Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Laws, Guns, and Fish?

“No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed” at least according to the United States Constitution. These words mean something, but governments—local, state, and federal—are constantly trying to refine their meanings.

A bill of attainder is a law that applies to only one person or entityand they're not a huge problem (except maybe the recently struck-down law in Maryland dealing with how much Wal-Mart had to contribute to their employees’ health care), but we gunnies must fear ex post facto laws (that is, government making something illegal and then prosecuting you for doing it even though it was legal when you did it).

One possible example of an ex post facto law is the Lautenberg law—if someone is convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence, then he or she is barred from gun ownership forever, unless they’re pardoned by a governor or president.

Lautenberg is ex post facto by most reasonable definitions, but it has never been struck down as unconstitutional. Its supporters get around ex post facto problems by saying that owning a gun prior to the conviction is not punished; however, continued ownership is illegal. Thus you sell or must turn in your guns even through you’ve owned them since you were 18 years old. If you’re caught with a gun and you have a conviction for a misdemeanor crime of violence no matter how long ago, you’re looking at a federal felony.

Sometimes, laws targeting guns or other property are passed with grandfather clauses. For instance, it’s against the law to own a handgun in Washington, D.C. unless you registered it prior to the passing of a stupid law in 1976. If you properly registered it, you’re untouchable as far as the police are concerned. If you get a new job in the District and move your trusty .38 to your townhouse and you’re caught—forget the job and find a lawyer.

Governments, when we let them, like to pass laws on guns and other property, but they don’t like grandfather clauses because they’re too hard to enforce because they create two different classes of people. A handful of states and localities have now gotten smart and are using a Lautenberg-like pattern; continued possession is the crime, not the original possession. Thus Illinois and Massachusetts can demand that you get a license to continue to possess your guns even though you purchased them many years before such schemes were passed.

So, why am I gassing on about this? It’s simple. A state government (in Maine) passed a law that you can’t possess koi fish and it has no grandfather clause. They won’t bust you for having owned them for 15 years as in this case, but they will bring the full force of law against you if you continue to own fish.

Today koi, tomorrow the guns. What a strange, dark world we’ve made.

No comments: