The innocent have nothing to fear

Eric Falkenstein addresses the current flap over TV presenter David Gregory who brandished an empty high-capacity gun magazine while on the news show "Meet the Press". There is now frenzied debate about whether Gregory should be prosecuted, since he did the brandishing in D.C. where possession of such items is illegal. Gregory and his friends are contesting that, since he is clearly not a criminal and had no criminal intent in possessing the magazine, police action is not warranted. Sadly the law seems to have no such loophole, and "do you know who I am?" is rarely a successful strategy in a legal defence.

Falkenstein points out that this is a classical consequence of the disease of over-regulation:

There are so many laws regulating your average business that at any time one is probably being broken. This puts everyone at the mercy of their regulator's goodwill, because like David Gregory you will probably get off if the right people are on your side. If they are indifferent you are at the mercy of the mob, government, or wealthy antagonist.
Some poor schmuck in D.C. who finds an empty 30-round magazine in the trash, walks home with it to show his mother, gets pulled over by the cops and searched will find himself at a substantial legal disadvantage to Gregory's situation, despite being (if anything) less culpable.

This is why any MP, Congressman or Senator who tries to promulgate an over-reaching law with the assurance "it's OK, we would never use it for inappropriate prosecutions" should be a) ignored and b) hung from the nearest lamp post. Laws are always used inappropriately. Those drafting the law only care that the law is sufficiently acceptable to 51% of voting parliamentary representatives, and that all sponsors have what they want in the law. Once the law is on the books, a thriving business around negotiating the new law will spring up; as Falkenstein notes, the regulator and/or government will normally be the gatekeeper of the law and therefore able to gain power and favours by exercising its discretion around that law.

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