THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 359, March 19, 2006
Doing Nothing About Everything
Special to TLE
I suspect there's not a person interested in Second Amendment matters out there who doesn't know by now that Angel Shamayathe founder of KeepandBearArms.comhas been arrested on firearms charges in Michigan. Activists have already stepped forward to offer character references* for his first hearing and to organize the collection of donations to cover his legal fees.
According to the sketchy information available, Shamaya is accused of having four unregistered guns in Michigan. Shamaya, who only recently relocated, is said to have been in the process of registering the firearms when a complaint brought a SWAT team to his door. The charges against Shamaya are (fortunately, under the circumstances) misdemeanors, and he's currently free on bond.
It's been suggested that the original complaint against Shamaya was filed maliciously. I have no reason to argue with that supposition. Malicious or not, however, the only question the authorities will be asking is whether or not Shamaya broke the law, and it doesn't matter to them whether or not he was in the process of arranging for compliance at the time.
There is a school of thought, particularly prevalent within the freedom movement, that we are under no obligation to obey an unconstitutional law. That's true. We're not. And there's more than a little truth to the notion that gun registration laws in Michigan (and elsewhere) just might be among those existing laws that are unconstitutional. But there's a slight problem with refusing to honor such laws: there are a good number of people, many of whom happen to be in law enforcement who are inclined to enforce a law merely because it is a law, unconstitutional or not.
Compounding the problem is the fact that, thanks to years of propaganda, the vast majority of Americans agree with the police. They're inclined to think less of the Bill of Rights than they are of promises of safety or security. Their misguided willingness to trade freedom for perceived safety is fine for them, but these are also the same people who sit on juries. The man or woman who refuses to obey an unconstitutional edict may be arrested; if he or she is, conviction is likely if the evidence is there that the law was broken.
So what can we do? For many, obeying unconstitutional laws, or those which fly directly in the face of religious beliefs, is a bitter pill to swallow. But do they choose to risk fines or jail time? Many do not. Many cannot.
Laws aren't that easy to change. That's why it's so important that we work to prevent bad laws from taking effect in the first place. Oftentimes, enough protests can nip bad laws in the bud. Such protests are particularly successful when they're aimed at poll-driven politicians. Next time you hear rumblings from citizens claiming a proposed law is problematic, take just a moment to pay a little extra attention and add your voice to the weight of the protest against it.
If bad laws do take effect, they can be changed, with effort and with dedication. Witness, for example, the ongoing parade of states taking action to protect private property rights in the wake of the Supreme Court's ruling in the Kelo v. New London case that found economic development is an acceptable rationale for eminent domain proceedings. More than half of the fifty states have passed, or are working on, legislation to counter Kelo. Yet none of this would have come to pass if the Connecticut homeowners adversely affected hadn't refused to go along with a law they knew was just plain wrong.
But even bad laws that are changed don't always work out for those caught up in one law enforcement dragnet or another. For example, California has legalized the use of marijuana for medical reasons. Some cultivation is permitted for personal use under that law. Yet federal authorities have destroyed the plants of those who are growing their own medicine, and have arrested some of those who dare to legally treat their ailments with the drug.
If, for whatever reason, someone is arrested, for true justice to be served juries need to understand they can also judge the law. Each and every American who is a potential juror should be made aware of his or her responsibilities, even those that judges typically don't tell them about. The Fully Informed Jury Association can help. So can you, by passing out pamphlets to prospective jurors (please take note that distributing these brochures may, in and of itself, get you in some trouble depending on where you're standing at the time and your own state laws). And if you're ever called for jury duty, I hope you're a fully informed juror yourself!
Oddly enough, the single most effective measure to solve the problem of unconstitutional laws is to do absolutely nothing. Really. The problem is getting enough people to do it (you'd think getting people to do absolutely nothing would be easier than it is, wouldn't you?). But consider: REAL ID would be a singularly unsuccessful program if we all just stayed home and didn't go out to get one. Drunk driving checkpoints would become unwieldy at best if we all just refused to let officers take a peak inside our vehicles. If juries simply stopped convicting medical marijuana users, unreasonable drug laws would cease to matter.
If you or I refuse to comply with REAL ID, we won't be allowed to fly or open bank accounts (among other things). But if all of us simply ignore the requirements, do you really think airlines will quietly close their doors, and banks uncomplainingly lock up their empty vaults? If you or I treat out glaucoma or fight the nausea from chemotherapy with marijuana, we might go to jail. But do you really think there's enough cell space for the authorities to hold everybody? You or I had best register our firearms if we're in states that require such. But what if nobody bothered to register them? What then?
Angel Shamaya hasn't really done anything wrong. But then a lot of people who haven't really done anything wrong somehow find themselves in trouble, too. Let's hope that Shamaya's notoriety and his numerous supporters will bring some attention to such miscarriages of justice as he's now enduring. And let's hope that, should the case make it to a jury, the jury does nothing. Meanwhile, if you're inclined to do anything, offer whatever support you can to Shamaya. After that, why not consider doing nothing yourself?
* You may email your completed letter either to firstname.lastname@example.org or to email@example.com. So we can pick it out from our many other emails, PLEASE make the SUBJECT of your email: "Angel reference." We will see that these letters get to Angel's attorney ASAP.
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