By Emily Miller
After being injured on his second tour of duty in Afghanistan, Lt. Augustine Kim spent the night in a D.C. jail for possessing "unregistered guns".Mr. Kim was transporting his firearms from his parents’ house in New Jersey to South Carolina when he stopped at Walter Reed in Washington for a medical appointment in the summer of 2010.
After being pulled over, handcuffed, arrested, thrown in jail overnight, his guns were confiscated by the city.
In the end, the charge was later dismissed, but the District still refuses to return to him $10,000 worth of firearms and parts.
Before deploying, the soldier had taken his gun collection to his parents’ house in New Jersey for safe storage. At the end of his recovery, he drove to the Garden State to pick up the supply and transport it to his home in Charleston.
Arrested Driving Through D.C.
Returning to South Carolina on June 30, 2010, Mr. Kim was pulled over by police.
Then the cops asked Mr. Kim if they could search his vehicle. The lieutenant agreed because his guns were properly locked in a case in the trunk, in compliance with federal firearm transport laws. Mr. Kim was handcuffed and told to sit on the curb during the search.
He recalled that the officers inspected the collection and “were upset about the fact that I had the AR-15, which D.C. considers to be an ‘assault weapon.’” The model of rifle is illegal in the District, but not in his home state.
The officers then told Mr. Kim he was in violation for the carrying firearms outside the home (in his vehicle) in the District. The nation’s capital does not acknowledge the right to bear arms, so there are no carry rights.
“I told them I had been under the impression that as long as the guns were locked in the back, with the ammunition separate, that I was allowed to transport them,” Mr. Kim told me in an interview. “They said, ‘That may be true, however, since you stopped at Walter Reed, that make you in violation of the registration laws.”
Mr. Kim’s attorney, Richard Gardiner, said his client was lawfully transporting the firearms, and that would have been his defense if the matter went to trial. “The mistake he made was agreeing to a search of his vehicle,” the attorney explained in an interview. “If the police ask for consent to search, the answer is ‘no.’ If they ask, ‘why not?’ The answer is, ‘no.’”
After loading the gun cases into the squad car to be used as evidence, the police took Mr. Kim to police headquarters. He was booked on four felony counts of carrying outside the home. The maximum penalty for all these charges would be a $20,000 fine and 20 years imprisonment.
The veteran spent a “few hours in the drunk tank,” then was moved to the central jail. It was cold on the steel slab, so he asked the police guard for a blanket. “He was surly with me and sarcastic. He said, ‘Oh you want blankets? Well they’re back ordered,’” Mr. Kim recalled. “I remember thinking, we treated detainees in Afghanistan better than this.” He didn’t get much sleep that night.
In the morning, the national guardsman was given a public defender and taken to arraignment. He called his squad leader at Walter Reed to pick him up and get his car. Mr. Kim was more concerned about his career. “I asked him for his opinion on how this would affect my getting subsequent security clearance,” he recalled. “The JAG eased his concerns: ‘You got arrested for carrying guns. That’s what you get paid for.’”
So Mr. Kim went online to find a firearms’ attorney in the area. He asked for recommendations on the gun forum AR15.com and was quickly referred to Mr. Gardiner. “The posters said, ‘Don’t accept anyone else,” Mr. Kim recalled. “I didn’t know he was part of the Heller case.” The lawyer represents Dick Heller in his second lawsuit against the District for its unconstitutional firearms laws.
The feds knocked the original felony charges down to four misdemeanors of possession of unregistered firearms. In May 2011, that charge was dismissed. His record, however is not expunged. It still shows he was arrested on four firearms charges, which were later dismissed.
D.C Refuses to Return His Guns
Three weeks after the charges were dropped, the U.S. attorney’s office sent a form to the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) property clerk certifying that Mr. Kim’s guns were no longer needed for evidence. Still, MPD would not release the guns.
After waiting six months, Mr. Gardiner wrote to the District’s property clerk, Derek Gray, in Dec. 2011 to ask for Mr. Kim’s property to be returned. Neither Mr. Gray nor anyone from MPD has responded to the request.
“This is legalized theft,” Mr. Gardiner said. “The charges were dropped, and they don't give you your property back? The Constitution requires that if the government takes your property, it has to do something to keep it. They can’t sit around twiddling their thumbs.”
A valiant soldier who proudly serves our country is being treated like a criminal by the District. The nation owes him gratitude, not harassment for safely transporting guns through the nation’s capital. The lieutenant’s firearms should be returned to him by overnight express -- with a note of apology.