Bad Laws – Unreasonable Prosecutions – Unequal Justice
By Jeff Knox
(April 3, 2015) In recent years I’ve often written about people entangled in our nation’s complex, confusing, and irrational gun laws. People like David Olofson, who was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison for illegal transfer of a “machine gun” after his standard, semi-auto, AR – with no altered or modified parts – malfunctioned and produced hammer-follow doubles and tripples. Or FBI Special Agent John Shipley, who was sentenced to two years for “engaging in the business” of buying and selling firearms, even though all of his sales were legal, and he maintained better records than most private sellers – something that was actually used as evidence against him during his trial. And the recent case of Shaneen Allen, the single mom who got a gun and carry permit after being robbed twice, and who, when stopped for an unsafe lane change, informed the officer about the gun in her purse. Unfortunately, the incident occurred in New Jersey, across the river from Allen’s Pennsylvania home. Shaneen spent 40 days in jail before finally getting out on bail, and was facing a minimum, mandatory 3-year sentence. But thanks to the efforts of attorney Evan Nappen, and the outraged cries of gun owners from around the country – not to mention the governor’s presidential aspirations – she was eventually given a suspended sentence deal that will be expunged upon completion (and just this week pardoned by Governor Christie). Then there was the Reese family, denied bail and kept in custody for 18 months because they sold guns and ammunition to customers in their gun shop whom they “should have known” were lying on federal forms. You can find those stories at www.FirearmsCoalition.org.
In another recent case in Ohio, a Sheriff’s Deputy named Eric Spicer used his office to procure a select-fire, HK416 carbine with his own money, then maintained possession of the gun after he was fired from the agency.
According to Spicer, he informed his boss of his desire to acquire the full-auto capable carbine and got permission to submit the appropriate paperwork under the Sheriff’s signature. The Sheriff said he recalled giving Spicer permission to buy an AR-type rifle, but that he didn’t know the gun was full-auto capable, and said he never gave permission for Spicer to sign his name to the paperwork. After Spicer was fired over an unrelated matter – which still has a Wrongful Dismissal suit pending – he maintained possession of the $1700 firearm he had paid for.
When another area police agency, where Spicer was seeking employment, inquired about having the paperwork for the firearm transferred from the Sheriff’s Office to their department, the question was passed on to the BATF. This led BATF to the knowledge that the gun, which was legally registered to the Sheriff’s Office, was actually in Spicer’s possession, even though he was no longer employed there. That resulted in ATF raiding Spicer’s residence and arresting him for illegal possession of a machine gun.
Spicer was charged with a variety of criminal counts, but was eventually found guilty of only two: Knowingly possessing a machine gun, and possessing a machine gun that was not registered to him. For those convictions, Spicer was sentenced to 5 years of probation. Since the convictions were felonies, Spicer loses his right to possess any firearms for the rest of his life, thus ending his career in law enforcement.
The case is a frustrating to everyone. Prosecutors are protesting the “light” sentence handed down by the judge. Spicer maintains that he was trying to abide by the country’s convoluted gun laws and that his prosecution was malicious. Law enforcement critics point to the light sentence as another example of special consideration for police, and rights advocates continue to question why laws, agencies, and the courts waste resources focusing on people who are not violent criminals, but who have just gotten tangled in the red tape of the system.
The disparity in sentences between Spicer and David Olofson does seem a bit out of line, but I would contend that it’s a matter of Olofson’s sentence being too harsh, not Spicer’s being too light. More important though is the question of why either of them was prosecuted in the first place. Neither Olofson nor Spicer was any sort of threat to anyone. Nor were Shaneen Allen, John Shipley, Albert Kwan, and numerous others. These are people who, if their crimes had been pointed out to them, would have apologized and asked what to do to comply with the law. They had no intention of committing a crime and certainly no intention of using their firearms for criminal purposes. The laws were written and passed specifically for the stated purpose of reducing violent crime, but prosecuting these people does nothing to further that objective.
The whole concept of gun control laws – trying to change the behavior of criminals by restricting the activities of the law-abiding – is ridiculous and will unavoidably have a much greater impact on non-criminals than on criminals. That’s wasteful and counterproductive, and it results in serious harm to many harmless and blameless people.