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Seattle cops’ 2A argument in lawsuit v. city, DOJ an interesting point

Seattle police officers cleared the streets during the Super Bowl victory celebration in February.
Seattle police officers cleared the streets during the Super Bowl victory celebration in February.
Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images

When nearly one-tenth of the Seattle Police Department’s commissioned officers yesterday filed a federal lawsuit against the city and the Department of Justice over the new federally-mandated use-of-force policy, they made an argument that the guidelines violated the Second Amendment, and gun rights advocates should pay attention to that.

The document, posted by the Seattle Times online, notes on Page 15, “When a police officer is confronted with threatening behavior, he or she has the fundamental, individual right of self-defense under the Second Amendment, consistent with every other citizen, to protect himself or herself, and others, from apparent and immediate harm.”

KVI’s morning drive time host John Carlson, whose father was a police officer, was hot on this lawsuit Thursday morning. He discussed it several times during his four-hour broadcast, defending the officers’ action. It is being covered not only by the Seattle Times, but the Seattle, KCPQ and other local news agencies, but this lawsuit could have national implications, because, as Carlson puts it, the number of plaintiffs makes this unprecedented.

“As the Court has long recognized,” the lawsuit asserts, “the rules that define and determine self-defense are of universal application and are not affected by the character of a person's employment. Indeed, where employees have a duty to protect others, their right to defend themselves and others is arguably enhanced.”

The lawsuit further contends, “However, distinct from the Fourth Amendment standard of ‘objective reasonableness’ is a long tradition of self-defense law that establishes a ‘reasonable’ belief standard. As such, there need only be ‘reasonable grounds’ for a person's belief that he or she is in imminent or immediate danger at the time of the acts in self-defense or defense of others.”

In legal and self-defense circles, this is known generically as the “reasonable man doctrine.” It is a cornerstone of Washington State’s self-defense statute. It amounts to allowing an act of self-defense, including the use of lethal force, on the principle that any reasonable person would do the same thing, facing the same set of circumstances, knowing what you knew at the time.

“Like objective reasonableness,” the lawsuit contends, “the reasonable belief standard does not rest on the ‘actual facts’ of the situation, but rather on the ‘apparent danger’ perceived by the individual acting in defense of self or others. Moreover, under the Second Amendment, the more serious the apparent danger perceived at the moment of self-defense or defense of others, the less detached or ‘objective’ the test of reasonableness has to be.”

Named as defendants in the case are several people, including former anti-gun Mayor Mike McGinn, who was in office when the federal investigation of SPD’s use-of-force was initiated. Since leaving office, McGinn has been out of the spotlight. This could bring him back.

While Seattle Times readers seem to be leaning against the 125 officers who filed the complaint, gun rights activists may hope the lawsuit has traction. If a court were to uphold the lawsuit, it would include the argument that the Second Amendment means what it says, and that it encompasses, without specifically spelling it out, an individual right of self-defense, as explained in the 2008 Heller and 2010 McDonald rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court.

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