Wednesday, May 16, 2007

More On The "Bloomberg Gun Giveaway"

We reported the other day, with dismay, on the controversy brewing over a so-called "gun rights" group that plans to give away a couple weapons, including a semi-automatic pistol, and a lot of ammunition this week in Fairfax County to raise money for the legal defense of some gun shops targeted with civil suits by New York City.

It's an interesting, and growing, controversy. The latest is in today's Washington Post, which reports that Fairfax County prosecutors are looking into the possibility that the giveaway is an unlawful lottery.

Ah, lawyers and politics--nothing like it!

Here's some additional thoughts on the matter. First, in a Post story earlier this week, the president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, Philip Van Cleave, reportedly said "[t]hese guns are going to law-abiding, decent people who won't hurt anyone with them."

We think that would be cold-comfort to the families of Detective Vicki Armel (pictured here) and Officer Michael Gabarino, two Fairfax County police officers gunned down just over a year ago. Their assailant was Michael Kennedy, a mentally disturbed 18-year-old who literally outgunned police with semi-automatic weapons he took from his father.

Now we assume that Brian Kennedy, the gunman's father, was the kind of upstanding citizen, meaning no harm to anyone, that Van Cleave is referring to. Nonetheless, his heavy weapons--hardly necessary for typical hunting--fell into the hands of a deranged family member, resulting in three needless deaths (young Michael Kennedy was finally killed by police in the incident, resulting in a tragedy for the Kennedy family as well).

So, regardless on the Citizens Defense League's intent, Fairfax police and citizens have good reason to be alarmed about their handing out weapons in Fairfax County, especially a semi-automatic handgun. Police ought to stop by the League's meeting and let them know what they think.

A couple other things. Our original post generated a few comments, including from Van Cleave, intimating that New York City's undercover sting operations in Virginia were some kind of "vigilante justice" or (from another commenter) constituted "Bloomberg conspiring with private individuals . . . to violate federal statutes against purchasing firearms by prohibited individuals." (And a less helpful comment calling us an "idiot.")

In the end, a court will have to determine, in the context of a civil lawsuit, whether any gun shop owner acted unlawfully. However, the premise that there is something wrong with having NY conduct a "sting" operation in a Virginia store strikes us as baloney.

First off, New York did not send its own law enforcement officers to Virginia to go after anyone for a criminal violation. That would clearly be a breach of jurisdiction, one we would not support. Any criminal prosecution of a Virginia gun dealer will have to come from Virginia police or federal authorities.

Instead, New York utilized Virginia citizens to gather evidence for a civil lawsuit. They started by identifying gun shops that were the source of the weapons in multiple murders in NYC. They then asked Virginia citizens to cooperate in conducting an operation to see if those gun dealers would make unlawful straw purchase sales (the fear being that straw purchasers are running guns from Virginia to NYC). This is a fairly common technique --the use of private investigators--to gather evidence for civil cases, and there is nothing wrong with it.

If New York was dumping hazardous materials unlawfully in Virginia, and Virginia responded by using investigators from New York to generate evidence for a civil suit here, no one would think that was strange.

But when it comes to guns, there is an element that thinks anything goes. If the NRA and its allies treated cars the way they do guns, no one would need a license; anyone, any age could drive; drunk driving would be ok; cars wouldn't need inspections; they couldn't be taxed; and no one could be sued just because they had an accident driving one.

Personally, we support the right of adults to own firearms. But firearms are dangerous and we support meaningful regulation of firearms, and firearms dealers, just as we do of other dangerous instruments.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The VCDL and the participating gun dealers clearly broke state and federal gambling laws when they initially sold tickets to the giveaway (state laws because they acted in Virginia, and federal law because they utilized the mails for the initial ticket sales). The fact that they were caught breaking the law and changed the rules before the drawing cannot alter the fact that they illegally sold lottery tickets. It is a travesty that neither the federal nor state governments are prosecuting them. There is no do over in the criminal law.