Gun Control Outrage of the Day

I keep holding out hope that this story is some sort of bizarre hoax. Via Alex Massie:

A former soldier who handed a discarded shotgun in to police faces at least five years imprisonment for "doing his duty".

Paul Clarke, 27, was found guilty of possessing a firearm at Guildford Crown Court on Tuesday – after finding the gun and handing it personally to police officers on March 20 this year.

The jury took 20 minutes to make its conviction, and Mr Clarke now faces a minimum of five year's imprisonment for handing in the weapon.

[. . . ]

In his statement, he said: "I took it indoors and inside found a shorn-off shotgun and two cartridges.

"I didn't know what to do, so the next morning I rang the Chief Superintendent, Adrian Harper, and asked if I could pop in and see him.

"At the police station, I took the gun out of the bag and placed it on the table so it was pointing towards the wall."

Mr Clarke was then arrested immediately for possession of a firearm at Reigate police station, and taken to the cells.

I say I hope this is all a mistake or prank, because this story seems to be getting very little attention in the press, and it seems like it would be. Although it apparently was in the Sun print edition.

I honestly don't know how people like Radley Balko or our own Randall McElroy read these things constantly and stay sane. I'm an economist and get pretty annoyed at bad policy, but rarely does it make me feel physically ill like reading this story did. Disgusting.

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All of what this blogger

All of what this blogger says about a general problem illustrated by the current case is interesting and important, but I particularly liked this speculation about why the news is so inaccurate:

Now there are many reasons to suspect that the story I summarize above may not be the whole story, and, at the very least, may be incorrect in some of the details. Certainly, anyone who knows anything about almost anything that is reported in the newspapers will attest that the newspapers have got vital details wrong. If shy ten year old Priscilla breaks the record for winning coconuts on the tombola for the third year in a row at the local fête; the local rag will report that "Three year old Priscilla broke the tombola during her ten goes on the coconut shy". I have always presumed that this sort of thing happens because journalists take notes in shorthand, forget all about the original events, and then try to construct a story (using their own imaginations) from what is essentially a list of phonemes.

Source of outrage?

I dunno. Is it so bad to outlaw possession of a sawed-off shotgun?

Thus, I don’t see a gun control outrage. I see a strict liability outrage. That is, I’m less shocked at a prohibition on possession of a sawed-off shotgun than I am at the idea that motives and circumstances don’t matter to the evaluation of what type of possession is prohibited.

Yeah, I sort of regret that

Yeah, I sort of regret that post title, since there's more than just gun control involved in why this is unjust.

That said, I do think that it's difficult to separate gun control from overreactions to guns. It's hard to say "X is illegal" and not go down the path of "we must fight X with all our power". See, for example, the attitude of school administrators in the U.S. towards students bringing aspirin and the like. Or really the drug war in general.

Maybe I'm wrong on the slippery-slope here, but I don't think there are many examples of countries outlawing something and then not developing manifestly unjust laws to enforce the prohibition, leaving aside whether the prohibition itself is warranted.

If we think of natural law

If we think of natural law as a kind of equilibrium (which I think it is -a specific kind of nash equilibrium), then when you get away from that equilibrium, you find yourself on a slope. And there you start having problems, as you described.

Why would be so bad to

Why would be so bad to outlaw possession of a sawed-off shotgun?

Starting the list...

  1. It smacks of arbitrariness and micro-management, and thus is an expensive law to create and enforce. What principle is behind the ban of a certain configuration of propellant, projectile, and device that makes it illegal?
  2. If the principle is "small concealable dangerous devices can be used as weapons", why ban such weapons? Should all uses of such weapons be criminal, no matter whether the use is offensive or defensive or educational or recreational? Should mere possession without use (which, on the face of it, was the example above) be criminal?
  3. Prohibiting ownership in law has the (possibly) unintended consequence of discouraging ownership by those who feel constrained by law, but not by those who do not feel constrained by law. The unconstrained thus have any advantage that ownership of the prohibited device confers.

I think a lot of people

I think a lot of people read this story and immediately thought, or hoped, that there was surely more to it than had been reported. However it seems that the reality is every bit as disgusting as first described:

http://jackofkent.blogspot.com/2009/11/paul-clarke-anatomy-of-injustice.html

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,575452,00.html

http://canadafreepress.com/index.php/article/17103

http://www.thisissurreytoday.co.uk/news/Celebs-support-ex-soldier-s-case/article-1529019-detail/article.html