Trump on stop and frisk: It's a great way for cops to seize guns

A follow-up to yesterday’s post. When he talks below about cops taking guns away, he means illegal guns, of course. A person authorized to carry concealed would get to keep their weapon — but only after they’ve been stopped and frisked first, presumably, and the cops assured that there’s a lawful permit in place. Is the NRA simpatico on that? Leon Wolf notes that right-wingers would be having conniptions if Hillary Clinton vowed to send the police into rural America to stop people on the street and perform gun-check patdowns because they allegedly made “furtive movements.”

That’s no mere hypothetical. The highest concentration of lawful concealed-carry permits in Chicago is among black and Latino residents. A lot of law-abiding gun owners would be stopped, searched, and asked to show their permit papers without probable cause to believe they’ve committed a crime if stop-and-frisk comes to the midwest.

The way Trump phrases the situation there raises an interesting legal question. Traditionally, stop-and-frisk begins with a passerby doing something to create a “reasonable suspicion” of criminal activity (furtive movements!) followed by the cops patting him down to look for weapons. That is, there’s suspicious behavior and then then you get to search for guns. Trump’s explanation seems to imagine that carrying a gun is itself suspicious behavior that might warrant a stop even in a jurisdiction where concealed-carry permits are granted. At least one federal appellate court, applying lower-court decisions in Florida, agreed with him on that but it’s hard to imagine the NRA would. How can a gun-rights group believe that carrying is inherently criminally suspicious, especially when they also believe that more guns among the public equals less crime? Being subject to more frequent police stops and searches is bound to deter some permit-holders from carrying in the first place in order to avoid the hassle. Relatedly, should the NYPD be stopping Donald Trump when he’s out and about in Manhattan? Because he’s been known to carry too.

What Trump wants, I think, is to expand the basis for “Terry stops” (the sort of casual stop involved in stop-and-frisk) from suspicious behavior by individuals to suspicious behavior by neighborhoods. If you’re in a high-crime area, everyone a cop encounters on the street would, in theory, be under greater “reasonable suspicion” of criminal activity. People could be searched essentially randomly in order to look for illegal guns. And it’s true, of course, that a more aggressive stop-and-frisk program will uncover more illegal guns. The number of guns seized during stops in New York City is far lower than it used to be after Bill de Blasio and Bill Bratton scaled back stop-and-frisk, but it’s worth looking at the graphs here to see how the rates have changed. Guns seized fell by nearly 50 percent between 2012 and 2013 but the number of stops overall fell by nearly three-quarters. It’s not a one-to-one relationship. You’re going to miss some illegal guns with less aggressive stop-and-frisk but maybe not as many as you think, and you’re also going to avert having legal gun owners searched needlessly.