By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Andy Sun stands six feet, two inches tall and weighs 225 pounds—but thanks to a state appellate court there are thousands of additional reasons not to piss off the Laguna Niguel international arms dealer.
Sun is now immune from prosecution for possessing 510 illegal assault weapons and more than 23,000 rounds of ammunition—enough to keep FBI agents at bay for days. Stuffed inside his home closets, his garage and his office, Sun had anti-tank rockets, scores of AK-47 machine guns, high-powered scopes and lasers, rocket-propelled grenade launchers as well as Yugoslavian, Albanian, Bulgarian, Romanian, American and Chinese-made shotguns, rifles and handguns.
The 51-year-old married father of two even owned a Cobray .37 millimeter collapsible explosives launcher with a pistol grip (but no serial number), an m1919 Browning machine gun with a tripod, and 500 AK-47 magazines. Crates were loaded with 150 Omega SPS-12 assault shotguns. Though in 2001 Sun got prosecutors to drop a charge that he'd impersonated police, three years later he still had a California Highway Patrol officer's badge—number 5838—in his desk, according to search warrant evidence reviewed by the Weekly.
Much of Sun's stash—which he offered for sale on the Internet but was confiscated by the state—is illegal under California's anti-assault weapons ban. In 2004, an Orange County grand jury indicted Sun on 55 counts including unlawful possession of the weapons and high-capacity bullets and also child endangerment. Prosecutors say many of the lethal assault rifles were stored at home—some near his front door; others under a tarp—but all within easy reach of Sun's children, ages 10 and 14.
But Superior Court Judge Francisco Briseño nixed the case in 2005, barring local prosecutors from introducing evidence that Sun possessed the illegal weapons. Briseño's rationale: not only did federal law allow the same weapons California had banned, it blocked state police officers from using federal gun registration records to initiate criminal cases. The judge noted that the state search warrant had been based solely on a tip from a federal Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives [ATF&E] agent who had inspected Sun's stockpile.
With the backing of California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas appealed. Deputy District Attorney Brian Gurwitz said only criminals would benefit if various levels of law enforcement couldn't share weapons data. Besides, argued Gurwitz, the fruits of the Sun search warrant—even if technically flawed—should be allowed because police investigators had acted in "good faith."
But Paul S. Meyer, Sun's defense lawyer, said his client was not selling the weapons to California residents and shouldn't be punished for complying with federal law.
"He wasn't hiding anything," Meyer said. "A warrantless federal compliance inspection was conducted at Sun's business solely by the ATF&E. He was required to submit. No California authorities participated [so they can't use the information]."
This month a three-judge state Court of Appeal panel agreed with Briseño's decision to kill the case. Acknowledging that Sun owns "an amazingly large inventory of assault weapons," the justices nevertheless ruled Congress had specifically shielded arms dealers--even when they possessed assault weapons that are illegal in California. ?"Local law enforcement obtained information from [a federal] law enforcement agent who, under the authority which granted him the power to inspect, also was ordered to keep confidential and privileged all information obtained from the entity he inspected," wrote Presiding Judge David Sills. "Suppression of the fruits of the search was proper."
Gurwitz says the DA's office is considering an appeal to the state Supreme Court.
"The court interpreted the federal statue in an overbroad manner never intended by Congress," he said.