The “Killing Power” of an AR-15: an Update on Walker v. Putnam County

We received the brief from the lawyers for Putnam County, West Virginia in the Michael Walker case, the AR-15 open carry case currently pending at the Fourth Circuit. In case you haven’t seen it, here’s the video of the interaction at issue in the case:

The primary issue in dispute is whether a police officer can stop, detain and run a criminal background check, on an individual safely and lawfully openly-carrying an AR-15 style rifle. Putnam County’s law enforcement is arguing essentially that the AR-15 is a weapon of mass murder and warfare, and that it’s inherently suspicious of criminal conduct. Here are a few nuggets from their brief:

Finally, Mr. Walker’s argument that AR-15 style rifles may not be treated differently than less deadly firearms for reasonable suspicion purposes holds no basis in law, and is contrary to the public safety and intuitive sense. Different firearms have different utilities, purposes, and common uses, and their presence therefore draws different inferences. An AR-15 has more killing power, and is more commonly used in indiscriminate public gun violence than many more commonplace sporting or self-defense weapons, and therefore raises a greater concern for public safety in context. The fact that the AR-15 is so notoriously popular among the deadliest mass shooters also raises reasonable concerns over a copycat mass shooting. Objects need not be illegal for their presence, in appropriate context, to contribute to reasonable suspicion, and there is no reason for bearers of AR-15 style rifles to receive special protection.

“Killing Power?” Is that a scientific unit of measurement. If shotguns are okay, or a bolt-action hunting rifle is okay, then I wonder if they’re aware that an AR-15 uses a .223 caliber diameter round, which is unlawful to use for hunting in some states because it’s too small of a caliber, and therefore not deadly enough for game such as deer (as compared to the good ‘ole .308 or .270 Winchester calibers, etc., etc.).

This is a suburban residential and commercial area which is unsuitable for hunting or target shooting, and Mr. Walker was not wearing any items of blaze orange, or anything else which would signal to an observer that his intention was hunting. (See id.). Furthermore, this interaction occurred in February, when almost no commonly hunted animals, with the exception of noxious pests, are in season. Nor is an AR- 15 a weapon commonly used for hunting, such as a deer rifle or shotgun, or carried for self-defense, such as the handgun possessed by Mr. Troupe in Black. I

Was I the only one who just saw something happen on the news recently involving an AR-15 openly carried for self-defense, and used in self-defense? I think I recall something like that in the news. I bet this is also news to all their law enforcement officers in their county, and surrounding counties, who have an AR-15 in the police cruisers. Those are for hunting, right? Definitely not self defense. It appears that they just don’t like the AR-15:

The mass shooter’s preference for AR-15’s is because, as former U. S. Marine infantry officer and author of “The Gun,” a history of assault rifles and their effects upon security and war, C. J. Chivers, wrote in a February 28, 2018 New York Times column: When a gunman walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, he was carrying an AR-15-style rifle that allowed him to fire upon people in much the same way that many American soldiers and Marines would fire their M16 and M4 rifles in combat. See Chivers, C. J., Larry Buchanan, Denise Lu, and Karen Yourish, With AR-15s, Mass Shooters Attack With the Rifle Firepower Typically Used by Infantry Troops, The New York Times (Feb. 28, 2018),

In sum, AR-15 style rifles give the wielder the capability to kill more people in a shorter amount of time than more commonplace styles of firearm, making it an appealing choice for a would-be mass shooter whose goal is exactly that, and a greater danger to public safety than would more commonplace, less-powerful, lower-capacity firearms, such as shotguns or handguns.

How is a .223 caliber rifle “more powerful” than a .308 bolt action hunting rifle? I wonder if they know that the M-60 machine gun is chambered in .308? I wonder if they know that our military has snipers who kill human beings with what are essentially hunting rifles chambered in the same caliber as hunting rifles, such as .308 caliber? They don’t chamber sniper rifles in .223 caliber found in AR-15s, because they are not powerful enough. Complete hogwash……

As discussed in prior sections of this brief, AR-15 style rifles have been featured in substantially all of the deadliest mass shootings in this decade. Mass murderers in Las Vegas and Orlando have killed and wounded over one hundred people in a single event with AR-15. Revolvers and bolt-action deer rifles do not share that infamy. It is therefore reasonable to infer that a person attempting to copycat a mass shooting would likely use the weapon of choice of mass shooters. If officers are concerned about a potential mass shooter, certainly they would justifiably be more concerned by a person carrying an AR-15 than one of the many firearms more commonly used for hunting or self-defense. Different inferences may be reasonably drawn from the presence of different firearms, because different firearms are used for different things: a person viewed at a gun range carrying a shotgun may be presumed to be there to shoot clay pigeons, whereas a person carrying a rifle is almost certainly not.

This is coming from the first county in the State of West Virginia to declare itself a “Second Amendment Sanctuary.” L.O.L. Also, by the way, there was no indication whatsoever that there was any indication or concern that Michael Walker could have been a copycat mass-murderer. That was all made up by lawyers after the lawsuit was filed. The entire incident was filmed. The entire 911 transcript exists. There was nothing that day to concern law enforcement, nor which did concern law enforcement, that Michael was a threat to a school. It was merely harassment for openly carrying a lawful and safely carried AR-15 style rifle.

Next we get to file a Reply Brief, responding to their response. At that point it will be in the hands of the Court. They can hold oral arguments, or rule on their briefs.

Lifestream Update 7/23 on the Suit Against the WV Governor over his COVID Tyranny

Also from 7/23/20, my appearance on the Tom Roton Show on WVHU in Huntington, West Virginia, discussing the COVID suit:

https://800wvhu.iheart.com/featured/the-tom-roten-morning-show/content/2020-07-23-wv-attorney-standing-against-unconstitutional-jim-justice-executive-orders/?fbclid=IwAR2hcAf3gXIUpx6CHv9EYKPGib2EtTBUEYdau3RhpwqZ20d8okZZh3qViLc

Lawsuit being filed against the West Virginia Governor today challenging his COVID-19 executive orders

Being filed today: I’m representing S. Marshall Wilson, of the West Virginia House of Delegates, three other delegates, and one West Virginia Senator, in their challenge to the West Virginia Governor’s COVID-19 executive orders. Here’s the petition being filed. Press conference at the State Capitol, today at 11:00 a.m.

Update: some footage from the press conference at the State Capitol:

Article in Saturday’s Charleston Gazette-Mail:

https://www.wvgazettemail.com/coronavirus/lawmakers-file-petition-with-state-supreme-court-over-governors-actions-during-pandemic/article_009e51a9-70da-5bb3-8e48-e4e37f658448.html

Delegate S. Marshall Wilson (right), I-Berkeley, discusses the filing of a petition seeking a writ of mandamus against Gov. Jim Justice Friday outside the state Supreme Court. Attorney John Bryan (left) filed the petition on behalf of five state lawmakers, including Wilson.JOE SEVERINO | Gazette-Mailhttps://www.wvgazettemail.com/coronavirus/lawmakers-file-petition-with-state-supreme-court-over-governors-actions-during-pandemic/article_009e51a9-70da-5bb3-8e48-e4e37f658448.html

New Online Resource for Use of Force law

I started a new website called “Use of Force Source” at UseofForceSource.com.  The purpose is to establish an online resource to discuss and compile Fourth Circuit federal case law, and U.S. Supreme Court case law on the use of physical force – both police situations and self defense situations.  I have already listed a bunch of black letter law on excessive force in the Fourth Circuit (so Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina and South Carolina).  It will be a blog format, and will be specific to use of force cases.  My intention is to post about specific cases, going over the facts, as well as the law.  I also like to listen to the oral argument audio since it gives you much more insight into the case and the reasoning behind the Court’s decisions.

I already posted my first post today, discussing the November of 2013 Fourth Circuit opinion from Ayala v. Wolfe, which was a police shooting case.

Sawyer Case Media Reports

There was a nice article on the front page of the Charleston Gazette this morning about the Sawyer Case.

Ruling Against Wood Deputy in Assault Stands

“Today the citizens of West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia North Carolina and South Carolina have more constitutional protections than they did yesterday,” John Bryan, Sawyer’s attorney, wrote in a statement.

“As a result of today’s ruling, which affirmed the District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, law enforcement officers will be taught to treat people differently, and that if they fail to do so, there will be consequences. Because of Brian Sawyer, and the federal court system, millions of people have more freedom. And that is something I am very proud of.”

There was also an article in the Parkersburg newspaper:

Asbury Judgment Upheld on Appeal

Well, off to another trial this morning.

ETA:  We won the property dispute trial.  We have been very blessed to have streak of wins in WV state-law easement disputes.  Although they might seem boring, they are quickly becoming one of my favorite types of cases, second only to civil rights cases.  I do enjoy interesting criminal cases.  However, I do not enjoy the stress of gambling with someone’s liberty.  I much rather prefer property rights or money.  The worse case scenario is never the end-of-the-world.

Also an article in the WV Record:

Fourth Circuit Affirms Goodwin’s Ruling in Wood County Civil Rights Case

Victory at the Fourth Circuit

We won the Sawyer case at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.  The audio from the oral arguments is one post down.  Here is the opinion.  I have been unable to discuss the case for about a year.  Obviously, this is what has been happening.  I believe this is, and will be, a very important decision.  Although there was no new law created, this has greatly clarified, explained, and set the course, for future excessive force litigation and instruction.

Our Brief:

WV Supreme Court Justices “give attorney tough time during arguments”

An article in the West Virginia Record commented on several West Virginia Supreme Court Justices, Justices Ketchum and Davis in particular, giving an attorney a “tough time” during oral arguments:

The examination of Attorney L. during oral arguments was so one-sided that Ketchum even suggested to attorney Thomas M., who represented Pullman and Structural, not say anything that would lose him the case.

And when Tiffany D., who was arguing for Ershigs, reminded the justices that the party harmed by the sanctions was AEP and not the law firms that handled the case, Ketchum responded, “You don’t think AEP has a nice malpractice suit against their lawyers?”

This brought back memories.  I was once before the WVSC for oral arguments and my opponent was given a really “tough time”.  After they finished, they told him to sit down, pointed at me, and told me to stand up, it was my turn.  I looked at them and said, “your honors, I think I’ll just quit while I’m ahead.”  One of the same Justices said “I think that’s a good idea”.  So I basically just sat down.

Sawyer v. Asbury defendants asking the 4th Circuit to stop the trial

I know that many people have been following this case, so here is an update.  On Monday I was ordered by the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to respond to a Petition for Writ of Prohibition filed by the defendants in the Sawyer v. Asbury 1983 excessive force case.  The new jury trial on damages is scheduled for next week.  I was given until yesterday to respond.  Unless the Fourth Circuit says otherwise we are having a trial on Tuesday.  Here is our response:

(Yes I did this in two days, so please excuse any mistakes)