L. Neil Smith's

Number 9, June 1996

There's No Defense for some Laws

By John Taylor

Special to The Libertarian Enterprise

         Nathaniel Hurt is a pleasant-looking, bespectacled elderly gentleman. Nathaniel Hurt seems to be a quiet, unassuming man, the sort anyone would want living next door. He is well known in his Baltimore neighborhood for spending hours keeping his part of his city clean and free of trash. He cooked and gave away barbecue every summer from his back yard. He worked for twenty-three years for Bethlehem Steel. He tried to prevent neighborhood punks with nothing better to do from harassing passersby in his neighborhood.
         The punks didn't like that. For a month or so, they harassed him, with no effect. He kept on being a good neighbor. On October 10, 1994, a bunch of these young hoodlums began destroying Mr. Hurt's car with rocks as it sat in front of his house. Mr. Hurt stepped out on his second story fire escape and fired four shots from his .357 revolver. One bullet struck thirteen year old Vernon Lee Holmes Jr. in the back. Holmes died.
         Mr. Hurt was originally charged with first-degree murder charges. He turned down a plea bargain that would have guaranteed him no jail time. He admitted discharging his pistol, but claimed that he was only trying to fire over the heads of the vandals to disperse them. Mr. Hurt was convicted in Baltimore Circuit Court of involuntary manslaughter, for which he was sentenced by Judge Ellen M. Heller to three years (of which he would probably serve eighteen months).
         Mr. Hurt appealed his conviction. In an unsigned, unpublished opinion, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals said in part, "He was a good and decent man who was pushed beyond his breaking point, and he reacted. ... Under all the circumstances, Judge Heller had no option."
         So, by the time you read this, Nathaniel Hurt will be in jail. Not for eighteen months. Not for three years. For five full years. Because Maryland law mandates a minimum five year penalty -- no parole, no judicial discretion in sentencing -- for use of a handgun in the commission of a felony. Hurt will serve a five-year-no-parole sentence concurrent with his shorter felony manslaughter conviction.

. . .

         Jada Lokeman is lucky to be alive. This past January, he was mugged and beaten on his way home from the grocery store. His masked attackers appeared bent on inflicting serious harm to Lokeman when a miracle happened. Suddenly, the attack ceased, the beating stopped. Lokeman looked up to see his neighbor, Theron Richardson, standing in the cold, clad only in his pajamas, holding the thugs at bay with a handgun.
         Richardson's wife had called the police. They arrived in due time and arrested the would-be muggers ... and arrested Mr. Richardson. He was handcuffed in front of his wife and four children and placed in the same paddy wagon as the assailants. For his selfless act in defense of others, Mr. Richardson got to spend 26 hours in jail, and was charged with possession of an illegal firearm. Fortunately, at his arraignment a month later, the charge was quietly dismissed.
         Richardson was fully aware at the time that he was taking a great risk in interceding on Lokeman's behalf. He even took the unusual (and potentially dangerous) step of unloading the pistol before he stepped out of his house. He never pointed the firearm at the assailants. He announced to the police when they finally arrived that he had an unloaded handgun, and that the paperwork for it was inside his house.
         At recent legislative hearings for new gun control laws, Mr. Richardson stated, "I hesitated for a moment before I retrieved my handgun. I thought about the stringent Maryland gun-control laws." Fortunately for Jada Lokeman that January night, Theron Richardson placed more value on Lokeman's life than on his own security -- and Jada Lokeman is alive today because of that fact.

. . .

         In this year's legislative session, the Peoples' Republic of Maryland passed a few more gun control laws. As usual, of course, the prohibitionists couched their intentions in phrases alluding to public safety and crime prevention. No amount of reason could overcome the legislator's desire to enhance the power of the state over the people.
         Beginning October 1st, Maryland becomes the third state in the nation to impose a one-gun-a-month law. In addition, firearms sales between individuals will be governed by the same paperwork and reporting requirements as those consummated through a storefront dealer.
         How these laws will aid the victims of crime is unclear. How these laws will reduce crime of any type in any meaningful way is equally unclear. With 22,000-odd firearms laws in this nation, most passed in the past 25 years or so, you would think that by now, we'd pretty much have all the loopholes closed. But that is clearly not the case.
         Mandatory penalties for use of a firearm and restriction or prohibition of the simple possession of a firearm are two types of laws whose cost far outweighs their value. Some will argue (even some of our "friends" will argue) that these laws enhance our ability to fight crime. To them I offer a simple test -- show me how. Some of our "allies" in the fight against firearms rights infringement will assert, on certain days in certain ways, that some forms of registration, restriction, or penalties are acceptable. To them I offer the same test, along with the irrefutable judgment of history -- all such laws are abused by the state, sooner or later.
         Every year the lapdog media elite begin their frenzied ritual chants as the legislators find their way to the state house. Every year committees meet in solemn session to hear the testimony of gun control advocates and ignore the testimony of firearms rightists. Every year there is a new battle in the hallowed halls of local, state, and federal government over the simple right to defense of self and of others.
         Sometimes these new laws pass; sometimes, though increasingly rarely, they fail. Sometimes friends stand by us; sometimes they betray us. Sometimes we punish those who betray the Constitution and Bill of Rights; more often than not, we rationalize their behavior and allow them to continue what they're doing.
         Sometimes we punish the criminals; more and more often, though, we punish the people who aren't really involved in the legislative fight, the theoretical battles, the philosophical skirmishes. We punish Everyman, the man or woman who just gets up and goes to work each day and tries to tread a fine line, avoiding being victimized by real crime without otherwise being ensnared by increasingly all-encompassing crimes de jure.
         We punish ourselves by electing politicians instead of public servants, statists instead of statesmen. We punish the human instinct to defend our own lives, the lives of our families, the lives of our neighbors. We punish those who would act to defend those things that we claim to hold so dear.
         These days, we punish the Theron Richardsons and the Nathaniel Hurts. It's way past time to stop allowing that to happen.

John Taylor is the Maryland Coordinator of the Libertarian Second Amendment Caucus.

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