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guns

Brian Aitken at Cato

by Walter Olson on December 18, 2014

In several 2010 posts we covered the story of Brian Aitken, who was imprisoned by the state of New Jersey simply for carrying unloaded guns and ammo in his trunk (really, that was the extent of the crime). Last week Cato hosted Aitken to talk on his new book The Blue Tent Sky: How the Left’s War on Guns Cost Me My Son and My Freedom. Tim Lynch of Cato moderated, and I gave comments. Event description:

In 2009 Brian Aitken, a media consultant and web entrepreneur, ran afoul of New Jersey’s draconian gun laws when he was arrested while transporting two handguns unloaded and locked in the trunk of his car. Despite the fact that Aitken owned the guns legally and had called the New Jersey State Police for advice on how to legally transport his firearms, he found himself sentenced to seven years in prison.

In 2010 New Jersey governor Chris Christie commuted Aitken’s sentence. But Aitken’s experience, like that of other law-abiding gun owners who’ve faced long prison sentences for honest mistakes, raises troubling questions about gun-law overreach, prosecutorial discretion, and judicial abdication.

I recommended the book as a riveting and outrageous read, yet leavened with hope because of the story of the strong public movement that formed to protest the injustice of his incarceration. In my comments, I mentioned the feds’ heavily armed raid on an Indiana antiquities collector. More on that story here.

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The new lawsuit by the prominent Connecticut personal-injury firm of Koskoff, Koskoff, and Bieder [news coverage: WSJ Law Blog, CNN] seeks to get around the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act by latching on to the law’s narrow exception for “negligent entrustment.” That’s not a reasonable reading of the law, and I argue in a new post at Cato at Liberty that courts should toss attempts like these to revive gun control through litigation, all the more so because legislative attempts to overturn PLCAA (as I discussed last year) are rightfully going nowhere.

Some out there seem to think it’s okay to use litigation as a way of lashing out against opponents, whether by way of a winning case or not:

More: “The Sandy Hook Families’ Lawsuit Against Bushmaster Will Fail. Here’s Why.” [Bob Adams, Bearing Arms] And Eugene Volokh’s analysis breaks down the provisions of PLCAA and its interaction with the specifics of Connecticut law, concluding that “unless there is some evidence that the defendant manufacturers and gun sellers in this case violated some specific gun regulations (judgments actually made by legislatures), plaintiffs’ claim will go nowhere — and rightly so, I think.” Yet more: Steve Chapman.

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“Fox Business Network’s John Stossel interviews US Consumer Coalition’s Brian Wise and Kat O’Connor, owner of TomKat Ammunition LLC, on the Justice Department’s Operation Choke Point.” The Gaithersburg-based ammo seller was cut off from credit card processing services and suspects that the federal Choke Point program was the reason. [cross-posted from Free State Notes; earlier on Operation Choke Point].

P.S. There are signs that House Republicans may move to rein in Operation Check Point. Let’s hope so. [USA Today/Fond du Lac Reporter; HalfWheel (cigar news and reviews)]

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NPR’s This American Life digs into some bizarrely counterproductive sting tactics by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, which might have gone unchallenged had the bureau not stiffed a Milwaukee landlord badly enough to provoke him into taking his story to Journal Sentinel reporter John Diedrich. “The whole effort has resulted in some attempts to actually disband the entire ATF, which might not be such a bad idea.” BATF is part of the U.S. Department of Justice. [Mike Masnick, TechDirt citing Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and This American Life]

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Aware of New York City’s penchant for prosecuting persons found in possession of knives commonly used in construction and design work, sculptor Jonathan W. “therefore chose the Spyderco UK Penknife… a non locking, slip joint folder, which should have been in the clear. But that wasn’t good enough for the NYPD (who arrested him), the DA (who charged him), or even his public defender (who recommended he plead guilty).” [The Truth About Knives] Earlier on NYC’s crazy “gravity-knife” law here and here.

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International law roundup

by Walter Olson on November 7, 2014

  • Department of surreal headlines: “Detroit Mayor’s Office Disappointed With UN’s Stance on Water Shutoffs” [MLive.com via Deadline Detroit, earlier on customers who don't pay Detroit water bills]
  • “When Mr. Bond first impregnated Mrs. Bond’s best friend, the international Chemical Weapons Convention was probably the furthest thing from his mind.” [Nicholas Quinn Rosenkranz, Cato Supreme Court Review (PDF), earlier on Bond v. U.S.]
  • A case against including investor/state protections in trade negotiations [Daniel Ikenson, Cato] Issue leading leftists, libertarians separately to discover merits of sovereigntism? [Julian Ku, Opinio Juris]
  • Survey of rapidly changing field of transnational antiquities law [ABA Journal]
  • Canada, like U.S., gets periodic U.N. tongue-lashing over its relations with Indian tribes/native peoples [Kathryn Fort, ConcurOp]
  • With U.S. isolated on firearms issues, U.N.’s contemplated Programme of Action on Small Arms not quite so innocuous [Ted Bromund, more, earlier here, here, here, and here]
  • “The U.S. government should be careful about entering into new international agreements and treaties precisely because international laws do have legal force.” [Jason Sorens, Pileus]

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If so, you’d never guess from the result in the Maryland governor’s election, I argue at Cato at Liberty.

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November 6 roundup

by Walter Olson on November 6, 2014

Throwing its Chicago regional director under the bus, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) has disavowed a February 2013 letter in which the director had told an Ohio bank, “It is our view that payday loans are costly, and offer limited utility for consumers, as compared to traditional loan products … Consequently, we have generally found that activities related to payday lending are unacceptable for an insured depository institution.” Critics have charged that the federal government has not been forthright about the extent to which it discouraged banks from providing services to lawful but frowned-on businesses in such lines as payday lending and ammunition sales. [Kevin Funnell, earlier on Operation Choke Point]

“An Alabama man who sued over being hit and kicked by police after leading them on a high-speed chase will get $1,000 in a settlement with the city of Birmingham, while his attorneys will take in $459,000, officials said Wednesday.” [Reuters/Yahoo] Readers may argue about whether this kind of outcome is fair, but note that it seems to happen more often, rather than less, in this country (with its putative “American Rule” that each side pays its own fees) than in other industrialized countries which tend more to follow “loser-pays” or “costs follow the event” fee principles. One reason for that is that the U.S. does not actually hew consistently to the so-called American Rule; across wide areas of litigation, including civil rights suits, it follows “one-way shift” principles in which prevailing plaintiffs but not prevailing defendants are entitled to fees, and whose encouragement to litigation is greater than either the American Rule or the loser-pays principle.

Related: The Pennsylvania legislature is moving to adopt a rule adopting one-way fees for some cases in which municipalities trample rights protected by the Bill of Rights’ Second Amendment, provoking peals of outrage (“dangerous,” “outrageous,” “threatens municipalities’ financial stability,” etc.) from elected officials few of whom seem to be on record objecting to one-way fee shifts when plaintiffs they like better are doing the suing. [Free Beacon]

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From the United Kingdom [Camilla Swift, The Spectator]:

Police this week were granted the authority to carry out random, unannounced checks at the home of anyone who has a gun license. Why? They claim that shooters may be ‘vulnerable to criminal or terrorist groups’ and this is the way to tackle the ‘problem’. The new Home Office guidance assures us this won’t occur ‘at an unsocial hour unless there is a justified and specific requirement to do so.’ Some get-out clause.

More: CPSA. Perhaps, in our American Bill of Rights, there is more of a connection between the Second Amendment and Fourth Amendment than is at first apparent.

And: “Watervliet, NY Asks Pistol Permit Applicants for Facebook Passwords. Or Not.” [Robert Farago, The Truth About Guns]

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My new Cato piece on New York’s crazy “gravity-knife” law, picking up on an excellent Village Voice investigation by Jon Campbell. More: Scott Greenfield.

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Police and prosecution roundup

by Walter Olson on September 24, 2014

  • “Shaneen Allen’s prosecutor might be having second thoughts” [Radley Balko, earlier] Sequel: Indeed.
  • “If you get a parking ticket, you are guilty until you have proven yourself innocent …. And that’s worked well for us.” — “senior” Washington, D.C. government official [Washington Post quoting inspector general report; also includes details on traffic camera protocols]
  • Not an Onion story: Eleventh Circuit chides use of SWAT methods in Florida barber shop inspections [ABA Journal ("It's a pretty big book, I’m pretty sure I can find something in here to take you to jail for"), Volokh, Balko, Greenfield] Militarized cop gear is bad, routinized use of SWAT tactics is worse [Jacob Sullum]
  • New England Innocence Project looking at several shaken-baby cases [Boston Herald, background]
  • Innocence commissions like North Carolina’s not a big budgetary line item as government programs go, alternatives may cost more [A. Barton Hinkle]
  • New evidence continues to emerge in Ferguson police shooting, but is nation still listening? [Scott Greenfield]
  • Prosecutors arrayed as organized pressure group is very bad idea to begin with, and more so when goal is to shrink citizens’ rights [AP on "Prosecutors Against Gun Violence"; Robert H. Jackson on prosecutors' power and role in society]

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Because the federal gun-disabilities provision in question, 18 U.S.C. § 922(n), kicks in on bare indictment for a felony, as opposed to conviction. [The Blaze] But is that constitutional? [Eugene Volokh, more; earlier on Perry indictment]

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August 21 roundup

by Walter Olson on August 21, 2014

  • “Brady Campaign loses lawsuit against Armslist (a gun classified ad site)” [Volokh]
  • Train for your bright future in federal employment as a FOIA Denial Officer [Katherine Mangu-Ward]
  • Chamber of Commerce alarmed at rise of class actions in Latin America [Kevin LaCroix/D & O Diary, Chamber report and Brazil sidebar]
  • Dear CBS Los Angeles: it’s okay to show a little skepticism regarding creationist’s claims in employment lawsuit [Skeptical Libertarian]
  • Historic role of guns in black civil rights struggle departs from polite conventional account [Charles E. Cobb, Jr., guestblogging on new book at Volokh: samples one, two, three, four]
  • Ranking law blogs based on their number of Feedly subscribers [Derek Muller; only a few single-author blogs score higher]
  • At the height of county fair season, it’s depressing to read about 4-H suits [Legal Geeks]
  • D.C.-area listeners: Today (Monday) I’m scheduled to join host Diane Rehm on her popular WAMU radio show, along with other panelists, tune in at 10 a.m. [update: transcript];
  • “A few people have pointed it out, but our ROE [Rules of Engagement] regarding who we could point weapons at in Afghanistan was more restrictive than cops in MO.” [@jeffclement, part of an interesting Storify on veterans’ opinions of Ferguson; related on gun-handling practice of Ferguson police last week as seen by gun aficionados [Reddit via VICE]
  • Obama should call for an end to the 1033 program, which drives local police militarization, says my Cato colleague Tim Lynch [CNN, Yahoo] Pentagon surplus grants to local police don’t correlate with terror threats (state that gets most per officer: Alabama) [WP] Missouri grant angle [David Mastio and Kelsey Rupp, USA Today]
  • SWAT raids on poker games and a comedian: John Stossel’s column this week is on Ferguson [Fox] The inimitable Mark Steyn [Steyn Online] And for balance here’s a contrary view from someone who views militarization as both inevitable and necessary [Jazz Shaw, Hot Air]
  • “What I Did After Police Killed My Son” [Politico; Michael Bell of Kenosha, Wis.]
  • Asset forfeiture, federal partnerships fed St. Louis County gear acquisition [Eapen Thampy, Forfeiture Reform] More background on forces fueling militarization [Glenn Reynolds, Popular Mechanics, 2006]
  • “The Missouri Highway Patrol, St. Louis County, and the City of Ferguson agree that public has the ‘right to record public events'” [Volokh, 2010 Cato video] “Prove the truth”: why cameras help good cops [Nick Gillespie]
  • Did feds try to pass off bogus paperwork in Maryland forfeiture case? [Van Smith, my two cents at Free State Notes, Radley Balko (and thanks for mention)]
  • “I’m not saying that warrants are completely useless.” [Ken at Popehat]
  • “Massachusetts is the only state that incarcerates people suffering from addiction who have not been convicted of crimes” [ACLU of Massachusetts]
  • “Where Would We Be If Not For Police In SWAT Gear Raiding Poker Games?” [Amy Alkon]
  • Class of federal crimes that shows the biggest racial disparity isn’t drug offenses, it’s gun offenses [Balko on Shaneen Allen case in New Jersey]
  • Our merciful laws: “I Saw a Man Get Arrested For a Sex Crime Because He Made a Scheduling Error” [Lenore Skenazy, Reason] “Sex Offender Laws Have Gone Too Far” [Matt Mellema, Chanakya Sethi, and Jane Shim, Slate]
  • Police chief seeks to arrest one of own officers on brutality charge, state’s attorney says no [Scott Greenfield; Ed Krayewski, Reason; Enfield, Ct.]

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