By Edward Jaffe
‘Perry Mason‘ the TV series was, of course, an idealized drama about the US criminal justice system. I dare say that even in Perry Mason America, many people involved in the criminal justice system never had a defense attorney like the Perry Mason character and perhaps had dishonest prosecutors, witnesses and judges. But that was retail injustice, not wholesale. I want to live in a civil society. That means a society permanently ruled by civilians. Post Perry Mason, the US criminal justice system (in broad terms) has become more rules-based and less context-based. In retrospect, the Rockefeller Drug Laws were a big system reset . . .
Drug law changes brought with them (now routine) mandatory minimum sentencing — with small offenses being punished like homicides. Once an individual is accused of a crime with an associated mandatory minimum, the right to a trial by jury fades quickly. The DA — the new epicenter of power — can let you walk, ask you to take jail time, guilty or not, or dare you to take your chances in court where a loss could mean decades.
I seem to recall that on ‘Perry Mason’ discussions of “criminal intent” and “presumption of innocence” or even “reasonable doubt” would occur. Where does that fit into the draconian mandatory-minimum sentencing power wielded by the prosecution today? Do you think you will be sitting and telling your unique story to the jury? Probably not. Culture war-originated prohibition laws today are not about protecting society, but changing it by force.
The biggest system reset however, was the change of the criminal justice system’s focus from one attacking commerce in contraband to simple possession. No criminal intent, no other criminal activity, just a felony-on-contact approach. People involved in the commerce of contraband have always faced risks, but moving the focus to mere possession was a naked power grab aimed at simply eliminating users and reducing demand.
The assault on gun owners will follow the War on Drugs playbook and will ultimately criminalize (perhaps even felonize) hundreds of millions of guns, gun bits and ammo. I hate to say it, but the gun prohibitionists have some extremely sophisticated strategists and are playing a perfect game as gun owner groups are busy pounding the culture war drums, bringing their AR-15s to the neighborhood deli.
Along these lines, “universal background checks” are Trojan horse laws designed to move the legal process away from simple statutes concerning commerce. Tremendous leverage is being applied to this gun control issue, one that seems almost benign and little more than an extension of present laws to most citizens with no exposure to these issues. Why do you suppose so many millions being funneled into this effort?
Allow me to re-state my primary point here: The entire assault on gun owners will consist of moving the law beyond commerce-based concepts like NICS checks to possessory laws that will criminalize ownership of a large number of guns held, touched or loaned by tens of millions of Americans. In fact, without stout possessory laws, the War on Drugs could never have been waged. So shall it be with the War On Guns.