A white supremacist whose case has made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court is at the center of the debate over gun control, pitting public safety against Fourth Amendment protections.
Several groups on both sides of the fight have recently weighed in on the case of Samuel Johnson, deemed a repeat violent offender under the Armed Career Criminal Act by a Minnesota court in 2012 and sentenced to 15 years in prison after he was caught with several firearms, including a 12-gauge shotgun without a serial number, according to court documents.
For Gun Owners of America – who submitted an amicus statement to the court in July in favor of Johnson – this is a Fourth Amendment issue.
“It gives the police an overly broad tool that they shouldn’t have,” Larry Pratt, GOA executive director, told Guns.com. “So, if we win, good — we protect the Bill of Rights.”
Pratt said that although the GOA is not endorsing Johnson as an individual (and a repeat offender connected to a racist hate group accused of plotting a terrorist attack on a Mexican consulate), the neo-Nazi might not be guilty of possession.
But the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence – which filed its amicus brief last week – thinks this is a clear-cut case of public safety.
“I would hope that everyone on all sides of the gun debate agree that felons in possession of illegal firearms should be severely punished,” Jonathan Lowy, director of Brady’s Legal Action Project, told Guns.com. “Gun Owners of American has a misunderstanding of what this case is about. They refer to this felon’s illegal possession of an illegal firearm as quote ‘mere possession’ of a firearm.”
The GOA does contend Johnson is likely only guilty of “mere possession” and thus shouldn’t be punished by ACCA stricture, according to its amicus statement.
Johnson’s attorney filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year, saying the 180-month punishment was too heavy. Minnesota District judge Richard Kyle agreed before carrying out sentence.
“I am required under the rulings that I’ve made here to impose a 15-year sentence. That’s the mandatory minimum called for here,” Kyle said. “For whatever it’s worth, and it’s probably worth nothing, I think 180 months is too heavy of a sentence in this case. But I take an oath to follow the law as I see it and I’ve made my decision in that regard.”
Kyle said a sentence of half or two-thirds of that would suffice, but he was beholden to minimum sentencing guidelines set forth by the ACCA.
“There’s nothing innocuous about this dangerous felon subverting a host of several gun laws to obtain and illegally possess a gun,” Lowy said. “It’s a gross understatement to refer to that as quote ‘mere possession.’ It’s rather surprising that there are some who don’t feel that someone like this should be severely punished.”