This loss of mens rea from our criminal law is a real loss indeed.
Apparently, over 10 round mags have been illegal in NY state since 1994, so it's not a direct application of the new law, but still..."According to Jefferson County Sheriff’s office sources, Mr. Haddad was in the parking lot of a closed business at 7:30 p.m. when an officer asked him what he was doing. The police allege that the Fort Drum civilian employee said that he was meeting someone to sell the AR-15 style rifle magazines."Really? He just volunteered that information, even if he thought it was legal? Has the ring of a justification.
Okay, this seems as good a spot as any to bring up something I've been struggling with for a few days. I read this kind of story, I think this is awful, I think about donating (or writing my Congressman or blogging about it or forwarding it along to friends). Then I think about the Sidwell 11 armed guards story. I thought that was pretty hypocritical: those who dismissed the idea of armed guards in schools sending their kids to a school with armed guards. Except...It looks like that story may not be true. Assuming the Washington Post is telling the truth about its call to Sidwell, the truth is:Ellis Turner, associate head of Sidwell Friends, told us emphatically: “Sidwell Friends security officers do not carry guns.” (Note: this includes those listed as special police officers.)http://is.gd/GWSgY8Now, anyone can make a mistake, leap to conclusions, etc - although it is now interesting to note that the original Breitbart story makes no mention of contacting Sidwell before running with the story:http://is.gd/nDM7wkBut what bothers me about the probable wrongness of the story is that I haven't seen the Ellis Turner quote on the Right-side sites that were gleeful about the original hypocrisy - including Breitbart. Maybe I just missed their posting this; maybe they decided either the WP or Ellis Turner was lying. But it makes me cautious about jumping on similar bandwagons.As does this line from the story about Mr. Haddad:A police source also said that the magazines were stamped with the words “Restricted. For military use only.”In a comment to T99's "Strategery" post, Tom says:The big problem we have now is a lack of well-recognized, trustworthy sources of information. It is not democracy that has caused our problems; it is an information economy that has produced so much conflicting (and even fraudulent) information that the common person no longer trusts it, nor knows what to trust.If you don't know what sources to believe, why pay attention?Yup. Unless I have lots and lots of time to investigate every outrage that comes to my attention, it's a lot easier for me to stop paying attention. Or to simply believe those that fit with my pre-conceived notions and dismiss as lies those that don't.
Either we hold to the 10th Amendment, or we do not (incorporation goes too far in overriding the 10th, say I). This strikes me as a State matter, and not a Federal matter, whatever I think of New York's...wisdom...in enacting it.Like Romneycare, a State can try what would be a disaster for the Federal government to impose nationally.Eric Hines
Re: the "military use only" stamp, that likely means the magazines were produced between 1994 and 2004, when it was illegal for normal people to have them. It has no legal meaning since the sunset of the ban.
You raise a good point, Elise. One reason I mentioned mens rea is that the absence of it from the law gives rise to problems of this type -- whether or not this is a legitimate case, the general problem is real.
"Then I think about the Sidwell 11 armed guards story. I thought that was pretty hypocritical: those who dismissed the idea of armed guards in schools sending their kids to a school with armed guards. Except...It looks like that story may not be true. Assuming the Washington Post is telling the truth about its call to Sidwell, the truth is:Ellis Turner, associate head of Sidwell Friends, told us emphatically: “Sidwell Friends security officers do not carry guns.” (Note: this includes those listed as special police officers.)"Yes, it seems unlikely that a Quaker school would hire armed guards, but- if the Presidents children go there, there are most certainly armed guards protecting the school, just not on the school's payroll.Depending on how that Breitbart article was phrased, it might still be misleading. Be clear though- Breitbart's philosphy was to attack them back- ju-jistu the info war back on them. I don't think absolute truth was a necessary component of that philosophy, so while I agree it's time we wake up to the active culture war we're in, I can't embrace that reach of acceptable tactics.
Just for interest I searched for "number of laws in the US". No one has a clue. but ignorance is no excuse. Same with the tax code, although it takes an army of accountants to figure it and they each come up with different answers. Where I think we really go wrong is in criminalizing items, and not actions. Then an endless seccession of laws need to be made to codify the "item", describe it and all variations, past , present and then new law to address developments, and it goes on. A man made a very relevant comment when he said Randy Weaver's son and wife were murdered by the Government over what was, in the end, a 1/4" long piece of cylindrical metal- that being how short of "legal" the the shotgun barrel Weaver was alleged to have shortened by request.
I've been mulling over that exchange myself, though now I've lost track of where it was below. Anyway, the discussion was about whether it's harder now to deal with the danger of inaccurate information.I don't think we're exposed to less accurate information these days; I think that's been a problem forever. It's true that we're exposed to a greater volume of information, both good and bad. On the other hand, we also have some new and useful tools for identifying the garbage. When I read something now and wonder, "Now, can that really be right?" -- it's easy for me to go start checking it. If I can't find any confirmation, and it seems like important enough data that there should be confirmation, then I know to consider it no more than "possible." We have a bunch of sources to go to, some of which have proved themselves reliable in the past, and some of whom are total strangers whom we do well to be skeptical about.But there have always been rumor mills, and they've always been stuffed with the kind of thing people delight in passing on, which generally is stories that press a lot of emotional buttons and conform to prejudices. "Bearing false witness" got a bad reputation thousands of years ago.
To address one of Eric's favorite tunes, 'It's a Police State,' I thought I'd better read up on the topic. One interesting paragraph in the Wikipedia entry on 'police state' goes like this:Because there are different political perspectives as to what an appropriate balance is between individual freedom and national security, there are no definitive objective standards to determine whether the term "police state" applies to a particular nation at any given point in time. Thus, it is difficult to evaluate objectively the truth of allegations that a nation is, or is not becoming, a police state.The article includes a list of "highly debated examples," such as:Apartheid South AfricaThe USSRNorth KoreaNazi GermanyCubaI don't think we can honestly put the US in that list. Of course, that's just Wikipedia.What do you think, Eric? How do you define 'police state'?
T99, I think you're right that the normal citizen has better tools to check out the information they get, but normal people aren't going to spend the time to check them all out, and arguably can't. The amount of information is just overwhelming.What I think is needed (though it may well be impossible) is two things: an objective media that is recognized as such, and a citizenry that's trained in information analysis.By 'objective,' I don't mean having the 'God's eye view' that some take that to mean. I simply believe that a journalist who honestly tries to report objectively will give better information than one who doesn't try.By 'information analysis,' I'm just talking about critical thinking, but I really mean it. The average citizen needs a good grasp of language, logic, and rhetoric, as well as a basic understanding of some how the world works, in order to really begin thinking critically.Again, this may be impossible, but working for this seems a better option to me than open revolution at the moment.
(Gads, nix the 'some' there - a basic understanding of how the world works is what it should be.)
I'm just not sure. In one sense, the amount of information available to a human being is now and always has been overwhelming. We survive if we learn how to sort through it. Today, we have information about distant events that far exceeds what most people had 50 years ago. Do we really have more information about the critical decision facing each of us right now?I guess I let much of the information about distant events wash over me unless I pick up a signal that's it's something I need to evaluate and come to an opinion on. Low-information voters do the same thing, but have a much higher threshold for deciding that it's something they need to know about. But it's not as though the voting public was highly informed in the past, either. They often did whatever their churches, local leaders, union bosses, country clubs, or ward heelers told them to do.
Re: how to tell if you're in a police state: one approach would be to ask if it's much like:"Apartheid South AfricaThe USSRNorth KoreaNazi GermanyCuba"My own judgment depends on whether the state's police power is hemmed in by some kind of limited-government tool like a Constitution -- one that's actually honored and enforced, I mean. If the police are guided almost entirely by what their bosses think is needed to prop up the powers-that-be at any moment, without principles of any kind, I call it a police state. Of course it's still a question of just how unprincipled and whimsical police power has to get before you apply that label.
Well, there's the additional detail that we have this vast proliferation of laws, such that we don't actually know how many laws exist (as Raven says) or how many we may be violating. In that environment, the police can arrest and ruin the lives of anyone they wish -- even if they don't, in fact, do so to very many people. Is that a police state? The potential is certainly there; and there may be specific cases where that potential is actualized. If we can re-establish the principle that the state needs to prove that you intended to commit a criminal act to find you criminally liable, though, that potential is severely restricted.It's a kind of one-step fix for the whole vast set of problems.
That's a good point. Information may or may not have proliferated, but there's no doubt that laws have.But rather than impose a mens rea requirement on every criminal violation, I'd make lots fewer things illegal. There's already a mens rea element in most of the important, basic criminal prohibitions, like fraud and assault, which should be enough to cover most of the important intentional crimes. Things that don't strike us as very wrong if they're unintentional probably ought not to be dealt with by the criminal law at all.Mens rea fell out of favor for some kinds of crimes because it can be virtually impossible to prove a state of mind. Sometimes circumstances and results are so damning that we want to skip that step, but it's dangerous.
@Tom: While the US does not exhibit the main characteristic of those examples--i.e. they're one party states (although I have friends who maintain there is no difference between the Repulicans and Democrats), in other ways The US is already there. Particularly in the arbitrary application of laws to essentially make political points, as is exemplified by this situation.
But rather than impose a mens rea requirement on every criminal violation, I'd make lots fewer things illegal.Well, there are two things to say about that.1) I don't have a problem with that approach in theory, but,2) In practice that requires a step-by-step repeal of what is now hundreds of thousands of laws. It could take decades to repeal the existing ones, all the while Congress and regulatory agencies and state legislatures and state agencies are barreling along making new rules. Even if you could get them to stop making new rules all the time, which is a worthy goal in itself, it would still take decades to find out what laws exist that need modification or repeal. But if you can't get them to stop, as in fact you probably can't, this one fix stops future abuses as well.If there is a short list of crimes that we want to permit to be prosecuted without mens rea, we can include the exceptions in the single law/amendment otherwise banning such laws.
Bookworm Room has been pushing an interesting idea about an automatic sunset on most if not all laws, so it's not necessary to repeal them one by one.
That's a great idea, as long as it doesn't turn into a mere parliamentary procedure, e.g., "The 150th Congress hereby renews all existing laws, subject to such further changes as it shall make in regular session."
Bookworm Room has been pushing an interesting idea about an automatic sunset on most if not all laws, so it's not necessary to repeal them one by one.That strikes me as not just wishful thinking, but a really bad idea. Lots of laws already have sunset provisions. The purpose of law is to provide some sense of predictability and stability so that people can make informed decisions and plans. Asking Congress to endlessly revisit every law (regardless of whether it's working well or not) sounds like a recipe for disaster.Some laws ought to have sunset provisions (for instance, laws made in times of great uncertainty or emergency). But the idea that every law should sunset???I'm not seeing it.
And this is interesting: http://onlygunsandmoney.blogspot.com/2013/02/who-are-police-at-war-with.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+NoLawyers-OnlyGunsAndMoney+%28No+Lawyers+-+Only+Guns+and+Money%29Yep. Who are the police at war with?
[R]ather than impose a mens rea requirement on every criminal violation, I'd make lots fewer things illegal.Amen, Sister.Mens rea fell out of favor for some kinds of crimes because it can be virtually impossible to prove a state of mind. Sometimes circumstances and results are so damning that we want to skip that step, but it's dangerous.If we can't prove state of mind, maybe no crime was committed. That doesn't absolve the actor of liability, though. There remain civil suits....we can include the exceptions in the single law/amendment otherwise banning such laws. This is dangerous and can (likely) lead to an even more Byzantine criminal code. Look, in another venue, at our tax code, where every exception is for the very best of reasons.Eric Hines
Well, OK, then. No exceptions. I'm good with no exceptions, too.
The purpose of law is to provide some sense of predictability and stability so that people can make informed decisions and plans.That can't be the purpose of law, surely. If it were, any set of laws would be satisfactory as long as it was unchanging. I would suggest, instead, that the purpose of the law is the pursuit of justice. If a law is not just, that it lasts a long time makes it worse rather than better.You know that I greatly believe in the benefit of controlling the uncertainty created by government. I agree that predictability is a useful quality in law, all other things being equal. (Indeed, there's a good argument that rapidly changing laws are inherently unjust: you can't fairly be expected to comply with them, and you can't make rational plans around them because they'll be pulled out from under you.) Still, the purpose of the law isn't predictability: that is at most a necessary condition for a just law, but certainly not a sufficient one.
There is a book in the Star Trek world called Spock's World by Diane Duane. According to her, the legislative body on Vulcan has three branches: the job of one is to propose and write legislation; the job of the second is to pass (or not) the legislation proposed; the job of the third is to repeal legislation. I think this approach would address some of Cass' concerns about the confusion caused if all laws automatically sunsetted. We might need some boundaries like, if a law gets through the first two branches three times it can't be repealed again by the third branch unless a super-majority votes to repeal.And, yes, I did just make a Star Trek citation. If it's any comfort, that book is not considered part of the "official" Star Trek canon.
Grim is right in a couple of respects--the purpose of law is not (or should not be) to be predictable; although I think that's a highly useful effect. The purpose of law, it seems to me, is to preserve individual liberty, and it can do this in two ways: one, to limit government power and authority, and the other to ensure that as each of us exercises our liberties, we don't trample our neighbors'. That last is hard to do, though.The other respect gets at (imperfectly) that second task: have only a few laws, don't proliferate them every time somebody says (as a Reader's Digest column used to do) "There ought to be a law."Having a separate house of...Congress...whose function is to repeal laws might work for Vulcans, but I don't see it working for humans. The goal of any bureaucracy, and a political one is no different, is to perpetuate and grow itself. What is the justification of a Repellant Congress if it isn't busily repealing laws? And the repealing will be politically motivated more than it will be because a law has outlived its usefulness.Eric Hines
Jesse Ventura, back when he was newly entering politics, used to recommend that the legislature should be required to spend every third year repealing old laws, rather than passing new ones. I thought that was a highly appealing suggestion at the time -- although in the present moment, a 10-1 repeal-pass ratio would be closer to what is needed to get law-proliferation under control.
Maybe we should put the burden on the proponent of a new law to explain why it should be given permanent effect instead of automatically sunsetted. I agree that people need to be able to plan, but sunsetting is a way of planning: you know how long a law is going to be in effect and plan accordingly. Sometimes we don't think a law will have a beneficial effect on behavior unless people can be sure it's permanent; changes in tax laws are an example. In those cases, the bill's proponent will make a case for permanent effect. But the picture is different if we're talking about banning behavior, like importing a plant that's currently known to harbor a pest, or providing for temporary help to an affected class, like storm victims.
Elise, if it's not part of the official canon, then I'm not sure we're quite justified in considering it. We have to have some kind of standards.
Well, the usual standard around here is that it has to be in The Lord of the Rings or one of its predecessor texts.
Eric might be bringing me around to admitting we're in a proto-police state where it's run wisely (in a measured way to preserve a facade of legitimacy so as to convince most to continue to play along) and not blindly for power. But I'm not quite there yet."Today, we have information about distant events that far exceeds what most people had 50 years ago. Do we really have more information about the critical decision facing each of us right now?"Sure, we have lots of information, which could be good. The problem is we've (as a society) started turning our back on seeking knowledge and more importantly, wisdom. If you have wisdom, you can make do with a lot less information.I think we'd all be a lot better off if congress was too busy repealing laws to make new ones.
What is the justification of a Repellant Congress if it isn't busily repealing laws? And the repealing will be politically motivated more than it will be because a law has outlived its usefulness.It would be possible to restrain this Repellant tendency by, say, limiting the length of sessions or by linking the margin by which a law was passed to the margin by which it must be repealed. As for the political motivation, the same must be true for laws that are passed so I'd call that a wash.Elise, if it's not part of the official canon, then I'm not sure we're quite justified in considering it. We have to have some kind of standards.Understood but it's a shame. The book I referenced has a pretty interesting discussion of whether and how a Vulcan male and a Terran female could have a child. :+)
You know, I've never read any of the Star Trek novels, but my goodness, I was a diehard fan of the original TV show. I still remember watching the first episode with my father.
I was a big fan also. I remember watching the first episode with my mother and brother.As for the novels, I've only read a few and Spock's World is the only one I'd recommend.
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