Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The law is a ass*

Maryland legislators are considering a new "assault weapon" ban. There's little indication they've given any real consideration to what might constitute an "assault weapon" much less any thought to how their confiscatory exercise in draconian overreaching might survive the inevitable judicial challenge. But that doesn't mean they aren't good for a laugh.

As the official description of the law explains, one of its effects will be to ". . . mak[e] it a misdemeanor to use an assault long gun or a copycat weapon or a magazine that exceeds a certain maximum capacity of rounds of ammunition in the commission of a felony or a crime of violence. . . "

Now, I'm no criminal law pactitioner, but I did moderately well in law school. So I know that in Florida a misdemeanor is, among other things, a crime for which the sentence must be less than one year and which sentence is served in the county jail, not the state penitentiary. Let's assume the same is so in "The Free State."

Then let us for a moment see if we can get inside a the mind of a Maryland legislator. I know: It's dark and cramped and scary in there, but come along with me and try. We know that this legislation must have as its aim the prevention of "another Sandy Hook." Like the PATRIOT Act before them, the odious crop of gun laws now aborning do not rise from of any cosnideration of policy, nor any understanding of causes and effects, nor certainly out of any deference to liberty. No, they spring -- and I do mean spring -- out of nothing more than the spasmodic, irrepressible reflex to to do something.

So I can only suppose that its proponents imagine that the something this bit of the legislation is meant to do would look, in practice, like this:

A mass murdering maniac, having finished his coffee, tidied up the kitchen and printed out a fresh copy of his 348-page manifesto, gathers up his murder tools, including an "assault long gun" and sets off to do mass murder.

On the way, while stopped at a crosswalk, patiently waiting for the pedestrian to clear the intersection, he contemplates his imminent crime and impending fame. In his mind's eye, all is glory and immortality, cloaked in a cloud of gun smoke. He drives the speed limit to the library so that he can timely return his copies of Dostoevsky and Kafka at the convenient drop box outside, thus avoiding a fine for the books' tardy return. As he does so, the distinctive Maryland state flag atop the pole in front of the library flutters gently in the breeze. The killer-to-be is put in mind of the majesty and power of the Maryland General Assembly, an impressive bicameral body of 47 senators in the upper house and 141 representatives in the lower House of Delegates, all selected as much for their Solomonic wisdom as for their selfless devotion to Maryland's citizenry.

But just as the shadow of that flag falls upon him, so does a shadow of doubt dim the brightness of his deranged resolve:

"Wait a minute," thinks our contemporary Kehoe. "If I use this 'assault long gun' to kill the folks in that gun free zone, that will be a misdemeanor. Sure, my plan to silence at last the chorus of angry voices in my head with an offering of the blood of innocents is undeterred by the prospect a couple dozen consecutive life prison terms, or by lethal injection, or by the likelihood I'll be put down by a late-arriving policeman's bullet before any of that.

"No indeed. I am quite mad, after all. And yet, . . ." ponders this suburban Starkweather, this would-be Whitman, " . . .and yet, if I use this 'assault long gun,' I'll be committing a misdemeanor. For that offense I could face as much as 364 days in the Baltimore County Jail."

Whereupon, with a shudder of moral conviction, our fiend pulls into the left lane, waits for the arrow, makes a legal U-turn and heads home at a speed safe for the road conditions, maintaining an assured clear distance from the car in front of him.

Mr. Bumble really is not to be argued with, is he?

*Yes, a ass:

 ". . . What then?"

"Nothing," replied Mr. Brownlow, "except that it remains for us to take care that neither of you is employed in a situation of trust again. You may leave the room."

"I hope," said Mr. Bumble, looking about him with great ruefulness, as Mr. Grimwig disappeared with the two old women: I hope that this unfortunate little circumstance will not deprive me of my parochial office?"

"Indeed it will," replied Mr. Brownlow. "You may make up your mind to that, and think yourself well off besides."

"It was all Mrs. Bumble. She would do it," urged Mr. Bumble; first looking round to ascertain that his partner had left the room.

"That is no excuse," replied Mr. Brownlow. "You were present on the occasion of the destruction of these trinkets, and indeed are the more guilty of the two, in the eye of the law; for the law supposes that your wife acts under your direction."

"If the law supposes that," said Mr. Bumble, squeezing his hat emphatically in both hands, "the law is a ass- a idiot. If that's the eye of the law, the law is a bachelor; and the worst I wish the law is, that his eye may be opened by experience- by experience."

Oliver Twist, Chapter 51, Charles Dickens.

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