What the hell is wrong with New Jersey prosecutors? #2A

February 18, 2015
Citizen! Have I got a job for you!

Good job, New Jersey!

Here’s the situation in brief: Gordon van Gilder is a 72-year old retired English teacher who lives in New Jersey. He also happens to have a hobby collecting 18th century memorabilia: coins, furniture, etc. Along came the opportunity to buy an antique 18th-century pistol. No bullets or powder, just the pistol. He and a friend drove to Pennsylvania to get it and then, on the way back, they were stopped by New Jersey police. Mr. Van Gilder cooperatively told the officer of the weapon in the glove box, and the officer promptly wanted to arrest him for violating New Jersey gun laws — for an antique pistol that wasn’t working. A superior talked some sense into the officer and told him to return the firearm and let the two men go. You’d think that would be the end of it, right?

Per Charles Cooke, think again:

The officer did as he was told, and gave the pistol back. The next morning, however, he came back — “with three cars and three or four sheriffs.” Van Gilders says, “He told me, ‘I should have arrested you last night.’” So he did. “They led me away in handcuffs” and, at the station, “chained me by my hands and feet to a cold stainless-steel bench.”

“I’ve never been handcuffed in my life — or arrested, even,” Van Gilder explains. “I was embarrassed and ashamed. The only prisoner there was myself: a 72-year-old English teacher. I was really ashamed.”

Before long, Van Gilder had been charged and the gun had been taken away for “ballistics testing,” almost certainly never to be returned. (That the department believes that a ballistics test on a flintlock pistol can be useful should give you some indication of who we’re dealing with here.) “They’ve angered me,” Van Gilder concedes. “But technically, by New Jersey’s law, the officer was probably right.”

The officer may have been right, but the law that officious jerk was enforcing is an ass. Now Mr. Van Gilder is facing a possible ten-year sentence with a minimum of 3.5 years without parole.

Remember the Obama administration’s risible claim that it had “prosecutorial discretion” to not enforce immigration law over a whole class of people? That was bunk, but here is a case where discretion should have been applied by by New Jersey authorities to refuse to prosecute a case that was clearly never contemplated under the state’s gun laws. Leave aside the fact that those laws violate Mr. Van Gilder’s Second Amendment rights, the very idea of humiliating him and then facing him with mandatory jail time over an antique pistol the federal government doesn’t even regard as a weapon is infuriating.

More Cooke:

Earlier this week, the lawyers’ group blog Popehat noted caustically that “none of the New Jersey founders who ratified the Constitution when this pistol was crafted would have questioned the man’s right to keep it.” This is indisputably true. Indeed, the news that an arthritic septuagenarian retiree had been tied to a bench for a non-violent crime would presumably have shocked them to the core. But, for all that their words live on, those leaders are dead, and we must look now to the ones that we have today. Where the hell are they? Where are the voices crying out for a change in the rules, and for a restoration of basic American liberties? And above all, where is the fearless Chris Christie — a man who seems to want to be president of the United States — when one of his constituents is being harassed by the state?

That’s a darned fine question, and I’d be very interested in would-be President Christie’s answer.

PS: As Cooke’s editors point out, you can help out with Mr. Van Gilder’s defense here.

PPS: And this isn’t the first time New Jersey prosecutors have tried to curb-stomp the Second Amendment.


Journalism Dean: “There are limits to free speech”

January 21, 2015
"Free speech means the freedom to offend."

“Free speech means the freedom to offend.”

It’s a measure of how craven and corrupt our political culture has become that even the Dean of a journalism school in a nation founded on free speech and freedom of the press should say “there are limits, however:”

Charlie Hebdo has gone too far.

In its first publication following the Jan. 7 attack on its Paris office, in which two Muslim gunmen massacred 12 people, the once little-known French satirical news weekly crossed the line that separates free speech from toxic talk.

Charlie Hebdo’s latest depiction of the prophet Mohammed — a repeat of the very action that is thought to have sparked the murderous attack on its office — predictably has given rise to widespread violence in nations with large Muslim populations. Its irreverence of Mohammed once moved the French tabloid to portray him naked in a pornographic pose. In another caricature, it showed Mohammed being beheaded by a member of the Islamic State.

While free speech is one of democracy’s most important pillars, it has its limits.

So says DeWayne Wickham, Dean of the School of Global Journalism and Communication at Wayne State University. In a very limited sense, he’s right: I cannot go yelling “fire!” in a crowded theater (1), for example (2). Nor can I incite to violence by, for example, standing before a crowd and telling them to go now and beat up a certain person or persons.

But that’s it. All other political speech is within bounds, regardless of whom it offends. You cannot have a free society unless the it includes the right to freely criticize those in authority — and not just criticize, but to satirize and mock, too. If I as a Catholic want to question Original Sin and the need for Divine Grace, or that Jesus was not Divine until adopted by God, then the Church might well denounce me as a heretic and excommunicate me, but the law cannot punish me for my beliefs, nor should I fear physical violence. If I want to be truly outrageous and place the Crucifix in a beaker of urine, I would be a jackass, but I still should not have to fear either legal sanction nor physical violence.

And the same is true of any religion. If I want to question Muhammad’s status as a prophet, or even if he existed at all; if I want to argue that his earliest biography shows he was a bandit, a warlord, and a torturer; and if I want to criticize Sharia, Islam’s divine law, for calling for the execution of homosexuals, that is my right as a free man — even if I want to draw questionably funny satirical cartoons.

This is the right of any human being and well-within the “limits” of free speech.

Let’s be honest. It’s not a regard for the proper limits of free speech that motivates Mr. Wickham. If he or one of his students offended some Amish who then complained, I’m willing to bet he’d be on his soapbox screaming about “free speech” and “freedom of the press.”

And that leads us to the truth. Amish might shun you. Catholics won’t invite you to Bingo Night. A Buddhist would probably just decide you’re an annoying illusion and don’t really exist.

But all too many Muslims would be quite willing to kill you for insulting their Muhammad. Just ask the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo, or Theo van Gogh.

The limit to Dean Wickham’s freedom of speech is his fear of punishment, and thus he is not free at all.

via Michael Walsh

Footnote:
(1) Popehat points out the serious flaws with that particular justification for censorship.
(2) When it’s not true, that is.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


The death of free speech in Scotland: “Cultures rot from the bottom up”

January 4, 2015

liberal tolerance

That’s the assessment of Charles Cooke, who also saw that “Big Brother” tweet from Police Scotland about which I wrote a few days ago. He notes that, while the police statement was offensive enough, the fact that 20,000 Scots signed a petition demanding a columnist be investigated for her annoying comments was downright disturbing. In Cooke’s view, it’s a sign of serious rot in the culture of liberty, itself:

In situations such as these, it is easy and tempting to blame the police for their excesses, and to contend with irritation that they should know better. And so, of course, they should. It is easy, too, to slam the British parliament for continuing to permit such behavior. And, of course, it should be so slammed. Nevertheless, the ugly truth here is that, like the Canadians and the Australians and the New Zealanders and pretty much every people in the world apart from the Americans, there is a significant contingent within the British electorate that believes that the state should punish people who utter words and sentiments that the majority dislikes. Of course the police are looking into the rude and the eccentric. Their employers want them to do exactly that, and there are no constitutional prohibitions to prevent them from doing so.

Cultures rot from the bottom up. In a democracy, the authorities come to reflect societal trends — both good and ill. How sad to see Adam Smith’s body decaying in the streets.

(Emphasis added)

Cooke is right to remark on the difference between the political culture of the United States and its Anglospheric cousins when it comes to free speech, and it’s a fair observation to say we almost fetishize it. But alone among the UK and the it descendants, we assume that the right to speak one’s mind is a natural, unalienable right that is inherent in humans and preexists government. In that regard, we went beyond the 1689 English Bill of Rights, which grants rights via statute, and declared “life, liberty, and happiness,” to be rights superior to the law; that laws, indeed, are instituted to protect those rights. In Scotland and in the UK overall, the beliefs that gave rise to these rights seem to be fading in favor of a “right not to be offended.” (See also Australia, where a lesser commitment to free speech lead the prior government to try to use punitive fines to silence critics of a carbon tax.)

But I think Charles is too sanguine when he writes:

…like the Canadians and the Australians and the New Zealanders and pretty much every people in the world apart from the Americans, there is a significant contingent within the British electorate that believes that the state should punish people who utter words and sentiments that the majority dislikes.

Sadly, we have Speech Police, too; they generally, but not wholly, reside on the political Left. And it’s true that here, especially in an age of alternative media, they experience serious push-back from from defenders of the right to free speech. But they regularly try to punish “wrong” thought and words. Recall, for example the howling mob that went after Brendan Eich, then head of Mozilla, just because, years before, he had exercised his right to free speech to quietly donate to a group supporting traditional heterosexual marriage. Or the feminist banshees who attacked an astrophysicist for wearing a slightly tacky shirt, until he had to issue a tearful apology for his wardrobe.

“Ah,” you say. “It’s true their behavior was reprehensible, but surely the authorities wouldn’t themselves stoop to the level of the Scottish police!” Oh, no? Well, consider this:

Dig around, and you’ll find plenty more.

Our politicians would have been far less likely to attempt these and other speech-suppressing measures, if they didn’t think there was a significant number of people in favor of such things.

It may not be as advanced as in the UK, but the “cultural rot” Cooke wrote of is a danger here, too, and we need to always be on guard against it.

RELATED: Mark Steyn on the death of free speech. Jazz Shaw on how the UK is now less free than the US.

Footnote:
(1) Remember when I said it was “mostly” on the Left?


Andrew Klavan on the Left’s war against liberty

December 1, 2014
The  will to power

The will to power

Writing at PJMedia, Andrew Klavan considers the Left’s desperation to use race as political tool –pushing narratives that turn out not to be true; then making up racialist fables that don’t need facts, they’re just true, you racist; and, when those fail, causing problems to prove there is a problem that needs their cure–  and wonders why they do this. What purpose does it serve?

Not one to leave us hanging, Andrew also gives us the answer: the quest for power.

The trouble that besets us is not white against black, and it’s not black against white either. It’s the left against liberty.

Leftism — by which I mean the end of liberty through forced “equality” — by which I mean the absolute power of a ruling class over the unwashed many — by which I mean tyranny — by which I mean leftism — uses race as a ploy, uses the poor as pawns, uses violence as a means, but has only one purpose: power; the power of the elite few. As valid excuses to exercise that power (slavery and segregation) fall away, it creates false excuses (Duke, Trayvon, Ferguson). When the false excuses are exposed, it creates make-believe injustices (white privilege, micro-aggression). When the make-believe is laughed off, it seizes the next moment of high tension to spew lies, gin up emotion, and engineer violence. Then, in the aftermath of the wholly unnecessary turmoil, rage and destruction, we’re all supposed to wearily agree: ”Something must be done.”

The only thing that needs to be done is to boot the leftists out of power and off TV.

I’m down with that.

Whether it’s progressivism, with its rule by technocrats and boards of experts, or out and out Alinskyism, which deliberately sets one group against another (“Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.”), or bare-naked Bolshevism, the Left beyond a mild social liberalism is all about the taking and holding of power. Conservatives and libertarians want government to perform a few tasks, the kind of jobs it’s best suited to (make war, attend to infrastructure, run the courts, &c) and otherwise leave people to look after their own affairs. Government power should be dispersed and as local as practical. The Left, on the the other hand, wants government to do everything and for themselves to be in charge so they can run everyone else’s affairs for them. And the more centralized the authority, the better.

The Right wants to empower people. The Left wants to empower itself, in the name of The People.

PS: I realize Lefties of good faith might well object to this, being motivated by a genuine, albeit misguided, desire to build a better world. Take it from me: Your “leaders” are using you.

RELATED: An essay from Roger L. Simon you should read. Here’s an excerpt:

The Democrats have been reduced to the party of the rich elite (George Soros, Hillary Clinton, Hollywood, Jonathan Gruber-types, edit al.) and the party of the poor exploited by those elites — a lethal combination that takes society exactly nowhere. In essence, they are the party of racism and sexism — that’s about it. Oh, and climate change. There’s a winner for you.

Yep.


Barack C. Calhoun, nullifier

November 20, 2014
Obama's inspiration

Obama’s inspiration?

J. Christian Adams, a former attorney with the Department of Justice, makes an interesting comparison in advance of President Obama’s expected Executive Order that would unilaterally rewrite our nation’s immigration laws. Writing at PJMedia, he argues that Obama has adopted the logic of John C. Calhoun, the antebellum South Carolina US Senator and vice-president to Andrew Jackson, that the states can nullify federal laws they disagree with.

Back then in the 1830s, President Jackson vigorously opposed Calhoun’s theory of nullification, and the resulting crisis almost lead to civil war. Now, Adams argues, instead of upholding the law as he is constitutionally bound, President Obama is about to claim the power of nullification for himself:

In announcing a lawless amnesty edict tonight, President Obama is our modern John C. Calhoun.

Elementary school civics class has taught the same thing for two hundred years: Congress makes the laws, the president enforces the laws, the judiciary interprets the laws. The reason this is so is because individual liberty thrives when government is hobbled by division of power. People live better lives when federal power is stymied.

When President Obama announces that he will be suspending laws to bless the illegal presence of millions of foreigners in the United States, he will have adopted the most basic philosophy of John C. Calhoun: some laws can be tossed aside because his ends justify the lawlessness.

Adams also compares Obama to King Charles I, who lost his throne (and his head) in a fight over power with the English Parliament. Others have made that same comparison, seeing the parallels in the struggle between the legislature and the Crown/Executive in 1640, 1689, and 1776. Now we’re in 2014, and another executive is declaring himself superior to the legislature, to have the power to act when it won’t do his will.

The question is, what will the legislature do in return to preserve the constitutional order?

I wish I knew.


Conservative party to kill free speech in Great Britain?

November 11, 2014
And he's driving, too.

So speak only approved thoughts.

First it was the police raiding your home for telling politically incorrect jokes on the Internet.

Now, under a law proposed by Home Secretary Theresa May to control “extremist speech,” people who say things others find offensive could be served with an “Extremism Disruption Order” and be forced to clear with the police first anything they want to publish online or say in a public forum — even a simple tweet or a Facebook post:

Last month, May unveiled her ambition to “eliminate extremism in all its forms.” Whether you’re a neo-Nazi or an Islamist, or just someone who says things which betray, in May’s words, a lack of “respect for the rule of law” and “respect for minorities”, then you could be served with an extremism disruption order (EDO).

Strikingly, EDOs will target even individuals who do not espouse or promote violence, which is already a crime in the U.K. As May says, “The problem that we have had is this distinction of saying we will only go after you if you are an extremist that directly supports violence. [This] has left the field open for extremists who know how not to step over the line.” How telling that a leading British politician should be snotty about “this distinction” between speech and violence, between words and actions, which isn’t actually some glitch in the legal system, as she seems to think, but rather is the foundation stone on which every free, democratic society ought to be built.

Once served with an EDO, you will be banned from publishing on the Internet, speaking in a public forum, or appearing on TV. To say something online, including just tweeting or posting on Facebook, you will need the permission of the police. There will be a “requirement to submit to the police in advance any proposed publication on the web, social media or print.” That is, you will effectively need a licence from the state to speak, to publish, even to tweet, just as writers and poets did in the 1600s before the licensing of the press was swept away and modern, enlightened Britain was born (or so we thought).

What sort of people might find themselves branded “extremists” and thus forbidden from speaking in public? Anyone, really. The definition of extremist being bandied about by May and her colleagues is so sweeping that pretty much all individuals with outré or edgy views could potentially find themselves served with an EDO and no longer allowed to make any public utterance without government approval.

So you won’t have to incite violence to be labelled an extremist —in May’s words, these extremism-disrupting orders will go “beyond terrorism.” May says far-right activists and Islamist hotheads who have not committed any crime or incited violence could be served with an order to shut the hell up. She has also talked about people who think “a woman’s intellect [is] deficient,” or who have “denounced people on the basis of their religious beliefs,” or who have “rejected democracy”—these folk, too, could potentially be branded extremists and silenced. In short, it could become a crime punishable by gagging to be a sexist or a religion-hater or someone who despises democracy.

In other words, say or write something someone in government (or who can pressure government) doesn’t like, and you’ll find yourself smacked with a “Speak Only When Allowed” order. This in the land from which we inherited our beliefs in free speech as a natural right of all humans, the dogma that no person could truly be free without the ability to speak their mind without fear of reprisal, regardless of the subject and regardless of how offensively put. Once you set government up as the arbitrator of what may and may not be said, you’ve then gone from being a free-born citizen to a servant of the State, speaking only when Master gives leave.

I can see why the Conservative (1) government might want to do this; they have a hell of a problem on their hands with radical imams recruiting for jihad against Britain and the West, as well as encouraging young Muslims to go join ISIS. But you don’t deal with the problem by threatening everyone for speaking their minds. All that does is force people to guard their thoughts and “go underground.” It’s the same flaw –the criminalization of thought and opinion– that lies behind so-called “hate crime” legislation here in the United States.

Rather, the way to deal with so-called extremist, hateful speech is to expose it in the marketplace of ideas and show how fallacious it is. Tolerating people saying things we don’t like is a small price to pay when compared to what we lose when we repress the right to speak freely at all.

Great Britain is the land that gave birth to free speech; it would be a shame if she were also the first Anglospheric nation to put a stake in its heart.

Footnote:
(1) The irony is knee-deep here.


(Video) 1948 cartoon: “Make Mine Freedom!”

July 7, 2014

Here’s a neat animated short from almost 70 years ago that does a darned good job showing the differences between a society based on individual liberty and the free market, on the one hand, and those based on statism (Socialism, Communism, and Fascism) on the other. It makes good use of humor to get its point across:

Nowadays, I think we could add another “-ISM” to that patent medicine’s list of ingredients: the religious totalitarianism of Islamism.

Via Dan Mitchell, this was part of good post on how the Left was wrong about unemployment insurance.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


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