I was discussing how in the mid-1960's I remember going to this huge field in Concord, CA - later to be the site for Sun Valley Mall - with my grandfather. He'd bring one of his dogs to run around and chase rabbits. He always brought a little .22 rifle, and would take a shot or two at them if they were within range.
No big deal.
Fast forward: I then told my students about a guy in Fairfield, CA - right around the corner from where I teach my classes - who got pulled over for having a shotgun in a rack in the back window of his truck. He was arrested for some insane law - something to the effect of Inciting Panic. Seriously.
Unloaded shotgun, in full compliance with California law, and he gets arrested because some pissant soiled himself.
You get arrested even when you follow the law.
There is a concept in American law called, Mens Rea - it's Latin for "guilty mind". In short, it means you have to have criminal intent to be found guilty of a crime.
For instance, if you're driving down the road, someone runs in front of your car and you kill them, you're not guilty of murder. You had no intention of killing them - a tragic set of circumstances came together and someone died.
Mens rea has a counterpart. Ignorantia juris non excusat. Ignorance of the law is no excuse. The idea here is if the state held someone to account for breaking a law, all the person would have to say is, "Wow, I didn't know that law existed," and they'd get off with no punishment.
I think most people have historically been pretty OK with these two apparently competing legal precepts. Through a number of ways, we are taught what is right and what is wrong. As a kid, you're taught not to kill, not to beat someone up unless you're defending yourself ("You throw the first punch, and I'll throw the last"), not to steal or destroy the property of others.
As you grow older, you learn the concepts of sexual propriety and limits, you take lessons to learn how to drive and the accompanying laws. By the time you're a legal adult, you're pretty well aware of the legal limits generally agreed upon by society.
The problem, now, is reasonableness. The phrase, "Zero Tolerance" has crept into our lexicon. It is rapidly upsetting the balance between mens rea and ignorantia juris non excusat. We are replacing the context of an event with a rule book.
Many of our laws have mandatory minimum sentences. Break a rule, go to jail, buh bye.
As if that weren't enough, the proliferation of laws makes it virtually impossible to know what's legal and what's going to land you in prison.
From the Heritage Foundation -
- Explosion of Federal Criminal Law: The number of criminal offenses in the U.S. Code increased from 3,000 in the early 1980s to 4,000 by 2000 to over 4,450 by 2008 [The Constitution lists 3 federal crimes for individuals: treason, piracy and counterfeiting -.ed].
- Criminalization by Bureaucrat: Scores of federal departments and agencies have created so many criminal offenses that the Congressional Research Service itself admitted that it was unable to even count all of the offenses. The service’s best estimate? “Tens of thousands.” In short, Congress’s own experts do not have a clear understanding of the size and scope of federal criminalization.
One of my favorite, go-to quotes -
"Did you really think we want those laws observed?" said Dr. Ferris. "We want them to be broken. You'd better get it straight that it's not a bunch of boy scouts you're up against... We're after power and we mean it... There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What's there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced or objectively interpreted – and you create a nation of law-breakers – and then you cash in on guilt. Now that's the system, Mr. Reardon, that's the game, and once you understand it, you'll be much easier to deal with."[Isn't it amazing how spot-on Rand, Orwell and Huxley were in their writings?]
--Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged
Accept The Challenge
We have the Patriot Act which allows the government to treat all citizens as though they are terrorists. You are presumed guilty until proven innocent.
Same goes for DUI checkpoints. Find yourself on the wrong road at the wrong time, and you'll be thrown in jail if you don't submit to an unconstitutional search.
Privacy laws - between you and the government - are virtually non-existent. If you want privacy in your personal matters, you are assumed to be a criminal, because only criminals would want to hide something from Nanny.
We have RICO laws - originally designed to apprehend organized crime syndicates - applied to common citizens.... along with their convenient asset forfeiture laws.
We have insane "preservation" laws that charge fathers and sons with felonies [link] for looking for arrowheads. Not taking any, just looking for them. If they had been found guilty of the felonies (they pleaded down to "just" a misdemeanor), they would have lost a number of rights, including voting and firearms possession. Mens rea is specifically excluded from the law - no criminal intent needed.
Gun laws? ADA laws? Food laws? Don't even get me started. We've all seen the videos of the "brave and heroic" USDA cops storming the businesses of raw milk purveyors. We've read the stories of cities prohibiting personal gardens and chickens.
So, what to do? You break the law.
You keep your head down - stay off the ridgeline - and you take your chances. What else can you do? It is impossible to know all of the laws. If you want any semblance of freedom, you live by your own code of ethics and morality.
You can work to get politicians in place that think as you do, but for the big picture, it's a lost cause. Stop waiting around, twiddling your thumbs waiting for sanity to return. Live your life as you see fit. Assume punitive actions by the state, so keep your forfeit-able assets widely disbursed.
At some time in the future, I think people will turn on our keepers. I don't think it will be in my (expected) lifetime. Too many sheeple who have forgotten (or have never known) what it was like to not have the government pre-approve your every move.
I hope I'm wrong. I hope I get to see it. And to participate.
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