Biden and the Ghost of Duncan Lemp

American Conservative, March 1, 2024

Inside the Latest Biden Showdown With Second Amendment Devotees

by James Bovard

The White House’s anti-gun campaign threatens to repeat sins of law enforcement’s recent past.

  “His name was Duncan Lemp” is a common phrase among violent extremists, according to the FBI’s Domestic Terrorism Symbols report. The Washington Post sneered that Duncan Lemp had “become a beloved martyr” to “anti-government extremists around the country.” But Duncan Lemp was wrongly killed in his own bedroom thanks to the same policies that President Biden champions for the nation.

Biden is denouncing “the rising tide of extremism” and demonizing American gun owners to boost his re-election campaign. He wants to outlaw rifles with an arbitrary list of characteristics he labels “assault weapon.” He is also demanding that states adopt “red flag” laws that entitle police to intervene preemptively to stop gun violence—including by killing the target.

Almost four years ago, on March 12, 2020, Montgomery County, Maryland police launched a predawn SWAT raid that began with smashing in a bedroom window and throwing in two flash-bang grenades (which leave people temporarily blinded and disoriented) into the bedroom where Lemp slept next to his pregnant girlfriend. Lemp had posted a photo of a rifle on Instagram, tagged it to his hometown, and added a caption—“green tip armor piercing gets the girls wet.” Maryland police used that posting to help get a no-knock search warrant and that became a death warrant for Lemp.

In his novel 1984, George Orwell warned, “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.” Lemp, a 21-year-old software programmer, was shot three times without warning by a policeman standing outside a broken window. Lemp was lying on his bedroom floor, bleeding profusely and gasping for breath, his eyes open and terrified. Instead of offering first aid, a policeman came forward and placed his boot on Lemp’s throat. Lemp died a few minutes later.

Police claimed that Lemp had grabbed his rifle before he was killed. But citizens were obliged to take the police’s word since they made no video recordings of their assault. After Lemp was gunned down, a policeman did walk through the house videotaping the wreckage, including Lemp’s mother, Mercedes, sitting on her bed weeping inconsolably. Mercedes told me in 2021: “I will always wonder whether the police intended to kill Duncan from the start—there was never a search…. The way they conducted themselves seems as if they intended to kill him even before the raid began.” Police never sought to question Lemp or his parents before shooting him.

Though the media (except for The American Conservativehere, here, here, here, and here) almost completely ignored the Lemp case, a wrongful death lawsuit by his parents could soon expose shocking police abuses.

Police justified the preemptive attack by falsely asserting that Lemp possessed an Israeli assault rifle prohibited under Maryland law. Nine months after the SWAT team killed Lemp, the county attorney issued a report which perfunctorily noted that “upon further review and investigation into the IWI Tavor X95 rifle, it was determined that it was not an assault rifle…. It appears that Lemp’s rifle was a legal ‘copycat’ made to look exactly like the illegal version of the IWI Tavor X95. Very minute changes such as the overall length of the weapon can mean the difference between an illegal assault rifle and a legal one.” The county government treated its fatal mistake like a paperwork error. In July 2022, the Supreme Court effectively invalidated the Maryland assault weapons law.

“Very minute changes” is the key to the assault weapons controversy. Tweaks to official regulations can convert millions of American gun owners into felons overnight. Biden talks of “assault weapons” as a catch-all term to designate any firearm he disapproves. Biden is championing a revival of a federal assault weapons ban despite evidence that the prior ban had little or no impact on homicide rates. Perhaps Biden is seeking to avoid controversies over “very minute changes” by calling for a blanket prohibition of private ownership of semi-automatic weapons—which could require confiscating 50 million guns.

Biden is also championing a national red flag law that would give a federal seal of approval for preemptively seizing guns from alleged troublemakers in every city and county in the nation. Lemp was not killed in a red flag raid—the police made no effort to commandeer his weapons before the pre-dawn assault. But the same type of ideological targeting that police used in the Lemp case could proliferate with a national red flag law.

Lemp was targeted in part because he allegedly made “anti-government” and “anti-police” comments, according to confidential informants recruited by the police, who also accused Lemp of being part of militia groups. (His parents denied that charge). Lemp, who had no history of violence, was outspoken on social media championing the Second Amendment. His last tweet declared: “the constitution is dead.” Three months later, so was Lemp. Before he was killed, he had texted his mother that he might be targeted by police “because I exercise my constitutional rights.”

Anyone who vigorously criticizes and opposes politicians and bureaucrats could be labeled a wacko who cannot be trusted with a gun. How easy would it be to forcibly disarm peaceful citizens? Former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf posted a graphic on Twitter in 2022 showing how Red Flag laws could provide practically automatic disarmament. After a woman sees a “social media contact” post “photos of guns and cryptic messages,” she calls the police who sway a judge to entitle them to “temporarily” seize his guns. “Cryptic messages” suffice to prove someone is a threat who must be forcibly disarmed. Wolf declared that “red flag laws allow us to take action when someone who has a gun begins to act erratically.” But the Bill of Rights did not contain an asterisk entitling government officials to nullify the Constitution any time they believed private citizens were erratic. The vapid standard that Wolf championed would suffice to confiscate weapons from any gun owner who publicly vigorously criticized the government.

Police have covered up almost all the details of their actions against Lemp, whose slaying was ignored by the same local Democratic politicians who rushed to condemn Minneapolis police for killing George Floyd. But court filings by the Lemp family lawyer Terrell Roberts as part of the wrongful death lawsuit revealed a key element of the Lemp case that could endanger millions of other Americans.

Do police have the right to preemptively attack gun owners for failing to comply with laws they never knew existed? Police justified assailing Lemp because he allegedly violated a Maryland law that prohibits firearm possession until age 30 by anyone convicted of certain offenses as a juvenile. Lemp was convicted as a teenager for second-degree, non-residential burglary (which could have meant stealing pumpkins from a farmer’s barn). But Lemp was unaware of that law and was officially approved to purchase firearms by both Maryland and federal background checks. It was apparently easier for local police to shoot Lemp than to simply question him or his parents. The county government has thus far refused to reveal whether police ever considered any alternative to peacefully detain or arrest Lemp prior to attacking his bedroom.

The same principle imperils legions of Americans thanks to recent arbitrary federal decrees. Hundreds of thousands of gun owners became felons when they did not surrender or destroy “bump stocks,” which President Trump outlawed after bizarrely claiming that the rifle attachments that enable rapid scattershot fire were actually machine guns. The Biden administration embraced that decree and defended it in oral arguments at the Supreme Court on Wednesday. Biden issued his own decree ordering anyone who owns pistol braces (used to stabilize firearms) must register those accessories with the federal government or face harsh penalties or prison. To justify his edict, Biden idiotically declared that putting a brace on a pistol “makes them where you can have a higher-caliber weapon—a higher-caliber bullet—coming out of that gun.” Even CNN fact-checkers groaned over that howler.

More than 10 million pistol brace owners have failed to register their devices, though many of them may be unaware of the new rule. But collective guilt is the ultimate entitlement program for Biden’s anti-gun crusaders.

Duncan Lemp’s name continues to resonate as a rallying cry for Americans fearful that the government is out of control. The Biden administration admitted in 2021 that a “belief that the U.S. government is purposely exceeding its Constitutional authority” spurs many “domestic violent extremists.” But Biden and his liberal allies apparently believe that the problem can be solved by deluges of new laws and regulations that entitle officials to scourge people who distrust the government.

How many peaceful gun owners will the Biden administration need to persecute to restore domestic tranquility? It is folly to expect fair play on gun owners’ rights when politicians openly seek pretexts to disarm as many Americans as possible. Politicians who pompously seek to destroy the Second Amendment cannot be trusted to respect any other right or liberty. It remains to be seen whether Duncan Lemp was prophetic when he tweeted: “the constitution is dead.”

tagline: James Bovard is a contributing editor for The American Conservative. He is the author of ten books, including Public Policy Hooligan, Attention Deficit Democracy, The Bush Betrayal, and Lost Rights: The Destruction of American Liberty. His latest is Last Rights: The Death of American Liberty.

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