Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

November 12, 2013

We’re at home one evening, and someone is banging on the front door!


Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — There was banging on the door at 8:20 p.m. The 14 year-old daughter answered the door and found some 30 armed Washington D.C. police officers in full tactical gear with a search warrant. She let them enter the home.

After entering the house, the police immediately went upstairs, pointed guns at the heads of the homeowner and his girlfriend, and forced them to lie facedown and be handcuffed.

The 16-year-old son was in the shower. “They used a battering ram to bash down the bathroom door and pull him out of the shower, naked,” said his father. “The police put all [four] children together in a room, while we were handcuffed upstairs. I could hear them crying, not knowing what was happening.”

The police shut down the streets for blocks and spent more than two hours searching the house. “They tossed the place,” the homeowner said. He provided photos to the writer of an article in The Washington Times that he had taken of his home after the raid to document the damage, which he estimated at $10,000.

What horrible crime had the man committed to justify a 30-man SWAT team to block off streets, point guns at and handcuff the adults present, isolate and terrify the children, and trash the home in a two-hour search of the premises? The search occurred because of a charge by the man’s estranged wife, who had persuaded a court clerk to issue a temporary restraining order against him, charging he had threatened her with a gun. As it turns out, a judge later found the charge to be without merit.

The squadron of SWAT police was searching for guns, for which registration with police is required in D.C., based solely on the estranged wife’s fraudulent charge. They found none. They did find other things, according to The Times: “The police found no guns in the house, but did write on the warrant that four items were discovered: ‘One live round of 12-gauge shotgun ammunition,’ which was an inoperable shell that misfired during a hunt years earlier. [The homeowner] had kept it as a souvenir. ‘One handgun holster’ was found, which is perfectly legal. ‘One expended round of .270 caliber ammunition,’ which was a spent brass casing. The police uncovered ‘one box of Knight bullets for reloading.’ These are actually not for reloading, but are used in antique-replica, single-shot, muzzle-loading rifles.”

In Washington only registered gun owners can possess ammunition, which bizarrely includes spent shells, and because of this the homeowner, Mark Witaschek, a successful financial adviser with no criminal record, is facing two years in prison for possession of unregistered ammunition.

This is an outrageous use of force, misapplication of the law, and simple overreaction. Did the police perform due diligence before subjecting a good citizen, his girlfriend and children to this intolerable episode? Obviously not. How many of those responsible for this outrage will lose their job or be charged for their malfeasance? Given the increasing number of such asinine actions, it sometimes seems that police breathlessly await an excuse to play army against the citizens for whom they work.  To make this hyperactive episode seem even more ridiculous, one month earlier, thinking he had nothing to hide, Mr. Witaschek allowed the “Gun Recovery Unit” to search his home without a warrant.

Ninety minutes later, the police had found one box of Winchester .40 caliber ammunition, one legal gun-cleaning kit and a Civil War-era antique revolver that he kept on his office desk, and even though antique firearms are legal and don’t have to be registered, the gun was seized. Mr. Witaschek keeps his hunting weapons at his sister’s home outside the district.

Such episodes result from the anti-gun hysteria that grips the nation, and this one is an example of the increasing militarization of local police. DC’s 1976 gun law is one of the strongest in the nation, but appears to have had little effect on gun crime.

In the weeks immediately after the law was passed, The Times reported on several gun crimes that occurred, one in which a U.S. senator was the victim. “Since the ban was passed,” the story continued, “more than 8,400 people have been murdered in the district, many killed by handguns. Nearly 80 percent of the 181 murders in 2007 were committed with guns.”

Looks like the hoodlums didn’t get the message about the new gun law in the District of Columbia.

Based upon data from the Centers for Disease Control and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, a study found that Washington D.C. has a higher rate of gun homicide than Brazil, one of the deadliest nations for gun violence in the world.

In D.C., the people who carry weapons are primarily law enforcement and criminals. The criminals are always up to no good, and the police may be too busy terrorizing law abiding citizens who might have accidentally run afoul of the broad, over-achieving gun law to fight the crimes that are being committed against citizens who are restricted from using guns to defend themselves against thugs with guns.

James H. “Smokey” Shott, a resident of Bluefield, Va., is a Daily Telegraph columnist.