The District grabbed the guns belonging to 1st Lt. Augustine Kim and won’t give them back. Two years ago, the South Carolina Army national guardsman had been injured on his second tour of duty in Afghanistan. Now he’s fighting to restore his constitutional rights.
Before deploying overseas, the soldier drove his collection - which included an AR-15, a Beretta 9mm and several .45 caliber pistols - to his parents’ house in New Jersey for safe storage. Upon his return to the states and recovery, Lt. Kim wanted to bring his weapons back to his home in Charleston. On the way, he stopped at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Northwest Washington for a doctor’s appointment. That’s when his troubles started.
Lt. Kim became lost in the city and was pulled over. The cops asked Lt. Kim if they could search his vehicle. The lieutenant agreed because his guns were cased and stored in full compliance with federal firearm-transport laws.”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,” Lt. Kim told The Washington Times. “They said, ‘That may be true, however, since you stopped at Walter Reed, that makes you in violation of the registration laws.’ “
It is illegal to possess a firearm anywhere in the District other than the home. He was handcuffed and brought back to police headquarters, and his guns were confiscated as evidence.
The tank platoon leader was booked on four felony counts of carrying outside the home, which threatened a maximum penalty of a $20,000 fine and 20 years imprisonment. “I knew if I got one felony, my military career would be over,” Lt. Kim recalled.
The next day, he hired firearms attorney Richard Gardiner to represent him. After several months of negotiations, Mr. Gardiner persuaded the U.S. attorney to offer a deal in which Lt. Kim would plead guilty to one misdemeanor charge of one unregistered gun which would then be dismissed if he avoided violating the law for nine months. Though all charges were dropped a year ago, Lt. Kim’s record has not yet been expunged.
In June, the U.S. attorney’s office had certified Mr. Kim’s $10,000 worth of guns were no longer needed for evidence, but the city wouldn’t release them. The District also ignored Mr. Gardiner’s letter from December asking for their return. “This is legalized theft,” said Mr. Gardiner. “The charges were dropped, and they don’t give you your property back?”
On Friday, The Washington Times’ Emily Miller asked the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) about Lt. Kim’s guns. MPD spokesman Gwendolyn Crump responded on Monday that the department notified Mr. Gardiner “last week” of his client’s right to a hearing on the return of the weapons. The letter has not arrived. That’s because - as Ms. Crump eventually confirmed - the letter was mailed Friday, most likely right after Miss Miller began raising questions.
Lt. Kim is now preparing for his third overseas assignment, this one to Kosovo. The government 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.