A former member of the Greene County, Ohio Sheriff’s Office found himself in hot water thanks to a Heckler & Koch HK416 machine gun, reports the Dayton Daily News. Former Sheriff’s Maj. Eric Spicer was convicted in December of two counts related to the acquisition and possession of a machine gun. Specifically, he was found guilty of “knowingly possessing a machine gun” and also of “possessing a gun that was not registered to him in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record.” . . .
The story involves more than mere possession. According to testimony at trial, Mr. Spicer apparently purchased the machine gun for use in his position at the Greene County Sheriff’s Office. He admitted to signing the name of Sheriff Gene Fischer on forms used to purchase the machine gun for $1684.80. Spicer claims it was done with the Sheriff’s consent. Sheriff Fischer claims otherwise.
The jury found Spicer not guilty of charges of falsification of documents — possibly because there appears to have been some acrimony between the two men in the lead-up to this matter. (Spicer also has a wrongful termination case pending against his former employer.)
The penalty for these crimes can be up to a $10,000 fine and 10 years in a federal prison. The sentencing judge was willing to give Spicer the benefit of the doubt:
U.S. District Judge Michael Barrett announced the sentencing, adding that Spicer’s version of events was “equally plausible” to that of the prosecution’s. Barrett said he believed that if Spicer had been asked, he would have returned the machine gun.
Spicer’s attorneys said they plan to appeal the convictions.
“I’m not happy about the conviction for Eric, but Judge Barrett has seen what this really is about and his comments up there are telling,” said one of the attorneys, John D. Smith. Spicer’s prosecution was an overreach, Smith said, noting, “This is Eric falling through the (administrative or bureaucratic) cracks and me scratching my head why somebody like the ATF and the U.S. Attorney really care about somebody that falls through the cracks.”
Whatever the particulars of this case, one thing is perfectly clear: Spicer was found not guilty by a jury of the only charges that really were a threat to law and order: the falsification or forgery of documents. As for the crime he was actually convicted of — possession of a machine gun — as far as I can tell, the former Sheriff’s Major with his machine gun was no threat to public order at all. That crime only exists because of a bit of security theater imposed on the citizenry by the federal government.
Mr. Spicer may have been able to get a fair hearing in this matter simply because he was a former member of a civilian law enforcement agency; certainly, thanks to the 99th Congress and President Reagan, non-LEO types are unable to purchase a machine gun manufactured post-1986 at all. But that doesn’t change the fact that Mr. Spicer’s mere possession of this HK didn’t appear to have hurt anyone. The criminality of possession is just an epiphenomenon of the ever-growing regulatory state.
Tennessee Law Professor Glenn Reynolds echoes the point in a recent article in the USA Today titled, “You are probably breaking the law right now“:
While a century or two ago nearly all crime was traditional common-law crime — rape, murder, theft and other things that pretty much everyone should know are bad — nowadays we face all sorts of “regulatory crimes” in which intuitions of right and wrong play no role, but for which the penalties are high.
If you walk down the sidewalk, pick up a pretty feather, and take it home, you could be a felon — if it happens to be a bald eagle feather. Bald eagles are plentiful now, and were taken off the endangered species list years ago, but the federal law making possession of them a crime for most people is still on the books, and federal agents are even infiltrating some Native-American powwows in order to find and arrest people. (And feathers from lesser-known birds, like the red-tailed hawk are also covered). Other examples abound, from getting lost in a storm and snowmobiling on the wrong bit of federal land, to diverting storm sewer water around a building.
From eagle feathers to machine guns – the feds have it covered.