(And the New Jersey Superior Court)
In the present case, we are similarly concerned that possessing a firearm can be innocent conduct. Citizens have a constitutional right to bear arms under both the federal and state constitutions. U.S. Const. amend. II; Wash. Const. art. I, § 24. A person may lawfully own a shotgun so long as the barrel length is more than 18 inches in length and has an overall length of less than 26 inches.
This is an error. The overall length must be greater than 26 inches, not less. The decision gets this right in at least two other places.
See RCW 9.41.010(6). RCW 9.41.190 precludes possession of a short-barreled shotgun. Moreover, the statute also criminalizes possession of a short-barreled rifle and a machine gun. The factor concerned with innocent conduct is particularly important in the case of a machine gun, which can be altered in ways not easily observable.3 If strict liability is imposed, a person could innocently come into the possession of a shotgun, rifle, or weapon meeting the definition of a machine gun but then be subject to imprisonment, despite ignorance of the gun’s characteristics, if the barrel turns out to be shorter than allowed by law or the weapon has been altered, making it a machine gun. The legislature likely did not intend to imprison persons for such seemingly innocent conduct.
This decision did uphold Mr. Williams’ conviction for possession of a short-barreled shotgun, but contrast this wording to, for example, New Jersey’s Superior Court in State v. Pelleteri. Here are the facts of that case:
On May 30, 1990, our Legislature proscribed the “knowing” possession of “assault firearms.” N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5f. Persons legally in possession of such firearms prior to the effective date of the statute could retain these weapons by obtaining the appropriate registration. N.J.S.A. 2C:58-12. Included in the definition of “assault firearm” is “[a] semi-automatic rifle with a fixed magazine capacity exceeding [fifteen] rounds.” N.J.S.R 2C:39-1w(4). Defendant was convicted of “knowingly” having in his possession an assault firearm, a semi-automatic rifle with a magazine capacity of seventeen cartridges.
Defendant, an expert marksman who at one point was employed as a firearms instructor, won a Marlin semi-automatic rifle in the late 1980’s by placing first in a police combat match. An avid gun collector, defendant placed the weapon in his safe. Defendant claimed that he neither inspected nor used the firearm. When the police recovered the gun from defendant’s residence in December 1993, it still had the manufacturer’s tags and the owner’s manual attached to the trigger guard. The owner’s manual indicated that the rifle could hold at least seventeen cartridges. Defendant claimed that he never read the manual. While conceding that he knew the rifle was a semi-automatic weapon, defendant contended that he was unaware that the firearm had a magazine capacity exceeding fifteen rounds.
And here’s the court’s decision:
We are concerned here with a statute dealing with gun control. “New Jersey has carefully constructed a ‘grid’ of regulations” on the subject. In re Two Seized Firearms, 127 N.J. 84, 88, 602 A.2d 728, cert. denied sub nom Sholtis v. New Jersey, 506 U.S. 823, 113 S.Ct. 75, 121 L.Ed.2d 40 (1992). This is an area in which “regulations abound and inquiries are likely,” and where the overarching purpose is to insure the public safety and protect against acts and threats of violence. State v. Hatch, 64 N.J. 179, 184, 313 A.2d 797 (1973); see also Burton v. Sills, 53 N.J. 86, 248 A.2d 521 (1968). “[T]he dangers are so high and the regulations so prevalent that, on balance, the legislative branch may as a matter of sound public policy and without impairing any constitutional guarantees, declare the act itself unlawful without any further requirement of mens rea or its equivalent.” State v. Hatch, 64 N.J. at 184-85, 313 A.2d 797. When dealing with guns, the citizen acts at his peril. In short, we view the statute as a regulatory measure in the interests of the public safety, premised on the thesis that one would hardly be surprised to learn that possession of such a highly dangerous offensive weapon is proscribed absent the requisite license.
Here’s that “highly dangerous offensive weapon” that the State of New Jersey declared an “assault firearm.”:
Actually, that’s not true. The picture here is of the current Marlin Model 60 .22 rimfire semi-automatic tube-magazine rifle. The new one has been redesigned so that it can only hold fourteen of the horrificly deadly .22 rimfire rounds, thus rendering it not an “assault weapon” in the eyes of the State of New Jersey.
Then, of course, there’s the Ninth Circus, who, in Hickman v. Block declared:
The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution states: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” U.S. Const. amend. II. Hickman argues that the Second Amendment requires the states to regulate gun ownership and use in a “reasonable” manner. The question presented at the threshold of Hickman’s appeal is whether the Second Amendment confers upon individual citizens standing to enforce the right to keep and bear arms. We follow our sister circuits in holding that the Second Amendment is a right held by the states, and does not protect the possession of a weapon by a private citizen. We conclude that Hickman can show no legal injury, and therefore lacks standing to bring this action.
In the later Silveira v. Lockyer case, Judge Kleinfeld wrote this in his dissent to the decision to refuse to hear the case en banc:
The panel opinion holds that the Second Amendment “imposes no limitation on California’s [or any other state’s] ability to enact legislation regulating or prohibiting the possession or use of firearms” and “does not confer an individual right to own or possess arms.” The panel opinion erases the Second Amendment from our Constitution as effectively as it can, by holding that no individual even has standing to challenge any law restricting firearm possession or use. This means that an individual cannot even get a case into court to raise the question. The panel’s theory is that “the Second Amendment affords only a collective right,” an odd deviation from the individualist philosophy of our Founders. The panel strikes a novel blow in favor of states’ rights, opining that “the amendment was not adopted to afford rights to individuals with respect to private gun ownership or possession,” but was instead “adopted to ensure that effective state militias would be maintained, thus preserving the people’s right to bear arms.” It is not clear from the opinion whom the states would sue or what such a suit would claim were they to try to enforce this right. The panel’s protection of what it calls the “people’s right to bear arms” protects that “right” in the same fictional sense as the “people’s” rights are protected in a “people’s democratic republic.”
About twenty percent of the American population, those who live in the Ninth Circuit, have lost one of the ten amendments in the Bill of Rights. And, the methodology used to take away the right threatens the rest of the Constitution. The most extraordinary step taken by the panel opinion is to read the frequently used Constitutional phrase, “the people,” as conferring rights only upon collectives, not individuals. There is no logical boundary to this misreading, so it threatens all the rights the Constitution guarantees to “the people,” including those having nothing to do with guns. I cannot imagine the judges on the panel similarly repealing the Fourth Amendment’s protection of the right of “the people” to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures, or the right of “the people” to freedom of assembly, but times and personnel change, so that this right and all the other rights of “the people” are jeopardized by planting this weed in our Constitutional garden.
Washington’s Supreme Court has stated that the Second Amendment and Washington’s Constitution both protect an individual right to arms, but Washington is one of the states in the 9th Circuit. If someone attempts to appeal in FEDERAL court on the grounds that they have such a right, said claim will be rejected. Hickman v. Block settled it.
UPDATE: Ben at Carnaby Fudge has an excellent take on the search that resulted in Mr. Williams’ arrest for possession of the sawed-off. But in my case I think I’m just going to stick with telling the officer, “No, you can’t come in without a warrant.”
And I want one of these for Christmas.