Today I came across this article which involves a Philadelphia man, Mark Fiorino, who was recently stopped by police for carrying a handgun openly in the city. Apparently, the young man has been routinely carrying openly there for some time, an act that is completely legal if one possesses a permit – which he did and offered to show the responding officer, Sergeant Michael Dougherty. As he reportedly often does, Mr. Fiorino was carrying an audio recording device which reasonably indicates that he was anticipating a confrontation, the sense of which is certainly debatable. The recording is attached below.
The entire incident was contentious from the start, with Officer Dougherty unprofessionally calling Mr. Fiorino “Junior” and at one point yelling at him to “shut the **** up” as he presumably makes him lie face down on the ground. It is without dispute that Mr. Fiorino was uncooperative with the officer initially and he should have been. For that, it will be difficult for the disorderly conduct charges to not stick, I think. But the officers were also very unprofessional themselves and were clearly angered when they discovered that he was recording the incident. Lieutenant Raymond Evers, a spokesman for the city police, speculated that “Fiorino appears to be inviting trouble from the law by ‘surreptitiously’ recording his encounters with police.” I totally disagree with this statement as there is a monumental difference between anticipating trouble and inviting trouble. But for sake of the argument I simply reply with– so what? Mr. Fiorino was not breaking a law by carrying openly, nor was he breaking a law by recording any potential encounters with police during the conduct of their official duties. Just what exactly is the message that the Philadelphia police are trying to send with such speculation, that you can be a law abiding citizen so long as you do not do so brazenly or without remorse, or that you must do so without attracting the attention of police officers who may, or may not, know what the law actually states?
I have no doubt that the Lt’s assumption is correct but that does not dismiss the glaring perception this incident fosters – that the police, who ultimately hold incredible power over the populace, do not know as much about such obviously critical laws as the populace does. Mr. Fiorino would not have likely been carrying the recording device if he did not already know or presume that the police would erroneously hassle him and do so unprofessionally, something the Lt’s own speculation ironically denotes. This sounds to me like at least a partial attempt to deflect the responsibility that the police department nonetheless owns for their officers’ professional incompetence.
Much like confirming a driver’s license, the police unquestionably have the authority to investigate permits when probable cause is prevalent – and carrying openly is clear probable cause that is subject to the discretion of the officer(s) in question. The mere fact that the officer approached Mr. Fiorino is not the problem. But the manner in which he did so and the causal factor that he was totally oblivious to the statutes that he is empowered to enforce absolutely is. How can we, as a public, trust that the police officer is proficient and professional enough not to inappropriately discharge the weapon he pointed at Mr. Fiorino if he has already demonstrated that he is not proficient and professional enough to be cognizant of the very law which he is sworn to uphold? When police interact with the populace with such disrespect and unprofessionalism (especially regarding their demeanor and language) they then lose all right to expect the law abiding public to not harbor resentment and disenfranchisement with the institution – a general feeling that I perceive is growing in society, unfortunately.
Mr. Fiorino undoubtedly should have hit his knees when instructed to do so without argument but I do not fault him at all for offering to provide the officer his legal artifacts. The permit is something that the officer should have been professionally competent enough to accept as it is the only legitimate legal justification for his confronting the young man in the first place. Further, I never once heard the arresting officers Mirandize the young man, even though they clearly detained him.
There is a prevalent problem that is growing in America that stems in part from the fact that the United States is the most legislated nation in recorded history. Our politicians continuously make trivial and petty laws to facilitate and justify their own existence, to satisfy special interests, and/or to further their own personal or professional agendas. This phenomenon is not without its own special set of consequences, even if arguably unintentional: “It will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood.”
Last Christmas I traveled across the country to visit my family for the holidays and decided to fly with my personal firearm – something I do often enough. Because I am admittedly obsessive in my preparation I printed out the Transportation Security Administration’s weapons-related regulations for checking firearms and ammunition and carried them with me to the check-in counter. To my somewhat naïve surprise, I found that I had to educate the TSA personnel on their own rules because they were not initially going to let me fly with my ammunition packed the way I had – citing those same rules as justification. They were embarrassed, and not without merit, that a private citizen was forced to point out their professional ignorance.
It begs the question – how exactly do people expect to conduct their lives entirely within the law at all times, given the multitude of silly and inconsequential laws on the books, when law enforcement and other government officials themselves seemingly cannot keep track of all the major ones? Whether it is firearms laws such as this or tax laws that politicians cannot seem to figure out (even though they write them), the result is the same. It ultimately goes to the credibility of the agency represented specifically and the government in general, and does not paint a positive picture.