NBC News’ David Gregory apparently defied the (absurd) District of Columbia law forbidding anyone “to possess [&c.] any large capacity ammunition feeding device regardless of whether the device is attached to a firearm” by openly holding in his hand and displaying an empty 30-round magazine during a Meet the Press program in which he confronted NRA EVP Wayne LaPierre.
Anne Althouse elucidates the semiotics that drove NBC News to turn to open, on-the-air, defiant commission of a crime.
If possession of that high-capacity magazine was a crime, and the NBC folk knew it and had even contacted the police and thus even knew they’d created rock-hard evidence that they knew it, why did they go ahead and have Gregory flaunt that illegal possession on television? They had to have thought it was a devastatingly powerful prop. My first guess was that they imagined that viewers — some viewers, at least — would find the object itself scary. ...
I’m not sure exactly why that jogged my thinking, but suddenly I understand the drama Gregory (and his people) were trying to enact. It’s a deep psychic memory of childhood. Gregory sought dominance over his interlocutor, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre, and the idea — in the act of picking up that magazine and beginning an interrogation about it — was that Gregory would become (subliminally) a parent figure who would push LaPierre into the subordinate role of the little boy, the cowering child confronted with undeniable evidence of his wrongdoing. What’s THIS I found in your room?
The plan was for LaPierre to babble lamely, scrambling to explain it away, like the kid trying to concoct some cockamamie reason why that (whatever) got into his room. He’d look foolish and guilty, as Dad continues to hold up the item which the kid knows will be the defeat of every idea that flashes through his stupid, stupid brain.
The scenario didn’t play out as scripted. LaPierre is a stolid veteran of many a confrontational interview. He’s not going to let the interviewer get the upper hand that easily.
Naturally, all this has inevitably provoked considerable discussion about whether Mr. Gregory should really be prosecuted and potentially convicted, sentenced, and treated as a criminal for an action obviously involving no real threat of any kind to anyone, for a purely technical violation of an obviously extravagantly far-reaching provision of a law aimed in intent at curbing authentic violent crime.
A lot of people have made good arguments and intelligent points. Even NRA President David Keene argued that Gregory’s “crime” should simply be overlooked.
Mark Steyn, however, decided to swim against the tide of general opinion, and argues that David Gregory ought to be held to the same irrational regulatory standards as everybody else.
This is, declared NYU professor Jay Rosen, “the dumbest media story of 2012.” Why? Because, as CNN’s Howard Kurtz breezily put it, everybody knows David Gregory wasn’t “planning to commit any crimes.”
So what? Neither are the overwhelming majority of his fellow high-capacity-magazine-owning Americans. Yet they’re expected to know, as they drive around visiting friends and family over Christmas, the various and contradictory gun laws in different jurisdictions. Ignorantia juris non excusat is one of the oldest concepts in civilized society: Ignorance of the law is no excuse. Back when there was a modest and proportionate number of laws, that was just about doable. But in today’s America there are laws against everything, and any one of us at any time is unknowingly in breach of dozens of them. And in this case NBC were informed by the D.C. police that it would be illegal to show the thing on TV, and they went ahead and did it anyway: You’ll never take me alive, copper! You’ll have to pry my high-capacity magazine from my cold dead fingers! When the D.C. SWAT team, the FBI, and the ATF take out NBC News and the whole building goes up in one almighty fireball, David Gregory will be the crazed loon up on the roof like Jimmy Cagney in White Heat: “Made it, Ma! Top of the world!” At last, some actual must-see TV on that lousy network.
But, even if we’re denied that pleasure, the “dumbest media story of 2012” is actually rather instructive. David Gregory intended to demonstrate what he regards as the absurdity of America’s lax gun laws. Instead, he’s demonstrating the ever greater absurdity of America’s non-lax laws. His investigation, prosecution, and a sentence of 20–30 years with eligibility for parole after ten (assuming Mothers Against High-Capacity Magazines don’t object) would teach a far more useful lesson than whatever he thought he was doing by waving that clip under LaPierre’s nose.
To Howard Kurtz & Co., it’s “obvious” that Gregory didn’t intend to commit a crime. But, in a land choked with laws, “obviousness” is one of the first casualties — and “obviously” innocent citizens have their “obviously” well-intentioned actions criminalized every minute of the day. Not far away from David Gregory, across the Virginia border, eleven-year-old Skylar Capo made the mistake of rescuing a woodpecker from the jaws of a cat and nursing him back to health for a couple of days. For her pains, a federal Fish & Wildlife gauleiter accompanied by state troopers descended on her house, charged her with illegal transportation of a protected species, issued her a $535 fine, and made her cry. Why is it so “obvious” that David Gregory deserves to be treated more leniently than a sixth grader? Because he’s got a TV show and she hasn’t?
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court will discuss gun control today in a private conference that soon could explode publicly.
Behind closed doors, the nine justices will consider taking a case that challenges the District of Columbia’s stringent handgun ban. Their ultimate decision will shape how far other cities and states can go with their own gun restrictions.
“If the court decides to take this up, it’s very likely it will end up being the most important Second Amendment case in history,” said Dennis Henigan, the legal director for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
Henigan predicted “it’s more likely than not” that the necessary four justices will vote to consider the case. The court will announce its decision Tuesday, and oral arguments could be heard next year.
Lawyers are swarming.
Texas, Florida and 11 other states weighed in on behalf of gun owners who are challenging D.C.’s strict gun laws. New York and three other states want the gun restrictions upheld. Pediatricians filed a brief supporting the ban. A Northern California gun dealer, Russell Nordyke, filed a brief opposing it. ..
The Second Amendment says, “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
Gun-control advocates say this means that the government can limit firearms ownership as part of its power to regulate the militia. Gun ownership is cast as a collective right, with the government organizing armed citizens to protect homeland security.
“The Second Amendment permits reasonable regulation of firearms to protect public safety and does not guarantee individuals the absolute right to own the weapons of their choice,” New York and the three other states declared in an amicus brief.
Gun-control critics contend that the well-regulated militia is beside the point, and say the Constitution protects an individual’s right to possess guns.
Last March, a divided appellate court panel sided with the individual-rights interpretation and threw out the D.C. ban.
The ruling clashed with other appellate courts, creating the kind of appellate-circuit split that the Supreme Court likes to resolve. The ruling obviously stung D.C. officials, but it perplexed gun-control advocates.
If D.C. officials tried to salvage their gun-control law by appealing to the Supreme Court — as they then did — they could give the court’s conservative majority a chance to undermine gun-control laws nationwide.
On the one hand, the movement of legal scholarship in recent decades towards acknowledgment of the real meaning of the Second Amendment based on the historical content of the political theory of the period and numerous statements by the framers argues that Supreme Court consideration would necessarily recall the Second Amendment fully from exile, and produce nationwide enforcement of an individual right to keep and bear arms.
But, on the other hand, realism notes that the consequence of overturning every form of state and local gun prohibition, and very possibly the National Firearms Act of 1934 which effectively prohibited private possession of fully-automatic weapons are bound to seem highly unpalatable to most justices. Moreover, these days, intensely combative, ideologically charged decisions have a strong tendency to result in 5-4 decisions, turning upon the (commonly European-informed) private moral intuitions of Justice Anthony Kennedy.
On the whole, given the opportunity of having the fate of an important but widely disputed, Constitutional right decided, potentially for many decades, effectively by Justice Kennedy alone, I’d rather wait for a different Court.
David Kopel explains that it also violated the 1987 Constitution of the state of “New Columbia,” adopted by the District’s Council to serve in a desired condition of future statehood, which included in its Bill of Rights, a Sec.102 whose text was identical to the federal Second Amendment.
Accordingly, when DC lawyers argue to lower federal courts, and to the U.S. Supreme Court, that the language of the U.S. Second Amendment is not an ordinary individual right, they are making an argument which is decisively contradicted by the very constitution adopted by the government whom the lawyers are representing.
Second, DC’s cert. petition makes the novel argument that the District of Columbia (an entity over which the U.S. Constitution grants Congress plenary power) is somehow already a sovereign state for purposes of the Second Amendment; they claim that the 1886 Supreme Court decision in Presser v. Illinois, which held that under the 14th Amendment Privileges and Immunities clause, none of the Bill of Rights are enforceable against states, immunizes D.C. today from the enforcement of the Second Amendment. Yet the New Columbia Constitution shows that D.C. wants to be a state and wants the exact language of the Second Amendment to be enforceable against D.C.
Authorities dropped charges Friday against an aide to Virginia Sen. Jim Webb who carried a loaded gun into the U.S. Capitol complex.
“After reviewing and analyzing all of the evidence in the case, we do not believe the essential elements of the crime of carrying a pistol without a license can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt,” U.S. Attorney Jeff Taylor, top prosecutor in the District of Columbia, said in a short statement.
Well and good, readers probably think.
But Mr. Taylor and the Associated Press are overlooking the fact the Second Circuit struck down the District’s gun law in Parker v. District of Columbia on March 9th. Mr. Thompson was arrested on March 26th.
Charges have been dropped, but you can rest assured that thousands of dollars in defense legal fees were accrued. (Let’s hope Jim Webb is paying them.)
And a record of Mr. Thompson’s arrest and his fingerprints have been retained by the FBI.
Dana Milbank skewers a well-deserving Senator James Webb for preeningly displaying his gun-owning credentials at a news conference (for the benefit of Old Dominion constituents), while carefully dissociating himself from any responsibility for his aide Phillip Thompson’s arrest for entering the Capitol with a briefcase containing Webb’s loaded 9mm pistol.
I am a strong supporter of the Second Amendment,” (Webb) announced, wearing the sort of baggy suit that made it hard to tell for sure if he was packing heat. “I have had a permit to carry a weapon in Virginia for a long time, and I believe that it’s important for me personally and for a lot of people in the situation that I am in—to be able to defend myself and my family.”
If Webb seemed to be enjoying the moment a bit too much, that’s probably because a Virginia politician has never lost an election for loving guns too much. But Phillip Thompson, who carried the weapon, derived rather less pleasure from the incident.
Thompson—a.k.a. “Lockup No. 1”—spent 28 hours in the slammer after walking into the Russell building Monday morning with a gun and two loaded magazines in his briefcase. Two hours after Webb’s performance in front of the cameras, Thompson—sandwiched between drug cases and domestic disputes—made his appearance in the foul-smelling arraignment room at D.C. Superior Court. He had a 5 o’clock shadow and a new pair of leg irons to accessorize his rumpled business suit. Ordered to stand in a box marked off with frayed duct tape, he must have been too stunned to answer when the judge asked if he understood the charges.
“You have to answer, sir,” the judge told the silent defendant. “Do you understand?”
“Yes,” he said quietly.
Could it have been any worse? Well, consider that Monday was Thompson’s 45th birthday.
A court employee handed out copies of the complaint as reporters rushed from the arraignment room to chase Thompson. His fancy Virginia lawyer, unfamiliar with the bowels of the courthouse, led the defendant out the wrong exit—forcing him to walk several blocks to a parking garage, surrounded all the way by TV cameras and reporters.
“Who gave you the gun?”
“Was it a big mistake?”
“What are you going to do now?”...
The lawyer, Richard Gardiner, answered for his client. “No comment. . . . He’s not gonna have any comment. . . . He’s not making any comment, on the advice of his attorney.” Thompson, Gardiner and an unidentified third man gave the cameras yet another shot when they emerged from the garage in a BMW with Virginia plates.
The complaint laid out Thompson’s version of events: “The defendant stated that he was in possession of a pistol and two magazines belonging to Senator Jim Webb. The defendant further stated that he inadvertently left the gun that he was safekeeping from the previous days.” Webb may be pleased to know that, according to the complaint, “the weapon was test fired and is operable.”
And how does Webb feel about the whole thing? Hard to say. Gardiner wouldn’t say who had retained him to represent Thompson. Webb himself, after calling the news conference to discuss the matter, then said he couldn’t talk about it. ...
Webb, an expert marksman, was happy to discuss why he carries a concealed weapon. “Since 9/11, for people who are in government, I think in general there has been an agreement that it’s more—a more dangerous time,” he said. “If you look at people in the executive branch . . . there is not that kind of protection available to people in the legislative branch. We are required to defend ourselves, and I choose to do so.”
Webb even hinted that he ignores the District law requiring handguns to be registered. Asked if he considered himself above D.C. law, he said: “I’m not going to comment in any level in terms of how I provide for my own security,” he said.
The senator was less forthcoming in his defense of Thompson. “He is going to be arraigned today,” Webb said. “I do not in any way want to prejudice his case and the situation that he’s involved in.”
Prejudice the case? But wasn’t it Webb’s gun that his aide was carrying for him?
Webb wouldn’t even acknowledge it was his gun. “I have never carried a gun in the Capitol complex, and I did not give the weapon to Phillip Thompson,” he stipulated.
Webb had kind words for his aide—“a longtime friend” and “a fine individual”—but he seemed to be trying to cut Thompson loose as he spoke of the incident. “I find that what has happened with Phillip Thompson is enormously unfortunate,” Webb reported. “I was in New Orleans from last Friday until yesterday evening. I was not in town. I learned about this when I was in New Orleans.”
Upon reflection, Webb must have decided that he had been stinting in his defense of Thompson. An hour later, his office sent out an amended statement. “I can say with great confidence that this was an inadvertent mistake on his part,” the statement said. It was a little late for Lockup No. 1.
What a man!
My dad used to say there is a certain recognizable type of marine, who translates Semper Fidelis as “Pull the ladder up, Captain, I’m on board!”
Gun laws are often written in such a way as to criminalize “possession” when possession consists of merely holding somebody else’s legally owned gun in one’s hand briefly. In this case, the possession was a senator’s pistol in a briefcase being carried by an aide.
U.S. Capitol Police arrested a top aide to Sen. Jim Webb on Monday after he tried to enter a Senate office building carrying a loaded pistol and two fully loaded magazines that belonged to the senator.
Phillip Thompson sent a bag through the X-ray machine at Russell Senate Office Building, where Webb’s office is located. It detected the weapon and Capitol Police say they determined that Thompson didn’t have a license to carry the gun in Washington, D.C. Thompson was arrested and charged with carrying a pistol without a license and possession of an unregistered firearm and unregistered ammunition.
A senior Democratic aide said Webb gave the bag that contained the gun to Thompson when the aide drove the senator to the airport. Thompson said he forgot it was in the bag when he took it into the office building.
Judge Laurence H. Silberman wrote the opinion striking down the District of Columbia’s ban on possession of operable handguns in private homes. The District law required privately owned pistols to be kept unloaded and disassembled or rendered inoperable by a trigger lock.