by Robert Thornton

By Thernlund (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Two things happened around the first week of January [2007] that should be of interest to every gun owner. However, many will not immediately see how either of these events is related to the Second Amendment. January marked the opening of the 2007 session of the Georgia General Assembly, and with it came a veritable avalanche of bills to fundamentally change the way juries work in Georgia.

State Representatives Barry Fleming and Timothy Bearden have sponsored two of these bills. Under HB-126 a person would be convicted in felony cases (death penalty cases excluded) even if one of the jurors voted not guilty! The second bill (HB-185) applies to the sentencing phase of death penalty cases. Fleming and Bearden want a judge to be able to order death, even if three jurors vote for life without parole. These proposed changes in the law are an abomination!

Our Founding Fathers saw the jury as the most critical check in the system of checks and balances that they devised for our judicial system. Juries not only find Guilty and Not Guilty verdicts; they have the right and responsibility to nullify unfairly applied laws as well. Jefferson, Madison, Adams and the rest knew that well-intended laws could be used improperly by a bad government. The Founders knew that the law is just a cold set of rules devoid of empathy and vulnerable to being abused by the unscrupulous. You need look no further than the Duke lacrosse team’s case to see that!

Our Founding Fathers loved liberty. They risked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to secure it for their posterity. That is why they felt it is better to allow 100 criminals to go free, than to send one innocent man to jail. It is for just this reason that the Founders required a unanimous verdict for conviction. It is the duty of the attorneys and the judge to apply the law. But it is the sacred duty of the jury to seek justice! That is why the Founders gave each member of the jury the power to stop a case through what is known as a hung jury.

I said that there were two incidents in January. An innocent man was released from state prison. At the very same time, Representatives Fleming and Beardon were introducing their bills to make convictions easier for district attorneys to obtain, DNA evidence proved that the man did not commit the crime. He had languished in state prison for over 21 years on a faulty conviction.

That man’s life has been destroyed by the state. In that old case, it took the unanimous vote of all 12 jurors and they still made a terrible mistake. How many more tragic mistakes will we see if some politically-motivated district attorney needs to convince only 11 out of 12 jurors?

At this point you may ask, “So what has all this got to do with gun owners?” Well, if you own a gun in America, you are in a minority. Not only that, but you are in a minority that is more likely to be arrested! The vast majority of gun owners are law-abiding citizens and think of themselves as good guys, and they are. But there are more than 20,000 federal, state and local gun laws on the books in America. These laws usually do not require criminal intent. So the average gun owner, by definition, is more likely to run afoul of the law simply because he possesses a gun. Any doubt about this should have been dispelled in the wake of the government attacks at Ruby Ridge and at Waco.

Additionally, the “media elite” consider gun owners as a dangerous counterculture. How many times have you been sitting home, watching the news, and had an announcer exclaim, “The criminal had over 100 rounds of ammunition in his house when police arrested him!” Hell, I usually keep a “brick” of .22’s in the toolbox of my truck!

Or how about the poor guy being led to a police car in handcuffs while the announcer gasps, “Police found an arsenal in the home!”? Then they show a picture of three rifles, two shotguns and a pistol. Any time a gun owner has an unwanted encounter with the law, even for an innocent oversight with no criminal intent, the press will demonize him. Politically motivated district attorneys will yearn to prosecute him for the free publicity that the media is sure to provide. Being a good guy and having a clean record will count for nothing!

But you’d never do anything wrong, right? During the weekend of the 17th of February 2007, a young man went out for the evening in Athens, Georgia. As is permissible after 5 pm, he parked his car in a University of Georgia (UGA) parking lot. When he returned, the police were waiting. A UGA police officer on foot patrol had observed a gun in plain view, locked in his car. He probably said, “Oh, no, Officer. This is all a big mistake! I’m no criminal. See, it’s not a gun; it’s an AIRSOFT toy pistol.” During the subsequent “search incident to arrest”, they also found a small (3¼ inch blade) knife in his car. That was the basis for the second charge!

There may be a technical basis for the arrest of this innocent man. He’s charged with two felony counts for bringing “weapons” within 1000 feet of a school campus (Ga. Code 16-11-127.1). The maximum sentence is ten years in prison and a $10,000.00 fine for each count. He will need at least one person on his jury who has the common sense to know, even if a technical violation may exist, that this was not a crime! He needs a juror who understands jury nullification to vote Not Guilty.

In another case, a Georgia Sport Shooting Association (GSSA) member was up north combining a hunting trip and a visit with his son. On the way home, he was stopped for a traffic violation near Detroit. The officer freaked out when he started finding numerous guns in the SUV.

You have to understand that in Michigan, it is a felony to have a baseball bat in your car, unless there is a glove and ball with it. Even then, if the snow is on the ground, you’ll probably be charged with transporting a weapon!

This member called me for help. He said, “I’m no criminal! I tried to tell them to call my pastor! I know the sheriff and most of the deputies at home. They wouldn’t listen!”

Luckily, I served in the Marines with a “gun guy” who happens to be a very good, therefore expensive, lawyer in the Detroit area. Fortunately, my friend arranged a misdemeanor plea for our GSSA member and he avoided a felony conviction. But the guns were forfeited, and he had a huge financial burden from fines, court appearances in Michigan, court costs, and attorney fees. It was a very expensive education for him, and it could have been much worse!

So considering all the circumstances—gun laws that don’t require criminal intent, a hostile media, politically motivated prosecutors, and cops that don’t give a damn who you know—can you see the risk you run by being a gun owner? God forbid that someday you may be on trial and have only one gun owner on your jury. Do you want to give the judge the power to ignore his Not Guilty vote? Then why would you ever support a politician who wants to strip the power of juries and provide for convictions with only 11 of 12 Jurors voting Guilty?

Photo credit:
Photo of woman at shooting range by Thernlund (own work) [public domain], via Wikimedia Commons