February 21, 2005

Criminal News Network?

Or how about Conspiracist News Network? Whichever you prefer it damned sure ain't the Constitutionalist News network.

Everyone seems to be talking about a CNN "report" on buying a .50 BMG rifle. It first appeared on The Claire Files Board & spread. FreedomSight posted about it. The Smallest Minority has a post on it (that was Instalanched btw). Triggerfinger posted his account of the video. He also has a nice round up of other bloggers covering the story. Xrlq & Stop The Bleating have a nice legal analysis of what happened. The Smallest Minority points to a transcript of the video.

The gist of it is that CNN did a story on purchasing a .50 BMG caliber rifle. They used Gunsamerica.com to locate a seller (in Texas) & used a local to purchase the rifle for around $2,500. After the transaction the CNN reporter flew home (Georgia) with he rifle & did some cheap tricks with it (shooting through an aircraft door at 300 yards, etc.) that damn near any centerfire rifle is capable of doing. Just the typical MSM demonization of firearms with the implication that more gun control laws are needed.

It has been pointed out that the reporter violated federal law (See XRLQ, Stop The Bleating & Triggerfinger for the details) by buying out of state without using a Federal Firearms Licensee then bringing the firearm home.

There are a couple of angles that haven't been touched on enough. The first is something that we as gun owners should be frightfully aware of. There are many people (especially in the comments to many of the posts on this) calling for the atf to step in & arrest the reporter.

I understand wanting the reporter specifically & CNN generally suffer a bit. After all this was nothing more than a hit piece on .50 BMG rifles (actually, it was a little more but I'll get to that in a bit). The MSM has a history - a long history - of doing whatever they can to demonize gun owners & the guns themselves in order to push for stricter gun control laws. So it's perfectly natural to want some sort of vengeance against them.

But sicking the atf on anyone? First of all, they're one of the most incompetent federal agencies we're burdened with. Calling them to "help" would be akin to calling a pyromaniac to help extinguish a fire (& yes the reference was intentional). Second, it is wrong to call for the enforcement of an unjust law, even against those who would have that law & stricter laws of a similar nature enforced. It may give a feeling of poetic justice to see the reporter face charges but it'd be wrong just like it'd be wrong if you or I were prosecuted under that law.

Besides, it could backfire.

How would you like it if the reporter did get charged & the result of the trial was an exception for “legitimate news stories" on such matters? Nothing in the law as far as I can tell would allow for such an exception but hell; nothing in the law allows for the feds to step on our ability to own & possess weapons. While not a very strong possibility, I think it's plausible enough that we should be worried if the reporter is charged.

CNN has a lot of cash. They have a lot of attorneys. Odds are they'll fight for the reporter with all their resources. However, there's almost no chance in hell or east Georgia that they'll use a 2nd amendment defense to any charges brought. If the reporter is acquitted it'll be because of some judicial interpretation of the 1rst amendment relating to the press which would not be a gain for us (i.e. non-reporters working for the MSM) but could harm us as the 2nd amendment would be ignored or mistreated in yet another precedent.

Now were the reporter a pro-gun type then I'd back any fight he made against any charges brought for breaking a prior restraint based law that runs afoul of the constitution. But he's not. Hell, he's the enemy. As such I'd still have to defend him against any prior restraint based charges. I'd cuss his narrow ass out the whole time I was doing it, but I'd defend him nonetheless.

Why? Because despite his ignorant or malevolent disregard for my Rights, I cannot enforce my Rights by disregarding his.

One of the counters I've heard (read actually) is that by not charging him we'll be seeing a double standard approved of by the government. & I agree; if I had done what the reporter did & blogged about it no cat in my home would be safe. However if he is charged that will only serve to entrench an unjust law even more than it already is entrenched. The other side is that we may (may) be able to use this to our advantage.

No reporter for CNN is going to become a 2nd amendment advocate because he's being charged with a felony. He'll try his damndest to weasel his way out of the charges for other reasons. Being prosecuted will not bring him 'round to our side.

But by not being charged we can use this as ammunition the next time a pro-gun person runs afoul of the law. I can see an equal protection argument in such a case (assuming the reporter isn't charged) being used to bolster a 2nd amendment argument. It won't be a cinch as the courts are the enemy as well (at least in most cases I've read - aside from a few rather nice dissents) but that will serve us better than the satisfaction of seeing a reporter fall victim to the kind of unjust laws he advocates.

Now there's another angle that was mentioned by Fuz in this post. Many people seem to be claiming that CNN did this story in an effort to push for a .50 BMG ban (like the one in California).

"My third impression is that CNN's reporters and/or producers and/or editors know, subconsciously perhaps, that fifty-caliber rifles are not the real story. The real story, and the activism motivating the fifty-caliber story, is terror and anguish over the fact that a seller of a gun and a buyer of a gun can find each other and arrange to meet face-to-face and make their transaction without the engagement of a licensed dealer. Sensationalize this, spice it up by adding today's Most Dreaded type of gun, and cue the anti-gun lobbyists."

"They're not after fifties, they are after private sales."

Gun nuts (well actually most people) can get caught up in the details while missing the bigger picture. We know the .50 BMG is an endangered species in many places so we assumed the story was about banning the .50 BMG. That may be part of it. Hell, it definitely is part of it. But I think Fuz is right that the main effort isn't to ban .50 BMG's but private sales nationwide.

Right now I can buy a long gun or handgun in Colorado through a private seller (as long as it's not at a gun show). I can buy a long gun (but not a handgun from a private seller in any state that doesn't forbid it. What CNN is probably trying to do is use the .50 BMG as an example of why such transactions should be outlawed on the federal level. The use the .50 BMG in their story as it appears more dramatic than if they'd have used a Ruger 10/22 in .22LR.

So on the one hand their story may help push a ban on private sales across the country. But if that fails it still may succeed in banning .50 BMG's across the country.

So yes, the CNN reporter & his staff violated at least one federal law (since it was several people putting the story together the catch all "conspiracy to violate federal firearms law" would be used if they were mere peasants). No they should not be prosecuted as despite the satisfaction it would give many of us (myself included) to see members of the anti-gun lobby suffer under laws they advocate it'd still be using a law that violates the constitution. Using an unjust law to punish the unjust is not a good thing. Much better to eliminate the unjust law altogether than use it when it suits us.

However, do not mistake this for an effort to ban .50 BMG's - they are after the .50 BMG's as well as all private sales.

Posted by Publicola at February 21, 2005 12:27 PM

It has been the position of most 2nd amendment advocates that we have more than enough firearms laws.

That we need only enforce the ones we have on the books already.

So the best answer to a CNN idiot pushing for more gun control to prevent his own bad behaviour is to arrest and incarcerate him, and then point to this idiot as an example.

If this idiot goes to jail, other reporters will think a bit before they violate existing law on tape in order to push for more laws.

The law broken here was not a private sale ... it was an obvious violation of the GCA of '68 by exactly one reporter.

Posted by: Kristopher Barrett at February 21, 2005 01:02 PM

If you're fine with the gun control laws we have now then I see your point. I'm not. I want to start repealing them as fast as possible.

Now the "enforce the laws on the books" position is typical of the NRA's stance (among others). & like I said that's fine if you're cool with the laws on the books now. But the laws on the books currently do not do much to prevent crime. They simply make criminals out of a lot of people with no harmful intent.

So I can't condone a prosecution for anyone under an unjust, immoral & unconstitutional law no matter how poetic the situation would be.

& reporters may think twice about how they report on firearms issues, but one going to jail won't stop them from doing what they're doing - which is to advocate for stricter laws. At best they'd lobby for an exception in the course of news stories.

& no one said that it being a private sale was the violation - it's that the reporter bought a long gun out of state through a private seller (not an ffl) & took it home. That's one of the idiotic gun laws on the books right now. Hopefully we can do something to get it (& hell, let's go for Title 18 & 26 of the U.S. Code while we're at it) erased.

Posted by: Publicola at February 21, 2005 02:09 PM

I'm with Publicola on this one, but not necessarily for the same reason. If the ATF's policy is to throw the book at everybody who commits the most technical violation of every federal, state or local firearms law (to the extent that violations of state laws and local ordinances implicate federal law as well, which is often but not always the case), then I see no reason why this individual reporter should get off any easier just because he committed his crime to make a news story rather than for some other reason. However, as I hinted in Uncle's discussion, I doubt that this is the case. More likely, the ATF exercises some degree of prosecutorial discretion, and if they do, they'll generally use this law against people who are actually doing something wrong, and let off with a stern warning anyone whose only crime was to purchase an otherwise lawful gun in the wrong state.

IOW, I don't want the ATF to go light on the guy just because he's a journalist (or an anti-gunner, or whatever), but I also don't want to see them throw the book at him just because he's a journalist (or an anti-gunner, or whatever). Treat him exactly like they would anyone else who did what he did for any other, equally innocent reason. No better, and no worse.

Posted by: Xrlq at February 21, 2005 05:08 PM

Right, xrlq;
Treat him just like they treated Randy Weaver.

Posted by: doc Russia at February 21, 2005 07:50 PM

I agree, the ATF is the last group of people I would call for anything

Posted by: El Cid at February 22, 2005 07:57 AM

If you're talking about throwing bad laws at the guy and his staff, how about RICO? I'm pretty sure that if someone bought the gun, they bought it with CNN's money. Which means that you might be able to hold the corporate entity responsible under RICO.

And yes, I think the GCA is a load of excrement. But sometimes overzealous enforcement of bad laws is what gets them repealed/overturned.

Also, to continue on Fuz's point: I don't think CNN had the banning of private transactions as the real objective of their story. They really are after the .50s. But keep in mind the Fabian strategy of the gungrabbers-banning the .50s is just an intermediate objective leading to the ture objective of eliminating private gun ownership.

Posted by: Heartless Libertarian at February 22, 2005 09:16 AM

Actually, CNN is after both angles. They want to demonize the .50, and they have realized, I think, that the endless cries of "the gun show loophole!" are now falling on deaf ears. We have successfully educated the public that there is no gun show "loophole".

And so CNN is going after private sales in a way that they can spin as not being just another gun show loophole story.

Posted by: TriggerFinger at February 22, 2005 03:12 PM

The quickest way to get rid of bad law is to strictly enforce it.
Someone more famous than me said that, a Judge, I think.

Posted by: Billll at February 22, 2005 04:56 PM

I'm with Billl on this one. Bad laws should be strictly enforced, that shows just how freaking stupid they are. Otherwise, we end up with agencies enforcing the bad laws on only those that aren't "polite enough" or are not "politically correct." In which case, an aire of serfdoom instills upon us all and no one knows if they are going to be thrown in jail tomorrow for what they "got away" with today. If we had agencies and individuals in those agencies that actually stood up for the constitution they swore to uphold and said they would not enforce unconstitutional laws, that would be a different story. It would also be a pipe dream, (and they would be fired and replaced with tyrants that would enforce the unconstitutional laws anyways). Now, if we had a court system that held individuals in government responsibly for when they attempted to enforce unconstitutional laws... sigh... there I am, back in my pipe dream.

Posted by: Jason at February 23, 2005 02:04 AM
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