International rap sensation Artis Leon Ivey, Jr. — better known to the world as “Coolio” — was arrested on Friday at Los Angeles International Airport for being a felon in possession of a firearm. A carry-on bag containing the rap star’s possessions was apparently found by TSA inside a security checkpoint at LAX. The L.A. Times has the story.
Around 10:50 a.m., airport police responded to Terminal 3 after receiving a report about a prohibited item in the screening area, spokeswoman Alicia Hernandez said in a statement.
Police took possession of a carry-on bag on the X-ray screening belt and detained a 39-year-old man who claimed the bag, Hernandez said.
Authorities soon discovered that the bag “contained items belonging to one of the suspect’s traveling companions,” who had left the screening area and boarded a departing plane, Hernandez said….
Coolio… was booked into jail on suspicion of possession of a firearm by a felon.
The Las Vegas native was arrested at LAX in 2009 after authorities said they found rock cocaine in his luggage.
It’s not clear from the Times article that Coolio had actually been convicted of the offense he was charged with in Vegas, and my Internet search-fu was insufficient to find a definitive answer in a reasonable amount of time.
I did, however, find a 1998 article by an uncredited author at the Associated Press, which reported that a court in Stuttgart, Germany, had convicted Coolio of “being an accessory to robbery and causing bodily injury.” The man had been sentenced to six months’ probation and fined $17,000.00. The article goes on to report that Coolio had been facing a maximum sentence of four years in prison after his conviction.
The Coolio story caught my eye because it reminded me of a Supreme Court decision on gun laws from 2005, styled Small v. United States.
The Small case starred a hapless American named Gary Sherwood Small. Mr. Small had been apparently trying to recover a water heater from a Japanese airport, but there were some actual heaters in the tank, and the matter ended with him being convicted for violations of three Japanese laws: the Act Controlling the Possession of Firearms and Swords, the Gunpowder Control Act, and the Customs Act, all of which were felonies punishable by a term in prison exceeding one year. Small was sentenced to five years in prison, but was put on parole after only two years, and his involvement with the Japanese correctional system ended in 1998.
Repatriated to America, and presumably counting his lucky stars to be back in the Land of the Free, Small decided to exercise his civil rights as an American once again. He went to a gun store and bought a firearm.
Some time later, the ATF did an audit of the gun store’s records and Small ended up involved with the American prison system. Why? Because the language of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1)–the law that prohibits certain ex-felons from possessing a firearm–says:
(g) It shall be unlawful for any person—
(1) who has been convicted in any court of, a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year…
to ship or transport in interstate or foreign commerce, or possess in or affecting commerce, any firearm or ammunition; or to receive any firearm or ammunition which has been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce.
It was the phrase “in any court” that was the problem. The police said “any court” meant literally that — any court. Even if it was in Japan. Or Zimbabwe. Or Krypton. And even if the conviction was for “Felony Criticism our Glorious Maximum Leader, General Zod,” with a maximum sentence of eleventy-billion years in a orbital flat-mirror prison.
First of all: all hail General Zod, and his enlightened rule of Planet Houston. Second, isn’t it funny that some insist that the language of the Constitution is a living, breathing thing that evolves over time, but demand that certain statutes be interpreted strictly, damn the consequences?
Incredibly, the pre-Heller Supreme Court actually agreed with me, reversing the lower court’s ruling that Small was a prohibited person. The decision was written by the Clinton-appointed Justice Breyer (what the–?) and joined by Justices Stevens, O’Connor, Souter, and “The Notorious” RBG (huh??!?)
The Court held, in so many words: come on, man, the whole statute refers repeatedly to federal/state law, and even the legislative history didn’t mean that. So, no, you can only become prohibited from possessing firearms in America if you’re convicted by a qualifying offense by an American Court.
That notorious gun-grabber(?) Justice Clarence Thomas dissented, calling the Court’s decision “absurd” since, essentially, “any” should mean “any”, and even cited the Random House Dictionary of the English Language to prove his point. Fellow anti-gun collaborators Scalia(!) and Kennedy joined the dissent.
So after six years in the Japanese judicial system, and another five or so in the American one, and after a Supreme Court decision whose line-up is still giving me a migraine due to the cognitive dissonance, Small was finally a free man.
The upshot of all this — beyond being a fun afternoon read, and the question of whether or not strict constructionism always walks hand-in-hand with the right to keep and bear arms — is that if the charge against Coolio is legit, the German charge can’t be the reason why.
His walk through the valley of the shadow of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) must have been triggered by a felony conviction (or a state misdemeanor potentially punishable by more than two years in prison) here in America.
Maybe it was that ‘rock cocaine’ bust the Times mentioned from 2009, maybe it was something else. But at least we know that if we’re going to insist that Americans convicted of felonies be barred from possessing firearms long after their debt to society has allegedly been paid, it will be due to convictions by American courts operating under American laws.
I guess that’s something positive.
UPDATE: Coolio plead guilty to the charge, and the Court sentenced him to three years’ probation and 45 days of community service. Justice was thus served, after a fashion.