Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

April 11, 2007

Don’t Hold Aces & Eights When The SWAT Shows Up

by Brad Warbiany

More evidence that government knows what’s best for you, and will break down your door with a black-clad, heavily-armed SWAT team to prove it.

More paramilitary raids on poker games, in Georgia this month, and in North Carolina last month.

The latter included a small army of police officers from several police agencies, including the federal BATF and the National Guard. They even brought a damned helicopter. They issued 41 citations, all of them misdemeanors.

Police in Cary, North Carolina gave the same excuse for the show of force that the cops in Dallas gave when they sent out the SWAT teams to raid poker games in that city: While not prone to violence themselves, poker rooms are often robbed. Therefore, they have sometimes have armed guards. Therefore, police have to use overwhelming force.

I don’t know that it’s true that poker games are regularly knocked off by armed bandits. Nor are they particularly dangerous. I’ve been to a couple.

Like Radley, I’ve been to quite a few poker games. None where our stakes were high enough to necessitate (or even afford) an armed guard, of course, but otherwise not too far different from what was going on in these places. Basically, even though there are winners and losers, poker is a victimless crime. Even though there’s bluffing, there’s no “fraud” involved. And from all the different poker games I’ve been to, people (like those in the Georgia story) have always shown up wanting to have a good time and play cards for a few hours, not engage in nefarious activities.

So you have to ask yourself, why is poker so dangerous that we need “dynamic entry” tactics to break these games up? After all, it’s not like a drug case, you’re not going to flush 1,000 poker chips down the toilet. Getting beyond the question of whether it’s legitimate for government to even regulate or ban these activities, what could possibly require them to require paramilitary-style raids? The police, as mentioned above, have their excuse, but Radley isn’t quite convinced:

But even if the theory is true, the show of force doesn’t make a lick of sense. Let’s assume the game does have armed guards. Put yourself in the guards’ position. You’ve been hired to make sure a black market poker game doesn’t get knocked off by armed intruders. Under which scenario are you more likely to use your gun: (A) Several uniformed cops knock on the door, identify themselves, come into the room, and break up the game, or, (B) several men dressed in black or camouflage and packing heat storm the place without warning, screaming and shouting obscenities?

People aren’t going to get into a shootout with cops over a poker game, especially when their choice is between a misdemeanor and a deadly gunfight. If I’m a hired guard, I’m certainly not going to get into a gunfight with cops over some client’s poker game. But if I can’t tell the difference between cops and armed robbers, there’s no telling what will happen.

What’s next, SWAT-style tactics to break up a teenager’s drinking party when they get too loud? Sadly, I think I wouldn’t even be surprised to hear it.

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