(What song is playing? “Good Things”, Sleater-Kinney)
Background: I shoot a lot. Nearly every weekend I'm at the range. My favorite weapons are my .308 MBRs and my various 7.62x39 semi-autos. Whenever I can get some ammo for these things at a good price, I'm quick to “buy in bulk”. I usually buy at gun shows, being careful to shop around and get the best prices. Anything gun-related in Maryland is expensive so I do my research and make sure I'm getting a better price than I can get at My Favorite Gun Shop.
One of the bargains out there right now is the imported 7.62x51 NATO ball ammo from Australia. It shoots very nicely in all my MBRs and I have a favorite gun-show vendor that gives me a break on anything I buy from them because (1) I'm a good customer (I buy a lot!!), (2) I'm reliable (I buy everything I ask them to bring down for me), and (3) I'm just plain handsome!! There was a gun show in Northern Virginia today and I phoned in my order after agreeing upon a great price on four cases (3200 rounds) of Aussie surplus. I cruised the show, borrowed their hand truck and loaded my trusty F350 with my prize.
When I got home – about 4:00 PM – I grabbed my four-wheeled dolly cart and stacked all four cases onto it, sparing my back and biceps. I wheeled the 250 pound load into my apartment and found a spot amongst the packing clutter to store it until I move back to CO in three weeks. I exited the apartment to tend to a flat tire I got this afternoon and I was running around outside investigating its failure. After finding a broken valve stem, I threw the tire into the back of the truck and headed back inside. Just as I entered the breezeway, I noticed a Montgomery County police car cruise past my truck and give it – and me – a long glance. I paid it little attention and went about my business.
Once inside, I glanced out the window and noticed that the patrolman was circling my truck and talking on his radio. Hmmmm... I had forgotten to get a ratchet strap out of the truck so I figured I'd get the strap and get this over with. I popped out the door at which point the patrolman asked if the truck was mine. I said 'yes' and he said, “Good, you saved me some work.”
He politely said that someone had called the police concerning some “questionable” items I removed from my truck and he was sent to make sure there were no potential threats to my neighbors. I had about two seconds to make a plan. My first thought was to put up my guard and play hard-ass. But in those two seconds, I decided not to do that. Instead, I grinned, nodded my head, and rolled my eyes. I said, “I know what caused the alarm” and motioned for him to follow me. I had put the cart just inside my door and I knew I could get thru this without dragging him through all the moving clutter.
The patrolman stood in my doorway and I pointed to the four green wooden ammo cases as I said, “Ammo.” I grabbed a case and spun it around to show the bright orange triangle that screamed “EXPLOSIVES”. I said, “I'm guessing that's what caused the alarm.” He nodded and asked what it was. I explained and he asked me if I minded popping open a case so he could confirm its contents if anyone asked. I didn't feel like getting into a 4th Amendment argument and figured, “what the hell”. My favorite gun show vendor had never accidentally given me hand grenades instead of NATO ball ammo so I took my chances. I cut open the tie wraps that held the latches closed and raised the lid. Whew!! No grenades. Just 800 rounds of 7.62x51. I opened one of the boxes and showed him the blister-packed ammo. He gave me a nod of approval and a quick smile that I suspect contained a small amount of relief. I gave him an (unnecessary) apology for scaring someone and he thanked me and went on his way. He never asked for my name (he didn't need to – he knew the truck was mine...) and I didn't get any lectures or questions I thought were founded in suspicion.
So, that was that. Part of me wanted to play hardball: deny the truck was mine, refuse to let him in, refuse to open the case, insist on a warrant, demand to know my accuser. Part of me just wanted to clear up a misunderstanding between an obviously reasonable cop and a cowering sheeple that got nervous as I unloaded ammo in the open, in broad daylight, while making no effort to be sneaky or covert. I chose the latter. Time may prove me wrong but I think I made the right choice. The cop had to believe I was on the up-and-up. I was polite but not obsequious. I was helpful but not to the point of looking desperate. I'm sure there's now a report somewhere with my name on it and a note that I had 3200 rounds of ammo stacked near my front door. Had he and I stood our ground and let his duty collide with my rights, that report would still have been made but it would say that I was uncooperative, guarded, suspicious, blah, blah, blah. Red Flag!! Instead, it might just say I was helpful and handled the situation with grace and humor. (Nah....)
But again, part of me wanted to play hardball. I'm getting ready to move and my apartment is a mass of boxes, including no fewer than 12 empty rifle boxes that were in plain site of the patrolman. I don't know if he saw them – I will assume he did. I'll be pondering this decision for many days as hindsight is always 20/20. If nothing comes of it, then I feel I made the right choice. The police can make my life miserable whether I had cooperated or not. While I drift more and more into the “question authority” mindset each day, I still hold out a small glimmer of hope for common sense from the Powers That Be, especially at the lower levels.
What would I do differently?? First, I would have torn off those damned orange stickers when I put the cases in the truck to begin with. (The heat index in Virginia had to be over 100 degrees today and I won't admit to having full use of foresight in that matter.) Without those stickers I'm sure the “concerned citizen” would have found little to be concerned about. I'll also be more discreet in the future when moving around cases of ammo. Second, I would have asked the patrolman to wait outside while I wheeled-out the cart of ammo. He wouldn't have had a chance to “glance around” and I could have accomplished the same task without being deemed uncooperative. A good friend of mine who's a military cop warned me to never let a policeman into my house without a warrant. I dropped the ball on that one. I'll do it much better next time. Hoping, of course, that there never is a next time.
What really gripes my ass is that there is some knucklehead in my apartment complex that probably thinks I'm a terrorist. (I can think of NOTHING that's further from the truth...) He/she has seen too many commercials asking citizens to narc-out their neighbors. They've read too many 1-800-123-TIPS signs. They've nothing better to do than to spy on their neighbors and call 9-1-1 when they wet their diaper. I'd love to pose a few questions to the sheeple that unleashed upon me one of Montgomery County's finest. First, if I was trafficking in explosives, why would I leave on the orange stickers?? Why would I move the stuff around in plain site, in the middle of the day?? Second, why didn't you just ask me what it was I had?? Moving the stuff around as I was, I was obviously not trying to hide anything. If you're curious, ask. Third, why don't you get a life?? Stop being a good little PATRIOT Act spy and try skipping the Two Minutes Hate every once in a while.
So that's the end of my rant. Hopefully I didn't screw up. Hopefully the cop is cool and he'll pass along that I am too. Hopefully the whole thing will come to nothing. I know that's a lot of hope but that's just me.