing of a non-speculative need for armed self-defense in those areas.” Thus, they argue, states may apply stricter gun-control rules in cities and other population centers than they can in more sparsely populated areas. Both briefs spend a simply ridiculous amount of time discussing a 1328 English law known as the “Statute of Northampton,” which provided that individuals may not “go nor ride armed by night nor by day, in fairs, markets, nor in the presence of the justices or other ministers, nor in no part elsewhere, upon pain to forfeit their armour to the King, and their bodies to prison at the King’s pleasure.” The state argues that this nearly 700-year-old law did exactly what it says it did, while the plaintiffs point to a pair of 1686 cases which, they argue, narrowed the 1328 law to apply only to people who carry arms in order “to terrify the King’s subjects.” Similarly, the plaintiffs quote a bevy of old decisions by state supreme courts, mostly in the South, suggesting that early Americans had broad gun rights. We learn about an 1833 decision by the Tennessee Supreme Court, the opinion in which cited the state constitution when it said that “the freemen of this state have a right to keep and to bear arms for their common defence”; an 1846 case out of Georgia, which found that “a prohibition against bearing arms openly, is in conflict with the Constitution, and void”; and an 1840 Alabama Supreme Court decision holding that “the Legislature cannot inhibit the citizen from bearing arms openly, because [the constitution] authorizes him to bear them for the purposes of defending himself and the State.” Meanwhile, New York musters up its own array of centuries-old laws and court opinions to justify its understanding of the Second Amendment. In its brief, we learn that the Old West settlements of Dodge City, Kansas, and Tombstone, Arizona, required anyone entering them to leave their guns at the city limits — visitors to Tombstone even encountered a sign reading “THE CARRYING OF FIREARMS STRICTLY PROHIBITED.” New York also cites early 19th-century manuals instructing law enforcement to “arrest all such persons as in your sight shall ride or go armed.” They quote a colonial New Jersey provision making it unlawful to “ride or go armed with sword, pistol, or dagger,” though the law made an exception for “strangers, travelling upon their lawful occasion thro’ this Province, behaving themselves peaceably.” A Virginia law enacted three years before the Second Amendment was drafted imprisoned people who go “armed by night []or by day, in fairs or markets.” A Massachusetts law enacted a few years after the amendment was ratified incarcerated individuals who enter populated areas “armed offensively, to the fear or terror of the good citizens of this Commonwealth.” The state’s brief, in other words, paints a more nuanced picture than that of the plaintiffs — arguing that different parts of the US had different gun laws and that city dwellers often had to put away their guns, except when traveling through sparsely populated areas where they had to rely on their own armaments for protection. As it turns out, much as the devil can cite Scripture for his purpose, so too can lawyers on both sides of the Second Amendment quote “text, history, and tradition” to justify the outcome they prefer. This confusion over history will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the Heller decision and Stevens’s dissent in that case. Like the merits briefs in NYSRPA, Scalia’s opinion is replete with citations to early American laws and old English legal treatises. But so is Stevens’s dissent, which quotes at length from both founding-era state constitutions and early drafts and proposals for what became the Second Amendment. The five conservative justices looked at text, history, and tradition in Heller, concluding that the Second Amendment should be interpreted in the way conservatives prefer. Meanwhile, the four liberal justices — who looked at the exact same text and historical sources —determined that the Second Amendment should be interpreted in the way liberals prefer. 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