Sworn in as the San Francisco County Sheriff earlier this month, Ross Mirkarimi is making headlines of a different sort that revive memories of another top cop, this one in Tacoma, because the hot story today is an allegation of domestic violence that has forced the anti-gun Bay Area lawman to surrender his own firearms.
It was nearly nine years ago that Tacoma Police Chief David Brame fatally wounded his wife and then took his own life in the parking lot of a shopping center. The couple was separated and a messy divorce was underway. Crystal Brame died several days later. The Tacoma News Tribune covered this tragic story extensively.
This is hardly to suggest that Mirkarimi and his wife have that severe a dilemma, but because of what occurred that April day in 2003, the press and public officials nowadays pay much closer attention when any high-ranking law enforcement official is facing a domestic violence allegation.
Alan Gottlieb, chairman of the Bellevue-based Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, today called on Mirkarimi to step down. The new sheriff, who established his anti-gun credentials while serving for several years on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, has vowed to keep his job.
But Gottlieb has a problem with Mirkarimi about hypocrisy. While he was laboring to discourage San Francisco citizens from owning firearms, Mirkarimi was pretty well armed, according to the San Francisco Examiner, which reported:
Even though he’s now sheriff, it may surprise some that Ross Mirkarimi owns several guns.
As a longtime member of the progressive bloc on the Board of Supervisors, Mirkarimi was a vocal advocate of gun control.—San Francisco Examiner
Some gun rights activists might suggest that this is all-too-typical of anti-gunners who preach public disarmament. They’re not so coy about having their own hardware. But now, because of a law passed during the Clinton administration, people accused of domestic violence – they needn’t be convicted, mind you – cannot possess firearms. Here’s what Murkarimi gave up:
Court records show Mirkarimi surrendered three handguns: A Sig Sauer P229, a Beretta 92G, and a Smith & Wesson Model 19 .357-caliber magnum revolver.—San Francisco Examiner
The case has another element that is far-too-usual in alleged domestic violence cases: Mirkarimi’s wife, Eliana Lopez, has come to his defense and, according to Reuters, unsuccessfully asked San Francisco Superior Court Judge Susan Breall to dismiss a no-contact order against the sheriff.
Yet it was Lopez who, according to the Reuters report, initially raised concerns about her life with Mirkarimi:
Police said Lopez ran screaming into the street outside the couple’s home and showed a neighbor, Ivory Madison, a bruise on her arm. Madison made a video of Lopez displaying the injury, and later shared it with police over Lopez’s objections.
In the video, Lopez said, “This is the second time this is happening … I been telling him we need help and I’m going to use this just in case he wants to take Theo away from me because he did said that he is very powerful and can do it,” according to the police affidavit.
Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Aguilar Tarchi said the video and later text messages exchanged between Lopez and Madison show Lopez lives in fear of her husband and that he threatened to take Theo away from them.—Reuters
The story of Mirkarimi’s troubles has spread across the country. Even the Chicago Tribune reported it the other day, as did the Washington Post.
In his press release today, Gottlieb said Mirkarimi’s case brings focus on a domestic violence law that seems to treat people as though they are guilty until proven innocent. What other law allows the state to deprive someone of constitutional rights – in this case, the right to keep and bear arms – before they are convicted of a crime, he wondered.
“Hardly would we advocate allowing someone who has abused a spouse or domestic partner to be armed, but our justice system isn’t supposed to penalize someone until after they’ve been found guilty.”—Alan Gottlieb
It is an interesting dilemma, trying to balance the rights of the accused against the safety of an alleged victim, especially one who has pleaded with the court to drop a no-contact order, and who does not appear too eager to pursue a criminal complaint. There are no easy answers, and none that will satisfy everybody. If one chooses to err on the side of caution, what does that say about an individual’s right under the Constitution to a presumption of innocence until proven guilty?
Still, there is the public factor, with Mirkarimi remaining in office when he has been charged with a crime that, if he is convicted, could permanently cost him his Second Amendment rights under the federal law. Gottlieb puts the argument in this perspective:
“Someone who has been legally disarmed over a criminal charge should not be permitted to serve as a chief law enforcement officer. Someone like Mirkarimi, who has done whatever he could to discourage others from owning firearms, should admit his world-class hypocrisy and walk away from the public arena.”—Alan Gottlieb
Then, of course, Mirkarimi could be found not guilty in court. Then what? Does he get his guns back right away? If he were forced to step down over the charge and later acquitted, would he get his job back, with back pay?
Such questions are hardly out of order. But maybe they should be asked down in Tacoma, where memories of another top cop – one who had not been legally disarmed – still linger within the police department and city government.
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