Here’s something I hadn’t heard of before, from near my old haunts: a pastor won an AR-15 in a raffle, went through the mandatory background check, then handed to gun to a parishioner to store while he decided what to do with it (his intent was to destroy it in some kind of misguided “anti-violence” symbolism). But Oregon has “universal background checks,” which made giving the gun to someone else a crime.
Will he be prosecuted? Well, we don’t know yet. But it does raise something of a moral dilemma for me. I am adamantly opposed to all forms of paperwork crime. The pastor in this case did not give the gun to a known criminal or one with criminal intent; he presumably gave it to someone with a gun safe to prevent it from being stolen. The fact that he didn’t do paperwork is not wrong; it is the criminalization of lack-of-paperwork which is wrong.
So, on the merits, I am opposed to this pastor’s prosecution, just as I am opposed to prosecuting David Gregory for illegal possessing a “high capacity” magazine inside the District of Columbia (an act he paraded on national TV, which should make the his prosecution open-and-shut).
If I did this, would I be prosecuted? If a gun rights activist deliberately violated the background check law in an act of protest, would s/he be prosecuted? If some wholly innocent person lent a friend a gun to try it out for the weekend, or to take hunting for a season, would these comparative nobodies escape as did Gregory? Well,a actually, we know the answer–numerous nobodies have been prosecuted for violating the law Gregory flouted, including an innocent veteran who was acquitted at trial.
Loaning a gun to a friend is an innocent and normal act; it is the criminalization of that act which is, pardon the expression, a perversion. And the passage of laws intended to prevent normal, innocent acts is tyranny, albeit a very common form of it.
Still worse than that form of tyranny, though, is the tyranny of selective enforcement. David Gregory is famous and rich and “important,” (and also liberal and anti-gun) so he gets to break the law with impunity. Movie stars with felony convictions can appear on the screen waving guns around and nobody even investigates. But ordinary people who do the same thing can have their lives destroyed because of errors. It’s hardly necessary to point out that selective enforcement of this type targets the weakest groups, and historically has been a way for the government to terrorize ethnic minorities, immigrants, and dissenters from accepted orthodoxy. There is every reason to expect that governments will use it against political enemies as well.
So for that reason, I have to come down on the side of rigid enforcement of unjust laws. I can hope–foolishly, perhaps–that if a few celebrity reporters or grandstanding pastors get ensnared by stupid laws, it will motivate legislatures to repeal them. That is an awful sacrifice to make, but it is no more awful that the silent sacrifice of unknown citizens who are normally the victims of such laws.